August 25, 2009: An Indian factory has delivered the first ten (of a thousand) T-90 tanks to the Indian Army. The Russian designed armored vehicles are being built in India under license. Many of the components are Indian made, and some of the electronics are imported from Western suppliers. The Indian made T-90s cost about $3 million each. India has already bought 700 Russian made T-90 tanks, at a cost of $3.5 million each.
Three years ago, India adopted the Russian T-90 as its new main battle tank. That was when planning began on setting local production for the thousand locally produced T-90s. These will be built over the next 14 years. Meanwhile, the locally designed Arjun tank, which has failed performance tests many times, continues to try and displace the T-90 (which earlier displaced the Arjun as the main battle tank of the Indian Army).
By 2020, India will have 2,000 upgraded T-72s, over 1,500 T-90s, and few hundred other tanks (probably including some Arjuns). This will be the most powerful armored force in Eurasia, unless China moves ahead with upgrades to its tank force. The border between China and India is high in the Himalayan mountains, which is not good tank country. India's tank force is mainly for use against Pakistan.
The T-90 is a highly evolved T-72. Originally, the T-90 was done as a fall-back design. The T-80 was supposed to be the successor to the T-72. But like the T-62 and T-64 before it, the T-80 didn't quite work out as planned. So the T-72, with a much improved turret and all manner of gadgets, was trotted out as the T-90. Weighting 47 tons, it's 23 feet long, 11 feet wide and 7.5 feet high. Same package, better contents. And with well trained crews, it can be deadly.
India doesn't have to worry about facing M-1s. The main enemy is Pakistan, which has T-72s, a few T-80s and many older T-55s (the Chinese version.) Training remains a problem for the Indian army, because of rising fuel costs. Again, it's all relative, for the Pakistanis are even less able to pay for the vast quantities of fuel needed to move a tank around for training.
Currently, fuel alone costs the Indian army about a dollar per kilometer traveled by each for T-72s, and a little more for T-90s. So if you want to take a hundred T-72s out for several days of training, each vehicle is going to travel, say, 200 kilometers. That's $20,000 just for the fuel. Do that four times a year, for the entire 4,000 tank force, and you're out nearly $3 million. That's for minimal training, and many countries cannot afford even that. You can more than double the fuel cost to take care of replacement parts and repairs for accidents.
American armored vehicles cost from $15-$25 per kilometer to operate, largely because of higher personnel costs. This is why, even when poor nations get first rate tanks, they often do poorly in combat. Buying the tank, for a few million dollars each, is only a small part of the total cost of creating a competent crew to get the most out of that high tech tank. India hopes to overcome some of these problems with simulators, or even battle simulation software in the tanks themselves. But mainly, India relies on the fact that the Pakistani tank force is worse off.