Many years ago in a visit to a machine tool company in Germany, I came across a very sophisticated production line for manufacturing the components of Arjuna tanks. Only the defence could afford those sophistications of CNC flexible manufacturing system with full automation. Over the years, the PSUs under the defence ministry have created huge production capacities with investment running in billions of dollars. However, we hardly come to know of its effective utilization and efficiency. And no management and technical norms can justify that. And the reason of such misappropriation of taxpayers’ money is the ego war of the executives of various establishments and their vested interests.
Time and again, the news about the prestigious main battle tank Arjun that DRDO designed and developed have appeared in media. The latest relates that while DRDO wants the army to order 500 Arjun tanks to stabilise production lines and pave the way for the development of a “futuristic” MBT (Main Battle tank), the Army does not want anything more than the 124 Arjuns already ordered. Army wants to replace all its older through the progressive induction of Russian-origin T-90S tanks.
According to the report, Chennai-based Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) had last year handed over 14 Arjuns to the Army for trials. However, the army returned them listing various defects some related to its defects in its fire control systems, inaccuracy of guns, low speeds in tactical areas such as deserts and inability to operate in temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. This summer too Army and the DRDO took out Arjuns for trials. But no positive report has come. Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry suspects an effort at “sabotaging” Arjun tanks.
As it appears, the main battle is between the DRDO, CVRDE and army.
Going in the story, it appears to be a typical case of total lack of coordination and accountability. The end user is to participate positively in product development. The designers and manufacturing must take care of all the defects pointed out by the army. For getting the defects solved, the team can take services of all the experts in the technologies from anywhere in the country or even from abroad. Nothing justifies the abandonment of the project that has cost so much for the nation.
However, if the army wishes to keep on importing the tanks and intends to create obstacles in indigenising by raising various quality issues, Arjun can’t get inducted. The product development must be a joint responsibility and carried out by a team with the members from all concerned divisions. The technocrats in army must participate with equal responsibility. Is it so difficult to get the problems of quality of MBT sorted out in a country that is known world over for its innovative skills and talents?
Many doubt the Indian Army’s decision of not to accept any more home-grown Arjun main battle tanks (MBTs) emanating from the pressure of the powerful defence lobbyists and middlemen, who earn huge commissions from importing defence arsenal. It is to keep the middlemen happy and in turn to get the favours from them.
What a mess of a great indigenisation project that the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has been working on the tank for 36 years and the cost for the country of millions of poor men. But for the outdated policies and management practices, the Arjuna MBT project could have generated armies of small and big manufacturing vendors and employment in thousands.
Will Arjuna loose the battle or some Krishna (may be the defense minister or even the prime miinister, known as the most honest politicians) make him win?