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The Albino Debacle – will we learn?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Aug , 2017

There was great euphoria on the social media when during the run up to the semifinal for the recent Tank Biathlon held at the 2017 International Army Games at the Alabino Range training ground outside Moscow, the Indian team performed exceedingly well – coming toppers.

The Indian media has not covered this brilliant performance of the Indian Army. 19 armies of the world including China are competing in the international war games in Russia. Our Indian Bravehearts are First in the war games….

There being no mention in our newspapers and electronic media, one Facebook post read, “The Indian media has not covered this brilliant performance of the Indian Army. 19 armies of the world including China are competing in the international war games in Russia. Our Indian Bravehearts are First in the war games. They have made us proud. This will never be given any coverage. Let’s join hands in circulating this achievement of our soldiers”.

But then came the news that during the semifinals held on August 10, 2017, The Chinese team took first place in the competition against Indian, Iranian and Venezuelan teams, advancing into the final scheduled on August 12.

But what came as the heartbreak shock was that report that the Indian team ‘withdrew’ after both their tanks broke down before completing full course of the semifinal run. The news report also brought out that: teams competing in the final drew lots for the carpet colors and the ways of passing the routes by the tank crews; Russian team was to perform in the final in a red tank and a red carpet, Belarus team on a green carpet, Kazakhstan team  on a blue carpet and Chinese team on a yellow carpet. These four teams had also reached final of the Tank Biathlon during 2016.  Russia and Kazakhstan performed on Russian-made T-72B3 tanks, China on its Type-96B tank, and Belarus on a modernized T-72.

In the past, India had participated in these games using T-72 tanks provided by the Russian hosts. The Army felt disadvantaged using these tanks and was keen to field its best tanks and best crews. Consequently, two T-90 tanks were shipped to Russia for these games. The Indian team, like all other participating teams, had 21 personnel including team members, a coaching crew and a maintenance unit. 12 teams made it to the semi-finals including India which involved a relay race.

The incident may be brushed aside under the pseudonym ‘mechanical failure’ but it would be foolish to not recognize the loss of face at an international event of this nature…

According to some reports, both the main and reserve T-90S tanks shipped for use by the Indian team to Russia, developed ‘engine problems’ after performing exceedingly well in the initial rounds of the competition. But what eventually emerged is that these so called ‘engine problems’ actually occurred because the fan belt snapped in the first tank. The reserve tank was then deployed for the race but its complete engine oil leaked two kilometer before reaching the finish line. So, the second tank too could not complete the race.

It is, therefore, not like the Indian team ‘withdrew’ from the competition, as reported by some newspapers, but the team was very much disqualified, perhaps not because of any fault of the participating team. The incident may be brushed aside under the pseudonym ‘mechanical failure’ but it would be foolish to not recognize the loss of face at an international event of this nature where 19-nations were participating and the whole world watched, even if our media only woke up after the Indian team lost out.

This is a case which has ramifications not only for future competitions but more significantly, operations. Hence close introspection is very much necessary. The T-90, nicknamed ‘Bhishma’ as Indian Army’s main battle tank (MBT) is a top class tank comparable to any other in the world. While itself on the move, it can take on a moving target with little chance of a miss.

The Bhishma is being produced under license in India after the first 657 of them were imported for Rs 8,525 crore from Russia starting 2001. While inquiry into the failure of these two tanks can bring out the reasons beyond the broken fan belt and the oil leak, but it is not difficult to put the finger on the cause.

The DRDO and the MoD need to look within and drastically improve, discarding the periodic self-aggrandizement campaigns.

Take your thoughts to when the Maruti-Suzuki cars hit the Indian roads. These were excellent vehicles but as the percentage of Indian parts started going up, it was not unusual an unusual sight to see Maruti-Suzuki cars frequently breaking down on the roads. This got rectified when Maruti-Suzuki and consequently Maruti recognized the snag of the poor quality / spurious parts and went in for strict quality control.

Above is what would have happened in the instant case of the breakdown of the two Bhishma tanks in Russia; typical case of indigenous parts failing under extreme conditions. Can we learn from say Belarus whose ‘140 Repair Plant’ has developed an upgrade package for their MBT’s. Why should a new fan belt snap, as it did, and why should the entire oil leak out?

The media says, “DRDO remains upset that the Army has not yet ordered upgraded Arjun Mark-II tanks after inducting the first lot of 124 Mark-I variants, stressing the indigenous tanks did better than the T-90S tanks in comparative trials in 2010”. One couldn’t be more naïve to compare the Arjun Mk-II with the T-90 and it is no secret why and how the Army took those 124. Hopefully, the debacle in the Tank Biathlon was not orchestrated to push the Arjun Mark-II. One can expect the continuing hue and cry from vested interests to support the DRDO but products speak for themselves.

Incidentally, the quality of indigenous ammunition too needs serious introspection, evident from the ‘Dhanush’ failing some of the field tests during firing. There are already voices on social media that the Army is perhaps trying to dump the Dhanush, which is ridiculous. The DRDO and the MoD need to look within and drastically improve, discarding the periodic self-aggrandizement campaigns. While no individual or organization can learn without accepting criticism, what is wrong within the DRDO is explicit in successive CAG reports; developing equipment which is either sub-standard equipment or have extended deadlines and additional budgets.

In his first address to the DRDO, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given subtle admonishing while stressing on the need for scientists to complete work in time, and stay ahead of technological innovations, by saying, “I see that the big challenge is how we complete our work before time. If the world will finish something in 2020, can we do it by 2018?” Shouldn’t we  examine what is amiss in the colossal organization of DRDO established since 1958, compared to the sterling performance of a much smaller organization like ISRO established in 1969? A ‘business as usual’ approach will be tragic.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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7 thoughts on “The Albino Debacle – will we learn?

  1. If the tanks were bad, ammo was bad, why not change the crew and officers? Russian tanks would perform better with Russian crew & Russian Generals.

    Just imagine this happens in war, we will lose the war. T90s was defeated in comparative tank trials, this Tin can dont fullfil GSQR, still you want to go for it.

    World over all including Russians, Chinese & Americans moving to heavy tanks & protected tanks and you are stuck with 90s tech. Which is nothing but modified T72, renamed to hide failed T72 tanks in Gulf war, to sell abroad. Russians didnt adopted T90, they moved to T14.

    Now instead of retrospection, you started with T90s, came to Arjun and why it should not be inducted, drdo has failed etc, even local tank ammo. Wonder what are your intentions sir.

    Some of our Generals have failed us.

  2. Mediocrity is what is in practice in India. The DRDO behaves like a typical Government Organisation – lethargic, unprofessional, self centered and unproductive. I have interacted with DRDO scientists on many occasions and have seen them to have a very unprofessional approach to what ever they do. In the case of the INSAS Rifle when we told them that it wasn’t up to the mark in terms of technology and manufacture, a scientist ask a simple question ‘what was wrong with it’ till the time I had to throw the Janes Book of Small Arms at their face to tell them that after 2 or 3 decades of research they have come up with a cut paste job. There is no scope of growth within the organisation which is run by “Seasoned Outdated Stalwarts” who rule the roost. This is from a couple of junior scientists of the Organisation who I happened to meet at a symposium. Its about time the organisation is revamped and baggage done away with it. We need to look as to how the Organisation becomes an actual Defence Research Organisation and becomes productive.

  3. Poor quality of Tanks that wont stay in the heat of the battle. They have to be reliable. What is use off a fancy tank if it breaks down? Even a simple tank but which is more rugged will do better in this case. Simple and easy to fix is what India needs to work on. Not the bells and whistles which come later on. First get the basics right.

  4. The Problem is not with DRDO or the Govt. The problem is with the army officers mind. set. Why did they take T 90 tank instead of Arjun Tank? Arjun tank could have won the race, Simply carrying national flag is not patriotism.on a foreign tank. Army officers will come out of an excuse that Arjun tank weight is more. Yes, weight is more. It should have sent by any naval ship.
    Any engineer knows that it is the ground pressure which matters in operating a tank than its weight. Ground pressure of Arjun is 0.86 kg per sq. cm and that of T90 is .90 kg per sq. cm. This has been proven in desert trials where Arjun ran as Ferrari and T90 like Maruti 800.
    3. Any informed person knows that designing Tank takes 10 years or more. But going by the contents of RFI, Army wants a design which can serve as BMW and Tata Nano based. Their technical knowledge is weak and creating hindrance in indigenous development. It is high time their mind set should change. Kindly read the article given below:-
    “Arjun tank outruns, outguns Russian T-90″
    So my suggestion is that in future the defence forces should only use the Indian made equipment.
    How Isreal is using their Merkava tank.its weight is 65 ton. The USA tank Abram M1A2: 72 short tons (65 t).
    58.5 tonnes (57.6 long tons; 64.5 short tons)
    When DRDO made Arjun tank weight was 58.5 tonnes.

    Mk.2=68 tonnes (67 long tons; 75 short ton
    When ever there is a trial they will demand to fit some new equipment. So automatically weight will go up.
    Arjun is a far better tank than T-90. It is a good thing that T-90 failed. One thing is sure this Government is not going to purchase any new tank from a foreign

  5. It’s not a specific problem constrained to few armaments or departments. Its a general malaise in all the government run departments. No recognition is given to talent or personnel, who take initiatives. In fact, harbingers become scapegoats of the paper pushers to maintain status quo. Any Indian with brilliant mind-set will die a quick and quiet death in these bureaucratic work environments. Responsibility is never fixed nor assumed. Hence, they get away with shoddy work and laissez-faire attitudes. There is no drive nor need to take initiatives. Political bosses don’t have foresight or the gall to take on these too big to fail public enterprises. Naturally, nation as a whole suffers. Having said that, the current issues can be resolved by making the end-user work in close collaboration with the government manufacturers. The DRDOsand OFBs can be headed by personnel from the three forces on deputation or on periodic rotational basis. Such personnel should be given free hand to hire and fire anyone. Responsibility must be fixed and taken to task for failures or project over-runs. The minimum average age for retirement should be reduced to 50 to get rid are of old wood. Exceptional brains can be retained as consultants. Funding must be ensured for micro-fabrication and hi-tech nanoscale testing facilities. Too big to fail organizations must be split into smaller more manageable units. Non-productive units maybe privatized or sold off. Increased representation or deputation of personnel from forces and technical experts must be placed in decision making levels in MOD to bring about efficiency and expertise. Corrupt must be dealt with severely and their properties impounded. An unified command integrating the three services must be carried out to effectively synergize and utilize the assets at hand. Those are some measures that may yield good dividends.

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