The Indian Army's plan to develop and build a medium-weight main battle tank to replace more than 2,500 Russian T-72s has raised questions about the future of the homemade Arjun tank and likely would kill a decade-old proposal by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to build a tank, according to analysts and officials.
The Indian Army this month floated a global request for information to seek partners to design the new tank under a program called Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV). As a medium-weight platform it would weigh 40-plus tons, compared with the Arjun, which weighs 60 tons.
"The proposed FRCV is in the medium category and is more likely to be around the T-90 platform than the Arjun Mark-II platform, which is getting close to the medium-heavy/heavy category," said Anil Chait, retired Indian Army lieutenant general. "Designing and developing the product around proposed qualitative requirements afresh would suggest that we may be looking toward the end of the Arjun saga," he said.
However, Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Army brigadier general and defense analyst, said the Arjun will progress from the current Mark-1 level to Mark-3.
"The lead time for the FRCV to be manufactured, if all goes well, is likely to be approximately 15 years or so. This provides adequate scope for the Arjun series to be progressed to at least Mark-3. Moreover, there is a need in the Indian Army for an Arjun class of tank."
While no Ministry of Defence official would comment on the fate of the decade-old Futuristic Main Battle Tank (FMBT) project to be developed by DRDO, an Army official said FRCV has "surely killed" the FMBT.
The FMBT, intended to be in the 50-plus ton category, was also meant to replace the T-72s.
"The FRCV seems to be a completely new project which possibly junks the FMBT, which was being worked upon by the DRDO or may be a lead to the developing agency to add on to the existing work that has already been done on the same," Bhonsle said.
"I surely see Americans, Russians, French, Germans, Koreans and British participating along with Indian companies in stand-alone or joint venture mode. We could see leading companies from there which are involved with tank design, participating in it," Chait said.
If I were a gambling man - heh - I'd say this would be an natural match for the Russian T-14 tank. It is lighter than the 60+ ton Arjun (I've seen both 48 tons and 57 tons thrown around, something definitive would be nice!) and the Russians have a historical relationship with the Indians in the defense sector. There has been a lot more strained relationships as of late with the Russians (re: the problems with the carrier India bought and very dramatically recently the FGPA/PAK-FA problems).
OTOH, the Russians will almost assuredly be willing to let the Indians manufacture the tank locally: this is a huge plus for the Indians.
OTGH, the Americans and Europeans have not been manufacturing 'medium tanks' for some time. They either go light (M-8 Buford, the MGS Stryker, etc) or very heavy (Abrams, Leopard, LeClerc). The Japanese with their Type 90 and the South Koreans with their K2 tank would possibly work. The Koreans have successfully worked with the Turks on their Altay tank, though the Altay ended up heavier than what the Indians want.
It comes down to what the Indians really want. If they want to diversify their defense industrial input, they'll go with the Japanese or Koreans. If they want to get a crack at the new Russian tank, they'll...well, duh. However, there is a slim chance they will want to collaborate with the Americans to bring the two defense industries closer. They are already going to do so for naval armaments, especially aircraft carriers. This would be purely a political decision though.