India’s flagship Arjun Main Battle Tank program faces a critical obstacle in its production phase. Recent developments involving the German company MTU have introduced a potential delay of up to four years in the procurement of tank engines. However, this setback may present an opportunity for domestic production capabilities to come to the forefront.

The Arjun Main Battle Tank stands as a cornerstone of India’s defense initiatives, representing a substantial investment in its military capabilities. The reported delay in engine acquisition from Germany poses a significant challenge to the program’s timeline. Notably, India had committed to acquiring 118 units of the advanced Arjun Mark 1-A Main Battle Tanks, colloquially known as ‘Hunter Killers,’ for a substantial sum.

The current iteration of the Arjun Mk-1 tank is already operational within the Indian Army, boasting enhancements such as increased indigenous components, an upgraded 120mm rifled gun, and advanced Kanchan armor. Manufactured at the state-owned Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi, Chennai, these tanks are poised to reinforce India’s armored forces significantly. However, the anticipated engine scarcity threatens to disrupt the planned delivery schedule.

The reliance on German engines has become a point of vulnerability, underscored by prolonged delays attributed to the supplier. Reports indicate that the German manufacturer requires an additional four years to rectify the engine supply chain issues. Despite this setback, authorities are leveraging the situation to foster indigenous solutions for engine production.

The Indian Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) spearheads the initiative to develop a locally-manufactured engine tailored for the Arjun Mark 1A tanks. With a targeted timeline of three years, DRDO aims to repurpose the DATRAN 1500 engine, originally designed for the Future Main Battle Tank program, to meet the specifications of the Arjun Tanks. Encouragingly, the preliminary testing phase of this engine under the future tank program yielded promising results, signaling progress towards achieving self-sufficiency in critical defense technologies.

Underlying Factors

India’s previous encounter with engine procurement from Germany evokes memories of a similar instance concerning the Zorawar tank prototype, where Germany’s BAFA agency withheld engine shipments. Subsequently, India turned to American manufacturer Cummins for tank engines in October 2023, amid a lack of explanation from Germany regarding their decision.

Germany’s stringent criteria for arms sales, which encompass considerations such as human rights, regional stability, and conflict zones, can pose obstacles for countries like India seeking to acquire weaponry. These regulations, contingent upon prevailing political and security dynamics, can lead to delays or restrictions in arms procurement from Germany.

Experts weigh in on the challenges hindering engine supply for India’s Arjun tanks, suggesting additional factors beyond mere logistics. Issues such as limited order quantities, scalability concerns, and internal hurdles within Germany’s industrial landscape are speculated to contribute to the delay.

Addressing Supply Chain Resuscitation

Former Strike Corps Commander and Director General of Mechanised Forces, Lt. Gen AB Shivane, posits that the protracted revival of the production line could stem from the relatively modest volume of orders.

Rahul Manohar Yelwe, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Security Studies, underscores the intricate process of rebuilding the supply chain by MTU, emphasizing the time-intensive nature of such endeavors.

Furthermore, Yelwe highlights Germany’s comparatively lower demand for tanks compared to major players like the United States, Russia, and India. This dynamic implies that low-demand engine types may face discontinuation, amplifying the challenges in reestablishing supply chains.

Crafting Engine Capabilities Amidst Challenges

Germany’s delay in engine provision presents an impetus for India to bolster its indigenous engine manufacturing capabilities, particularly for the Arjun tank. However, this endeavor is anticipated to encounter significant hurdles that necessitate adept navigation.

In conclusion, Germany’s postponement in delivering engines for the Arjun Mark 1 tanks underscores the formidable task of establishing a new supply chain, entailing the identification of alternate suppliers and negotiation of fresh subcontracting agreements.

A primary concern arises regarding potential project delays resulting from the transition to a new engine, which could significantly impact the overall Arjun tank program. Rahul Manohar Yelwe highlights that since the original Arjun tank design was predicated on the German engine, incorporating a new engine necessitates design adjustments for compatibility.

Following these modifications, rigorous individual and integrated testing phases will ensue to evaluate whether the new engine meets requisite standards effectively. Undoubtedly, this phased approach is poised to extend the project’s delivery timeline. Yelwe anticipates a pressing need for a new tank to emerge by the project’s completion, likely to supplant existing T-90 and T-72 models.

Acquiring Expertise:

Looking forward, Lt. Gen. AB Shivane acknowledges India’s capability to produce its own engine. However, he questions the cost-effectiveness of this strategy, particularly in comparison to investing in the production of currently designed medium and light tanks.

Concurrently, efforts are underway to acquire the necessary expertise for maintaining existing German engines, aiming to reduce reliance on MTU and enhance Arjun tank availability. Engine Factory Avadi’s recent success in conducting internal repairs for Arjun Tank Engines marks a significant step towards self-sufficiency, aligned with the Make in India initiative.

Operational Challenges

The majority of the Indian Army’s tank fleet, approximately 1,900 units, consists of domestically manufactured Russian T-72M1s, alongside approximately 1,500 T-90Ss, an advanced iteration of Russian tanks. The Arjun tank was conceived as a formidable competitor and successor to the T-72, demonstrating superior capabilities, including stability and precision, in comparative trials with Russian T-90s during 2008-2009.

Despite its commendable features, the Arjun’s substantial weight poses a significant drawback. Initial estimates of 48 tons have escalated to 62 tons and presently stand at 68.5 tons, rendering it less desirable for the Indian Army’s operational needs. Lt. Gen AB Shivane acknowledges that both the Arjun Mk1A and Arjun Mk2 variants are excessively heavy for their intended roles, presenting compatibility challenges with the army’s Western sector infrastructure.

As outlined by military analyst Rahul Manohar Yelwe, the pillars of tank development and acquisition encompass firepower, protection, and agility. He highlights that the Arjun’s design shares similarities with Western counterparts such as the Leopard 2A4, underscoring the significance of these attributes in tank construction.

Diverging from Russian tank doctrine, which prioritizes firepower and agility, Western tank design places greater emphasis on protection and firepower. The Arjun incorporates a unique indigenous armor composition known as Kanchan armor, enhancing its defensive capabilities.

Yelwe contends that attributing these challenges solely to the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is unjust, citing the Indian Army’s evolving requirements throughout the project lifecycle as a complicating factor.

The substantial weight of the Arjun poses significant logistical challenges, particularly concerning bridge infrastructure designed for lighter Russian tanks. Moreover, its dimensions present obstacles in railway transportation, further exacerbated by the inadequacy of the current Indian logistics system to accommodate a tank of such magnitude, intensifying logistical complexities.