The Indian military establishment has executed an acquisition for a fleet of 118 domestically manufactured Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun units, entrusting the task to the proficient Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). This procurement is poised to mark the concluding requisition of these formidable armored assets.

Projected to culminate by the fiscal year 2025-26, this contractual arrangement not only signifies the fortification of the Indian Army’s mechanized capabilities but also underscores a strategic initiative to sustain production momentum. India’s strategic planners are actively engaging potential clientele for its MBT, renowned in military circles as the ‘hunter-killer’.

Presently, the Indian Army boasts operational control over 124 Arjun MBTs, distinguished as one of the globe’s most weighty tanks, tipping the scales at 68.25 tons. The OFB commitment encompasses the construction of an upgraded Mk-1A variant totaling 118 units.

Operational proceedings dictate that the initial tranche of five MBTs will be consigned to the armed forces within a timeline of 30 months following the signing of the agreement in the year 2021. Sequentially, a yearly allocation of 30 MK-1A models will be dispatched, meticulously calibrated to attain completion of the remaining 113 platforms. This systematic delivery strategy aims at constituting two fully equipped armored regiments by the target date of 2025-26.

“India has spent both time and resources in developing the MBT. Its export seems only logical to keep the production line running. And African countries are potential buyers,” said a defense official.

The operational utilization of the Arjun tanks, characterized by their robust build owing to extensive armor, is specifically confined to the arid expanse of Rajasthan’s desert region within India.

Featuring a weight of 62 tons, the Arjun Mk1 tank is equipped with a formidable armament, including a 120-millimeter gun, advanced composite armor, a turbocharged engine generating 1,400 horsepower, and cutting-edge fire control and thermal sighting systems. The Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) assimilated Western doctrine into the conception of the Arjun tanks, resulting in their robust armored shielding.

With the integration of the Arjun tank into the Indian Army’s arsenal, India has ascended to an exclusive consortium of ten nations distinguished by their independent design and development of main battle tanks. This distinguished group encompasses nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Japan, and China.

African nations seeking to augment their armored capabilities find the Indian tank to be a pragmatic and superior choice. Historically, Russia has predominated as the primary defense supplier to Africa. However, ongoing engagements such as the protracted conflict with Ukraine have engendered an opening in this supply landscape.

In a comprehensive audit presented to the Indian Parliament in 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reported a comparative evaluation between the Arjun and the imported Russian T-90 tanks, executed by the Indian Army in April 2010. The assessment highlighted distinct benchmarks set by the Indian Army, notably stringent criteria for the Arjun and more relaxed standards for the T-90. The Arjun outperformed the T-90 in certain dimensions, with evaluations encompassing firepower, survivability, reliability, and other pertinent facets.

Across the African continent, there is a significant proliferation of tank assets. Egypt, leading the charts, maintains a substantial tank inventory of 4,295 units, trailed by Algeria with 1,195 tanks and Sudan with 465 tanks. The mean battle tank fleet size among African nations tallies to approximately 166.5 tanks.

India’s proactive engagement in the African defense market can be attributed, in part, to China’s expanding influence on the continent. This has spurred India to forge robust ties in order to counterbalance this evolving dynamic.

During DefExpo 2020, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh unveiled plans to potentially export military hardware worth $5 billion over the next five years, with African countries constituting a substantial proportion of this initiative. Given the gamut of security challenges faced by African nations, including piracy, coups, insurgency, and terrorism, India emerges as a reliable and trustworthy defense collaborator for these nations.

“India is geared up to provide Offshore Patrol Vessels, fast interceptor boats, body and vehicle armor, Night Vision Goggles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Dornier aircraft, and arms and ammunition to our African counterparts,” saqid Singh.

Addressing the inaugural Indo-Africa Defense Ministers’ Conference, Minister Singh engaged with counterparts from 12 African nations, alongside representatives hailing from 38 countries.

The subsequent joint declaration emanating from this conference underscored the imperative for heightened collaboration within the defense domain, manifesting as joint ventures geared toward the advancement of military hardware and software.

In the aftermath of this development, India demonstrated a proactive stance by extending a line of credit to the tune of approximately $14 billion, benefiting 42 member states of the African Union. Predominantly earmarked for infrastructural enhancements, India’s willingness to extend these lines of credit for defense initiatives remained evident. This strategic momentum was complemented by the commencement of the inaugural India-Africa Army Chiefs’ Conclave in Pune at the onset of 2023.

During this significant event, India prominently showcased its domestically engineered military equipment, encompassing assets like the Arjun battle tank and the Pinaka rocket launchers. Conspicuous manufacturers within India’s military vehicle industry, such as Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland, effectively contribute troop carriers, trucks, buses, and other specialized military vehicles to a diverse array of African nations, including Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti, Seychelles, and Botswana.

Turning our attention to the Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT), its weight aligns with the metrics of heavyweight contenders on the international stage. It stands on par with the UK’s Challenger 2, Canada’s Leopard 2A6M (both at 62.5 tons), and the US’s Abrams M1A1 (at 67.5 tons when combat-ready).

The Arjun tank’s inception dates back to the 1970s, characterized by its incorporation of domestically devised composite blend Kanchan armor. This innovative armoring solution translates into substantial protective capability, albeit resulting in an associated weight increase. Notably, this augmentation in protection comes at a discernible trade-off: diminished tactical and operational mobility. At its core, the Arjun is powered by a German-manufactured MTU 1,400-horsepower water-cooled diesel engine, resulting in a commendable horsepower-to-weight ratio of 22.5 to 1.

Conceptualized to succeed the Soviet-built T-72 tanks, the heavyweight Arjun has encountered limitations stemming from its incongruence with the infrastructural landscape within the Western sector. This misalignment has constrained the Indian Army’s inclination to procure additional units. However, it’s essential to highlight that beyond mere weight considerations, the Nominal Ground Pressure (NGP) characteristic of the Arjun Tanks notably constrains its cross-country mobility. Consequently, deployment within regions like Punjab and other theaters that bore witness to substantial armored engagements in India’s conflicts with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 has been rendered impractical.

“More than the weight, the NGP is concerning,” said an Indian Army official on the condition of anonymity. NGP is the pressure exerted on the ground while moving.

The Indian military establishment underscores that a significant portion of bridges spanning Punjab were originally engineered to endure a load of approximately 50 tons. The Arjun Mk-1A, in its design, integrates broader tracks for the purpose of even weight distribution. Despite this adaptation, characterized by a Nominal Ground Pressure (NPG) measuring 0.85 kg/cm², maneuvering across this region remains a challenging endeavor. Additionally, the tank’s expansive form poses limitations to its compatibility with rail lines.

Predominantly, the incongruity between existing infrastructure and the surrounding terrain has emerged as the principal deterrent in the Indian Army’s contemplation of an extensive MBT Arjun induction. This disparity is particularly pronounced in regions such as the eastern front adjacent to China, where elevated landscapes dominate, as well as in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. In these contexts, the preference leans towards the deployment of lighter weight tank variants.

However, directing attention towards the prospective African market could potentially mark a substantial victory for the MBT. Up until now, the tank’s operational sphere has remained confined to India’s territory. Engaging with distinct operational environments across Africa holds the promise of facilitating iterative enhancements to the tank’s performance and attributes. As iterated by an official from the Indian Army, “The exposure to diverse theaters of operation will undoubtedly contribute to the continued refinement of the tank’s capabilities.”