NEW DELHI, May 21 (UPI) -- The future of the controversial Indian-made Arjun tank has been secured after the army placed an order for another 124 units.
The latest order is in addition to a previous order for 124 units of the main battle tank that has been on the drawing board for more than 35 years.
The army already has a regiment of 45 Arjuns that were delivered by the Heavy Vehicles Factory in the specifically military manufacturing town of Avadi in the middle of last year.
Avadi is a coastal town of around 250,000 and about 15 miles from Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu on the south-eastern tip of India. Avadi is an acronym for Armored Vehicles and Ammunition Depot of India.
The new Arjun order is seen as a much needed vote of confidence in the indigenously designed and manufactured tank that has faced the ax several times over development costs and poor performance. These included issues relating to weight, size, night-vision capability and fire control systems. These defects were corrected one by one over the years.
The defense department said questions over performance finally were answered in March when the Arjun underwent a month of arduous desert field tests in Rajasthan state alongside what is considered its main competitor, the Russian-made T-90.
"After many years of trials and tribulations, the tank has now proved its worth by its superb performance under various circumstances, such as driving cross-country over rugged sand dunes, detecting, observing and quickly engaging targets and accurately hitting targets, both stationary and moving with pinpointed accuracy," a defense department spokesperson said.
"Its superior firepower is based on accurate and quick target acquisition capability during day and night in all types of weather and shortest possible reaction time during combat engagements."
Over the past year the Defense Research and Development Organization, India's main defense R&D outfit employing more than 5,000 scientists and 25,000 other staff, and the tank's manufacturer Heavy Vehicles factory have warned they might have to shut down the assembly plant unless the government decided to order more units.
While the assembly line has been given a reprieve, the delays, however, have dented the potential order book for the Arjun. More than 390 T-90s were ordered in 2001 as a stopgap until the Arjun was made ready.
Continued performance and manufacturing problems with the Arjun prompted the army to order another 347 T-90s last November as part of the country's fleet of about 4,000 tanks.
The army is expected to keep the T-90s in service for around 30 years. The army is now considering the Arjun as a potential successor to their aging Russian T-72, of which it has around 2,400.
The defense department may have finally settled on a main battle tank but the army has already begun searching for what it calls a "futuristic main battle tank" that will not necessarily be Indian-made.
The Arjun measures just under 33 feet long and 12 feet wide and weighs around 58 tons. Armor is a Kanchan steel-composite sandwich development. A 1,400 horsepower diesel engine gives it an operational range of 280 miles with a speed of 45 mph on roads and 25 mph cross-country.
The 120mm rifled main turret gun can fire the LAHAT anti-tank missile. Secondary armaments are a MAG 7.62mm Tk715 coaxial machine gun and an HCB 12.7mm AA machine gun.
The Arjun is named after one of the main characters of the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. The discussion of life and karma is the longest epic poem in the world, being roughly 10 times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined.