June 13, 2011 Contributor: Simon Wigfield - Defence IQ's Blog
It has been recently announced that India’s Arjun Mark-II has begun operational trials at the Pokhran ranges in Rajasthan with a final delivery date planned for 2014. For me, there are 3 questions that instantly spring to mind:
* Will the trialled capabilities meet the mark for predicted performance?
* How realistic is it to presume this deadline will be met?
* Why not simply procure from international industry?
Like most Indian Defence press releases, the announcement is presented in meagre outline form – the most detailed elements report that modifications simply include ‘sighting facilities’, ‘night vision capabilities’ and ‘improved communication systems’ as well as a laser homing device. While some may argue that the vagueness of such announcements implies that the Defence Ministry is looking to skip over the details – either in fear of announcing an operational weakness to the public sphere, or that they just don’t know exactly what level of capability they should be looking to meet – it is just as likely that India is taking the prudent tact in testing and evaluating all new developments before elaborating on those specific elements. Of course, the public perception of T&E reports are often at odds with the military’s (as most engineers will tell you!).
In answering the second question, timeliness of delivery is definitely open to debate – given the level of assessment, reassessment and general perfection over which India seems to obsess. With the Arjun Mark I taking 30 years from concept to completion, expecting the Mark II to be combat-ready in 4 years is a pretty massive expectation, especially given the large number of issues demonstrated by the Arjun Mark I’s operational capabilities in recent years. This may seem a little cut-throat. However, if we take the evidence in hand (as any analyst would do) it’s clear to see the DRDO have a big task ahead of them if they’re playing this by the book.
The final question I find the most difficult. This year, India has increased its defence budget by 12%, taking it to $34Billion for 2011. This demonstrates to me and the rest of the defence analyst world that India is one of the largest emerging defence markets. With all this money on the table, why don’t the Indian Armed Forces procure more from international industry? This would ensure a certain level of security, both in terms of quality of production, and in many cases, reliable delivery dates. This is exactly what Lieutenant General J.P Singh, Deputy Chief of Staff, Indian Army is hoping to introduce, having given a slight insight at last year’s Armoured Vehicles India event. At this year’s conference he is expected to give his perspectives on each of the questions presented above, and hopefully in greater detail than the recent press release!