THE INDIAN T-72 TANK BLUNDER

Posted on Posted in Army News, Defence Analysis, Indian Defence News

The first country outside Europe to begin producing the T-72 was India. In 1978, India began purchasing 500 T-72, T-72M and T-72M1 tanks directly from the USSR. At the same time, steps were taken to begin production of the T-72M1 at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, totaling some 900 tanks. The T-72M1 is locally known as the Ajeya.

(Indian Army T-72 , photo credit – INDRA Networks)

The Indian Army introduced the T-72 tank as an interim main battle tank in 1979. The tanks were due for overhaul after 12/10 years. While these tanks were imported since 1979, the majority of the present fleet was imported during 1982-86.

It is incumbent upon the Ministry of Defence to set up the overhaul facilities for equipment soon after their induction, so that the facilities are available by the time the first overhaul is due. Ministry sanctioned a project called `Red Rose’ in April 1986 for overhaul and maintenance of tanks. Short closure of this project after 1989 was mentioned in Paragraph 15 of Audit Report No. 8 of 1993. Keeping in view the available facilities at Ordnance Factories, Ministry decided in July 1991 to entrust the responsibility of overhaul to Ordnance Factory Board.

Ministry accorded sanction in September 1993 i.e. four years after the closure of Project `Red Rose’, for setting up of facilities to overhaul 70 tanks per annum at Heavy Vehicles Factory Avadi at a cost of Rs 12 crore and 170 tank engines per annum at Engine Factory Avadi at a cost of Rs 6.50 crore with planned date of completion as December 1995. Equipment valuing Rs 4.69 crore already imported under the earlier project ‘Red Rose’ were to be transferred to Heavy Vehicles Factory/Engine Factory Avadi. By this time, 368 tanks imported during 1979 to 1982 had become due for overhaul. In addition to the engines fitted with tanks, pooled engines were also due for overhaul.

The sanction envisaged creation of capacity for overhaul of 12 tanks by March 1995, 40 cumulative by June 1995, 70 cumulative by December 1995 and thereafter 70 per annum. Similarly, 25 engines were to be overhauled by September 1994, 40 cumulative by March 1995, 170 cumulative by December 1995 and 170 per annum thereafter. The sanction also provided for manpower strength of 614, including 484 industrial employees for Heavy Vehicles Factory Avadi and 188 including 141 industrial employees for Engine Factory Avadi. This manpower was to be met through redeployment of the available sanctioned manpower of these factories/sister factories.

The delay in initiating the tank overhaul facility had led to accumulation of 368 tanks by the time the tanks were taken up for overhaul. By the time the envisaged capacity of overhaul of 70 tanks per annum could be achieved even as per the project schedule 200 tanks per annum were being added to the tanks due for overhaul every year. Similar situation prevailed in respect of overhaul of engines at Engine Factory Avadi, though the mismatch was a little less than those for the tanks. Thus, even with reference to the designed capacity of overhaul, there was a serious mismatch between the requirement and the capacity.

This mismatch has been further aggravated by dismal performance of the two factories, which is likely to render large number of tanks and engines unserviceable for a very long time. Large number of tanks and engines becoming due for overhaul at a time is attributable to their induction in bulk particularly during 1982-86. Ministry ought to have taken advance action to meet the requirement of overhaul, so that the Army is not saddled with such a large number of tanks needing overhauling.

The poor performance of both factories is all the more striking in the background of low capacity utilisation of production of T-72 tanks. Against the annual capacity of 200 tanks, the Heavy Vehicles Factory has been producing only between 48 and 92 tanks during the three years 1996-1999.

The arrears at the end of March 1998 had gone up to 698, which can be overhauled in not less than 10 years, even if the factory, works at the maximum capacity of overhaul of 70 tanks, every year. In between large number of tanks due for overhaul will be also added, particularly since large number of indigenously produced tanks will also be due for overhaul. Against targeted overhaul of 553 engines, Engine Factory Avadi overhauled 287 and issued only 244 to Army up to 1997-98. Shortfall in overhauling of engines was attributed to non-availability of testing facilities and insufficient manpower.

Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF), Avadi requires armor plates of 60 x 750 x 4000 mm dimensions in manufacture of T-72 tanks and its overhauling. In May 1996 HVF assessed a requirement of 74,036 kgs of armor plates for manufacture of 232 original tanks and overhaul of 100 tanks. The net deficiency after taking into account available stock worked out to 61,190.254 kgs of armor plates. HVF procured 60,024 kgs armor plates from Steel Authority of India Limited, Rourkela between February 1997 and January 1998 against its order of September 1996.

(T-72 M1 Stock armour profile with Steel Armour)

Director General Ordnance Factories manufactured 770 barrels for T-72 tanks deviating from critical heat treatment schedule for tempering of barrels without consulting the original designer. This resulted in manufacture of defective barrels. 11 barrels burst in firing from tanks causing accidents. 454 defective barrels valued at Rs 44 crore were held in stock and the remaining 305 barrels fitted in the tanks were under process of investigation as of June 1999.

Department of Defence Production and Supplies placed an order on Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited., Hyderabad in October 1989 for supply of 774 barrels to be fitted in T-72 tanks, at a cost of Rs 67.73 crore. Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited, in turn, placed a letter of intent in March 1990 on Director General Ordnance Factories for converting black forging hot rolled bars i.e. input raw materials into finished, machined and tested barrels. The letter of intent envisaged that the tempering of barrels would be carried out in two stages viz. in first stage in the temperature range of 520-550°C and in the second stage in the temperature range of 530-570°C. The barrels were to be supplied by the Director General Ordnance Factories to Central Ordnance Depot Jabalpur only after testing by Controllerate of Quality Assurance (weapons) Jabalpur. Field Gun Factory supplied 770 barrels to the Central Ordnance Depot Jabalpur between 1992 and 1996. The Quality Assurance Establishment had, however, passed these barrels despite their tempering at reduced temperature, as fit for use.

During firing in September 1992, from a T-72 tank, the barrel cracked causing an accident. Further in 35 more accidents occurred till March 1998, ten more barrels cracked/burst. Russian specialists, who investigated the cause(s) of the accidents, observed that the deviation from prescribed tempering temperature was the direct cause of such breakages, and that the protocol signed in 1985 was without consulting the original designer. Army Headquarters decided in December 1997 to withdraw all barrels tempered at 460°C and below. As of June 1998, 454 such barrels valued at Rs 44 crore from stock were identified and rejected and remaining 305 barrels fitted on tanks were under investigation.

In order to manufacture T-72 tanks, Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF), Avadi procured 1237 sets of hydraulic control system (Code-66), from Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) Ltd., Ajmer between August 1993 and April 2000 against four supply orders of Ministry of Defence placed between September 1987 and February 1999. Code-66 items comprised of value device, pipeline assembly etc.

Indian Army had complained about the failure noticed in Code-66 ex-HMT assembled in T-72 Tanks. A meeting was therefore arranged in December 2000 between HMT, Controller of Quality Assurance/Heavy Vehicles, Avadi and HVF and it was held that though some damages could have been caused to some components in transit, poor quality of Code-66 ex-HMT could not be ignored. It was therefore decided to backload all the available stock of pipelines/hoses held by HVF to HMT for revalidation of quality problem and also for servicing/rectification.

HMT, however, refused to undertake repair/revalidation at their cost on the ground that (i) stores had been damaged while storing at HVF, heavy damage had taken place due to improper loose packing done in old and extraordinary big packing cases, (ii) items supplied from 1996 onwards had not been used, (iii) studs in the oil priming pump were broken due to mishandling at HVF, (iv) leakage through breather hole was due to aging effect of oil seal since the stores were kept unused for long duration at HVF and (v) warranty period was over.

Armoured Vehicles Headquarters (AVHQ), Avadi, stated in June 2004 that the defects were not noticed at the time of drawal of the item but the functional problems occurred after the items were fitted in the tanks/during trials. They also added that the quality problem was not attributed to improper storage/mishandling as the stores were stored properly with original packing. The contention of AVHQ is not tenable since the HVF paid for all repairs/revalidation which amounted to tacit acceptance of its lapse.

Source – Global Security

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