India: Arjun tank inducted, T-55 retiring

March 18, 2011 at 6:18 AM
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NEW DELHI, March 18 (UPI) -- After nearly four decades of policy, procurement and procrastination, India's indigenous Arjun main battle tank has been formally inducted into the Indian army's 75th Armored Regiment.

At the same time, India marks the start of retirement for its Russian T-55 tanks.

"Lt. Gen. A. K. Singh, commander in chief of the southern command, inducted the tank," a defense spokesman said. "The ceremony also marked the passage of T-55 tanks from the inventory after 40 years of reliable service."

The induction took place at the military base in Jaisalmer in the state of Rajasthan, around 360 miles west of the capital Jaipur, during the 39th anniversary of the creation of the 75th Armored Regiment.

The Arjun is made by Heavy Vehicles Factory in the specifically military manufacturing town of Avadi -- an acronym for Armored Vehicles and Ammunition Depot of India. Avadi is a coastal town of around 250,000 and about 15 miles from Chennai on the southeastern tip of India.

The tank measures just less than 33 feet long and 12 feet wide and weighs around 58 tons. Armor is a Kanchan steel-composite sandwich development. An MTU 838 Ka 501 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 Israeli-made laser-homing anti-tank guided missile LAHAT, first in service in Israel in 1992. It was designed primarily for the Merkava tanks' 105mm and 120mm guns but it can be used by all 105mm and 120mm guns, including some low-recoil, low-weight guns fitted to armored cars.

Secondary armaments on the Arjun are a MAG 7.62mm Tk715 coaxial machine gun and an HCB 12.7mm AA machine gun.

An advanced Arjun version, the Mark II, will be made starting from 2014.

In May, the army placed another order for 124 of the units after its original order for the same number.

While the assembly line has been given a reprieve, analysts say 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 in November 2009 as part of the country's fleet of about 4,000 tanks.

But questions over the Arjun's performance were laid to rest last March when the Arjun underwent a month of arduous desert field tests in Rajasthan 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 representative said at the time.

"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."

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.

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