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Army tanks battle night-blindness
Published on 2 Sep. 2009 12:42 AM IST
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A majority of Army tanks continue to grope in the dark, stricken as they are with an acute case of night blindness, in yet another example of the Indian defence establishment’s sheer inability to take timely decisions in tune with strategic concerns. According to a TNN report, the army’s long-standing objective to equip its mechanized forces, including the over 1,600 T-72 tanks which form the backbone of the country’s armoured might, with advanced night-fighting capabilities is still a long distance away from fruition, say sources. For instance, Army’s case for acquiring 700 TISAS (thermal imaging stand alone systems) and 418 TIFACS (thermal fire control systems) for its T-72 fleet at a cost of around Rs 1,150 crore is still hanging fire at the commercial negotiations stage. This when the ‘‘acceptance of necessity’’ for the TISAS equipment was approved as far back as in March 2001. ‘‘The capability to conduct effective operations to hit the enemy after sunset is crucial,’’ said a source. ‘‘But the TISAS case has been stuck for a long time, resulting in continued inadequacy of night-fighting capability of the armoured corps,’’ he added. Similarly, the infantry too continues to grapple with only second-generation thermal imaging (TI) systems when actually third-generation ones in large numbers are required to conduct operations after sunset. The defence ministry, on its part, says the contracts for TISAS and TIFCS for the T-72 fleet are ‘‘likely to concluded’’ within the 2009-2010 fiscal. One of the main reasons for the long delay has been the failure of defence PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd to resolve technology transfer issues with the foreign supplier. The Army did get 300 Israeli TISAS for its T-72 tanks in 2001, which were followed by 3,860 image intensifier-based night-vision devices. But the experience with them has been uneven, with even the integration of some of these thermal equipment with fire control systems running into problems. Even the 310 T-90S main-battle tanks (MBTs) imported from Russia, for over Rs 3,625 crore under a February 2001 contract, have faced problems with their French Catherine TI cameras. Not being ‘‘adequately tropicalised’’, the Catherine TI cameras have often malfunctioned in the extreme heat of the Rajasthan deserts at temperatures of 55-60 degree Celsius. Incidentally, Army’s requirement for 1,781 MBTs to replace the older T-55 and T-72 tanks is going to be met through the progressive induction of 1,657 T-90S tanks and 124 of the indigenous Arjuns. In November 2007, India signed another Rs 4,900 crore deal with Russia to import 347 T-90S tanks. The Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory factory, in turn, is slated to manufacture an additional 1,000 T-90S tanks under licence.

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