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The Indian Army Loves Its Russian Tanks And APCs

January 16, 2015

Russian T90 MBT b

India may possess the most formidable armored force in Asia, but recent developments have cast doubt on how effective its tanks are. In February 2014 a report published by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), an office reviewing government budget allocations, found issue with the vaunted T-90S.

Apparently, the T-90S used by the Indian Army does not have adequate air-conditioning. This caused other internal systems to malfunction when these tanks were deployed in the country’s scorching northwest.

Several months later, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) had to contract with a Russian firm for fin-stabilized sabot rounds for the T-90S’ 125mm main gun. India’s own ordnance factories were unable to build the round themselves despite more than a decade spent maintaining the T-90S.

The T-90S, however, has a bright future with India. The Russian third-generation MBT is manufactured by Uralvagonzavod and is popular among client states like Venezuela, Algeria, and Azerbaijan.

The T-90S’ value is its powerful 1,000 horsepower B-92C2 diesel engine, the 2A46M-5 gun and missile launcher, and its internal subsystems. Ever since the dismal track record of its Arjun MBT, modeled after the German Leopard 2, India’s generals have embraced Russian tanks. India today is now the largest importer of Russian armor.

Indian T-72 03

India’s first T-90S purchase was in 2001 for 310 tanks, with half to be assembled by the Heavy Vehicles Factory Avadi plant. In 2007 another batch of 347 T-90S tanks were bought and an agreement was subsequently signed to license-build 1,000 additional T-90S’ for the Indian Army. This meant, on paper, India is the world’s largest T-90S operator.

All Sorts of Problems

Indeed, like in many armed forces, official records and figures often don’t match reality. The reality is India’s T-90S’ are problematic and these are being addressed only now.

The T-90S’ shortcomings, aside from a lack of air-conditioning, include a need for new thermal imaging, navigation, and fire control computer. These subsystems are critical because without them, the T-90S is reduced to a T-72 with a better engine. More alarming is the possibility that Indian T-90S production hasn’t begun yet, even when the army needs 1,000 extra tanks to deter China and Pakistan.

To preserve its rapid military expansion, India’s government and the MoD have set 2020 as the new benchmark for the armored forces. By that year, T-90S production and upgrades are completed, leaving the army with 1,657 tanks total.

Indian BMP-2 APC

The Indian Army’s T-72’s are scheduled for upgrades as well, and 1,900 should be ready by decade’s end. Interestingly, the Indian Army seems to have taken its cue from the Israeli and Czech collaboration Excalibur Army for modernizing the BMP-2.

The BMP-2 has thrived as a license-built Indian model, with a whole family of vehicles developed form its chassis. Manufactured in Ordnance Factory Medak, the new BMP-2 Serath is being outfitted with a better engine, thermal sights, and extra weapons.

Rather than keep its 30mm cannon and single shot ATGM, 363 BMP-2 Seraths get an additional automatic grenade launcher and twin ATGM launchers akin to the M2 Bradley. The twin-ATGM system may be connected with India’s massive purchase of Israeli Spike ATGMs last year. The lethal flyover shoot down missiles are being license-built in India and attached to fighting vehicles.

In what looks like a a concession to local industry, the 2020 plan includes a requirement for 118 Arjun Mark II MBTs, a new variant that incorporates Russian and Israeli subsystems. Despite continuous failures affecting its vast selection of Russian technology, from exploding submarines to crashing planes, India’s generals believe world power status is attainable with an arsenal provided by Moscow.