Indian Army to spend billions on refurbishing outdated T-72s.
An Iraqi T-72 fires a broadside at a target in the desert. TheIndian Army will be spending about Rs 5000 crores on modernising itsaging T-72 for serving another 15-20 years.
The Indian Army chief’s dismaying disclosure last month, that India’stank fleet was largely incapable of fighting at night, highlighted onlya part of the problem with the Russian T-72, the army’s main tank. Infact, the T-72 is in far worse shape than General Deepak Kapoor let on.
Another signal of the T-72’s obsolescence was its recent withdrawal,by the army’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF), fromnext month’s comparative trials with the indigenous Arjun tank. An embarrassed DGMF has realized that, without major refurbishing, the T-72 was not in the Arjun’s class.
But in the army’s long-term planning, the T-72 --- which the moreadvance T-90 will replace only gradually --- will continue to equipalmost half of the army’s 59 tank regiments as far in the future as2022.
Business Standard has accessed a sheaf of technical reports and fundingrequests that actually quantify the state of the T-72. Exactly 32 yearshave passed since the first T-72s arrived in India; army guidelinesstipulate 32 years as the service life of a tank. The earliest tanksfrom the army’s 2418-strong T-72 inventory should have already beenretired, making way for a more modern tank, such as the T-90 or theArjun.
Instead, the DGMF --- longstanding advocates of Russian equipment ---plans to spend Rs 5 crores per T-72, hoping to add another 15-20 yearsto that tank’s service life by replacing crucial systems, such as itsfire control system, main engine and night vision devices.
The military’s Annual Acquisition Plan for 2008-2010 (AAP 2008-10) lists out the cost of modernizing the T-72 fleet as follows:
• New 1000-horsepower engines (identical to the T-90 tank) to replacethe T-72’s old 780 horsepower engines. The cost of each engine: Rs 3crores.
• Thermal Imaging Fire Control Systems (TIFCS) that will allow the T-72gunners to observe, and fight at night. Each TIFCS will cost Rs 1.4crores.
• Thermal Imaging (TI) sights to provide T-72 tank commanders with night vision. Each TI sight costs Rs 0.4 crores.
• An auxillary power unit (APU) to generate power for the tank’s electrical systems. Each APU will cost Rs 0.16 crores.
The Rs 5 crore cost of upgrading each T-72 knocks out the argument thatthe T-72 --- at Rs 9 crores apiece --- is value-for-money. Retrofitting upgraded systems will escalate the cost of the T-72 to Rs 14 crores. In contrast, a brand new Arjun,with a 1500 horsepower engine, state-of-the-art integrated electronics,and the indigenous, widely praised Kanchan armour, can be had for amarginally more expensive Rs 16.8 crores.
“It is folly to stick with Russian tanks despitehaving developed the Arjun, and the design capability to continuouslyimprove it?” says Lt Gen Ajai Singh, who headed the army’sDirectorate of Combat Vehicles before becoming Governor of Assam.“India can tailor the Arjun to our specific requirements andcontinuously upgrade the tank to keep it state-of-the-art. Why upgradeold T-72s? It is time to bring in the Arjun.”
The T-72’s galloping obsolescence is magnified by the MoD’s failure to overhaul tanks on schedule: some800 T-72s are years overdue for overhaul. Originally, each T-72 was tobe overhauled twice during its service life of 32 years. But as theoverhaul agencies --- the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi; and 505 ArmyBase Workshop, Delhi --- failed to meet their overhaul targets of 70and 50 tanks respectively, the army decided that one overhaul was goodenough. And with even that schedule not implemented, a desperate MoDhas approached Indian industry to play a role in overhauling the T-72fleet.
The total expenditure on the T-72 tank, budgeted for AAP 2008-10, isover Rs 5000 crores. The cost of overhaul has not been accuratelydetermined.