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`Bhishma' handed over to Army

By Our Special Correspondent

The T-90 S tank `Bhishma' rolls out of the assembly line in the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi in Chennai on Wednesday. -Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

CHENNAI JAN. 7. The Minister of State for Defence Production, O. Rajagopal, today handed over the first indigenously assembled T-90 S main battle tank, Bhishma, to the Chief of Army Staff, N.C. Vij.

"Today is a great day in the history of the Ordnance Factory Board as well as the Army," Mr. Rajagopal said after handing over the `L' shaped key to Gen. Vij. "It not only marks the transfer of technology of the T-series of tanks from our Russian partners but also signifies the bond of trust and confidence that both countries share for decades," he said. "We are looking forward to the totally indigenised version of the T-90 S," he added.

Just past 11.30 a.m., amid the chanting of Vedic hymns, claps, cheers and back-slapping by Heavy Vehicles Factory officers and workers, `Bhishma' came to life as an Armoured Corps driver turned on the upgraded 1000 horse power engine. The ash gray smoke generated mixed with the dust kicked up, as the tank made its first jerky movements and then, lowered its turret to salute the top defence officials.

The T-90 S, named `Bhishma' by the authorities, is a highly versatile and state-of-the-art tank and assembled from imported semi-knocked down units at the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi. The superior features of the new battle tank are its mobility, lethal firepower, surprise hit-at-first sight and self-protection. Its enhanced mobility, ballistic computers for sight and accuracy and capability to fire all types of ammunition in addition to firing guided missiles make the `Bhishma' among the best in the world, said the Additional Director-General (Armoured Vehicles), A.K. Lamba. The main gun is upgraded and has commendable field maintainability. Similarly, the night vision device and thermal imaging system fitted on the `Bhishma' tank are the latest.

The tank has superior armour protection with its explosive reactor armour panel and also has protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It also has state-of-the-art communication system.

The Army wanted 30 per cent of its equipment to be state-of-the-art, another 40 per cent contemporary, said Gen. Vij. The T-90 S would form the large chunk of the state-of-the-art machines, along with the indigenous `Arjun'. The Army would depend on both `Bhishma' and `Arjun'.

Gen. Vij said the problems with the thermal imagers had been sorted out. "We are buying some more for the different versions for which we have floated a request for proposal. That is an on-going process." On the failure of the imagers in the 50 plus C temperatures of the Rajasthan desert, he said, "that was a minor issue."

At present, there are about 80 T-90 S tanks in the assembly line in semi-knocked down condition that will be put together with technical guidance from the Russian collaborators. This will be ready for induction by April this year. Later on, in about a year, about 100 T-90 S imported tank-kits in completely knocked down condition will be assembled at Avadi. Then, the indigenous production of the tank will start by 2006-07. As many as 100 tanks will be produced each year, Mr. Lamba said.

"Our next step is to indigenise within a few years. There is already vast infrastructure and technological support available with the doors open for the private sector," Mr. Rajagopal said. He ruled out reconsidering the decision to allow private sector participation in defence projects and dismissed suggestions that national security will be compromised. "We will look into all aspects before we grant licence to any firm."

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