Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Return of the Exiled Warrior

The DRDO has chosen its names well. They are always beautiful and evocative, deep in mythological significance (of which, we have no dearth) and give a good indication of the thing in question. There are the missiles, Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag. Then, there is the Tejas, Marut, the Simhika Sonar system (Simhika was a demon who lived in the sea between Lanka and India, and swallowed Hanuman, an apt name) & co.

Into this group now comes the Arjun, with his bow (tank gun), Gandiva, and backed by Bhishma (T-90). Ironically, the Arjun has, like its mythical counterpart, had to battle not just Bhishma for recognition, but a whole armyfull (pun intended) of doubters and enemies. It has had to go into exile for a long time (almost as long as the Pandavas). But now, its time to return from the wilderness. and the Arjun surely has got people talking. And scared.

After ironing out the problems in the Arjun, the DRDO has confidently put it through its paces... made it fire over 8000 rounds, and travel over 60,000 km, without incident. It was confident enough to give 5 Arjuns for testing to the Army, and another dozen for the recently concluded Ashwamedh Exercises in Rajasthan, where it faced off against over a hundred T-90s and T-72s. And reports seem to indicate that it performed well.

Now, latest reports indicate that the Arjun will make a splash later this year at Army testing, and will be inducted in numbers by 2009. This was revealed to the 15th Standing Committee on Defence by MoD and DRDO officials. A full excerpt of the conversation will be put up late. The good news about the Arjun has been coming in the past few months with increasing frequency and intensity. There were the reports of a revolutionary new Armor that had been developed by DRDO scientists, which even US is interested in. Then, there were the reports of the effectiveness of the Arjun Armor, the cleaning up of all the problems that the Arjun had before, and the Ashwamedh reports.

It is disappointing, though not unexpected that the Media has not taken this up with its usual gusto. But of course, for a media that has made money by bashing the DRDO, why should this good news be reported. Of course, there haven't been many official statements and reports about this. And since when has the media needed official statements to tear the DRDO to pieces? How many reports have we seen that have quoted 'unnamed officials' or 'retired officers'. The same media that reported the IJT crash at Aero India with such 'Schadenfreude' was unnaturally quiet when the first production LCA made its maiden flight. We can expect the same for the Arjun. The DRDO, on its part, is ignoring these reports and continuing its work with a vengeance, letting its actions speak for itself.

The good news hasn't gone unnoticed. The defence enthusiasts on the myriad fora that pay attention to the DRDO's good work are ecstatic about the spate of successes- the PAD, Brahmos, Agni-III, LCA, and now, the Arjun. Some newspapers and web journals too are reporting the good news. As reports are pouring in about problems in the T-90 (most of them, the same problems that the Arjun faced), its becoming clear that the Arjun is not the fiasco that it was called for the past 15 years, but is shaping up to be a tank that will match the best in the business, and go further.

It was said that when Arjuna and Krishna blew their conches, Devadatta & Panchajanya, all who heard it trembled and enemies feared for their lives, while their allies found courage and hope. As the Arjun is thundering towards induction, the conch roars are growing louder, and those who thought less of it are thinking again, and those who will face it are scurrying for answers.

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