When national ambitions and a nation's technological base don't correlate, the product is a chimera which is thirty-six years in the making like the Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT), and the drama hasn't ended. First mooted in 1972 after the victorious Indo-Pakistani War, the Indian government's attempt at an indigenous tank after the licence production of the relatively simple Vickers MBT, known as the Vijayanta in Indian service, was the Arjun MBT, a 58-ton vehicle with a superficial resemblance in appearance to the Leopard II and Type 90.
The project, was, of course, to enable India, which had sought the status of a great power, to be self-sufficient in tank design and production, thus much of the development was indigenous. The Arjun is equipped with a rather unique and supposedly accurate rifled 120mm developed in India. Even then, the Arjun has to depend on a German engine and transmission from MTU and Renk as it lacked the technological base to design and produce a 1500 hp diesel engine. Not many nations have that capability then and now.
The development was plagued apparently by integration problems and more likely than not, shifting requirements. Thirty-six years. Technology had not stood still in the field of armoured warfare, tank design and development. The resultant vehicle, it will appear, is that of a Cold War warrior.
Over the years, the project lingered as problems plagued it and when India finally bought T-72 and T-90s MBTs from the CIS to replace the aging Centurions and Vijayanta, it was clear that the writing was on the wall for the Arjun.
At various points in its development, there was talk of the Arjun being cancelled but national pride would not allow it. There was also thoughts of salvaging the project by mounting the turret on top of a T-72 chassis but nothing had come of it.
Today, the announcement finally came, the production of the Arjun main battle tank will be capped at 124 vehicles. This political move comes as no surprise as it will assuage national pride and allow the defence establishment to bow out with a bit of pride intact. That will, supposedly, be the end of a long saga, production of the first tanks have started and the Arjun will be produced in batches. None has been fielded though.
After several decades, the Indian defence industry is still unable to design and develop a competitive MBT. The assembling of new batches of MBT will still be dependent on Russian diesels, parts and such. Billions down the drain, national pride notwithstanding.
The existence of Vijayanta, Centurions, Arjuns, T-72s and T-90s means having to stock 105mm, 120mm and 125mm rounds, surely, a substantive logistical issue if there is one.