India signs $2.8-bn ordnance factory deal for 464 more T-90 tanks

File Photo: Indian Army’s T-90 tanks during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi.

New Delhi: India’s Ministry of Defence today signed a Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion/$2.8 billion) contract with the state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to licence-build 464 additional T-90S main battle tanks for the Indian Army. The indent for the 464 of these tanks were issued to the OFB in May.

Under the deal, the Avadi-based Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, would deliver the Russian-origin battle tanks, with night fighting capabilities, in five years. The first of these additional T-90s will be delivered in less than three years from now.

The Indian Army already has around 1,070 T-90 tanks, apart from 124 ‘Arjun’ and 2,400 older T-72 tanks in its 67 armoured regiments. After the first 657 T-90 tanks were imported for Rs 8,525 crore ($1.2 billion) from Russia from 2001 onwards, another 1,000 are being progressively licenced and produced by HVF with Russian kits.

The fresh contract is part of a series of earlier contracts agreed upon with the HVF in 2006-07 to licence-build 1,000 T-90Ss – designated ‘Bhishma’ in Indian Army service – under a transfer of technology agreement signed with Russia.

The programme has faced recurring technological problems for several years, especially with regard to the tank’s 125-mm smoothbore gun barrel, which has resulted in extended delays and cost overruns. However, these glitches have now been resolved, with the latest order for 464 T-90S tanks meant to complete the previous agreement with HVF for the licensed production of 1,000 of these platforms.

The recently signed agreement is separate from the planned Rs 134.48 billion ($1.8 billion) acquisition of an equal number of T-90MS tanks, all of which would be imported in kit form from Russian tank manufacturer UralVagonZavod (UVZ) for assembly by the HVF.

India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the T-90MS procurement in April, but the contract is yet to be signed. The planned T-90MS acquisition also featured in discussions held in early November in Moscow during a meeting of the ninth India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation, but no deal has yet been reached.

The fresh contract comes at a time when the 1.3-million strong Indian Army is also re-formatting its entire war-fighting machinery and the “Cold Start” or “Pro-Active Strategy”, which envisages fast mobilisation to strike hard across the border with multiple offensive thrusts.

This task will primarily be carried out by restructured and agile Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) centred around the T-90S tanks, along with a mix of infantry, artillery, air defence, signals and engineers, backed by attack helicopters.

The Army’s new Land Warfare Doctrine itself notes that the “response along the western front will be sharp and swift, with the aim to destroy the adversary’s centre of gravity and secure spatial gains”. Army chief General Bipin Rawat in January had announced the new IBGs would be war-gamed in February and then tested in an exercise in May.

India has already procured additional laser-guided Invar missiles and 125mm APFSDS (Armour-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot) ammunition for its T-90 tanks. But the Army’s Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) project, with an initial quantity of 1,770 tanks to be produced and inducted by 2028 under the Strategic Partnership policy of the Defence Procurement Procedure to replace the older T-72 tanks, however, is yet to take off.

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