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April 12, 2012

Government on overdrive to tide over tanks’ ammunition crunch

With Army chief General V K Singh ominously warning his entire tank fleet is ``devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks'', the government is fast-tracking orders to arm the T-90S main-battle tanks with missiles and specialized ammunition for a greater punch on the western front with Pakistan.

Top sources say contracts for 25,000 Invar missiles and 66,000 APFSDS (armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) rounds for the Russian-origin T-90S fleet as well as 10,000 Konkurs-M anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), at an overall cost of around Rs 6,000 crore, are in the final stages.

This comes after Gen Singh wrote a confidential letter to PM Manmohan Singh on March 12, which found its way into the public domain, detailing the critical ``hollowness'' in his 1.13-million-strong Army's war-waging capabilities.

Defence minister A K Antony, incidentally, is slated to hold the third review meeting on Gen Singh's concerns on April 17-18. While the procurement process for the new contracts was initiated quite sometime ago, their swift conclusion has become a top-priority over the last few weeks.

There are two big contracts for the 3UBK-Invar missiles, which are potent anti-tank weapons with a five-km strike range, in the pipeline. The first is for 10,000 missiles for Rs 1,386 crore from Russia for which a ``draft'' CCS (cabinet committee on security) note has already been prepared and circulated, say sources.

The rest 15,000 missiles will be ordered from defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Ltd, at a cost of over Rs 2,000 crore, for which the contract negotiations committee (CNC) is in progress.

Another over Rs 2,000 crore contract will be for the 66,000 APFSDS rounds fired from the 125mm smooth-bore guns of T-90S tanks. The reserve stocks for this specialized ammunition is down to only four days, as Army vice-chief Lt-Gen S K Singh told the parliamentary standing committee on defence on Monday.

The Army is also going to get the 10,000 Konkurs-M ATGMs directly from Russia for over Rs 1,200 crore. ``All these contracts should be inked within the next few months,'' said a source.

The T-90S fleet, incidentally, has grappled with glitches in its missile and thermal imaging systems right since its induction after India first ordered 310 of these tanks for over Rs 3,625 crore under a February 2001 contract with Russia.

India went in for T-90S tanks since Pakistan was inducting T-80UD tanks from Ukraine as well as `Al Khalid' MBTs developed with China's help, and the indigenous Arjun tanks were then nowhere on the horizon.

Initially, India had plans to manufacture another 1,000 T-90S tanks at the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory, but Russia, eager to squeeze out more money, put several roadblocks in the transfer of technology (ToT) promised.

It was only after India signed another Rs 4,900-crore deal with Russia in November, 2007, to import another 347 of these tanks, coupled with Antony pushing the ToT case with his Russian counterparts, that Moscow eased controls.

Since then, the Avadi factory has built 170 T-90S tanks, with the annual production slated to touch 100 tanks in 2012. Moreover, the Army has ordered 124 more Arjuns after the initial order of 124 in 2004. 


Times of India

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