Tanks employ two main types of ammunition to defeat armor of opposing tanks. One type is called HEAT (Hi-Explosive Anti-Tank) while the other is called APFSDS (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot). Russian have introduced anti-tank missiles being fired from the main gun of T-90 tanks and the same concept is also being introduced in Mk-2 version of Arjun MBT. However, this capability is yet to see widespread usage; one school of thought says this capability has been introduced to cover for relatively lower performance level of Russian anti-tank rounds. But we digress.
While HEAT rounds rely on molten jet traveling at very high speed to defeat armor, APFSDS ammunition uses only Kinetic Energy to defeat armor.
Wikimapia provides a pretty detailed overview of these types of rounds. Please see the link here:
India recently placed an order for 66,000 of these rounds from Russia and if news report(s) are to be believed, we’re being charged 3x-4x times the original price of these rounds. This acute short-fall in the ammunition of this type was brought to fore in the letter written by previous Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General V. K. Singh.
Such rounds are basic requirement of armor warfare and if a country which maintains one of the largest tank fleets in the world still imports such ammunition, then it points towards something really wrong somewhere.
With the aim to understand the scenario with respect to APFSDS ammunition in India, I did some research on the topic. The findings of this research form the content of this post. All the information has been takes from internet; main source of information are reports by Comptroller and Audit General from 1994 onward.
It is not the objective of this post to undertake review of technical literature on the subject of KE Penetrator. However, to get some overview of the subject we use the help of pictures and graphics available on the internet.
Components of APFSDS
This excellent picture below shows the complete APFSDS Round and its components. From left to right:
- Sabot with Penetrator encased within. You can make out the grooves through which Sabot is connected with Penetrator.
- Penetrator with fins at bottom. The black colored front section is the ballistic cap of the penetrator.
- Cross section showing placement of Sabot Shot within the APFSDS Round.
- Complete Round.
The picture below is that of a Sabot Shot – one can see the Sabot surrounding the Penetrator. The cut-away in lower picture clearly shows the grooves trough which it is connected with the penetrator. This Sabot shot is encased in the Combustible Cartridge Case (CCC).
This is the actual projectile which travels and hits the enemy tanks. Two pictures of penetrator for reference. The first picture shows the complete penetrator round with tailfins and ballistic cap in the front. The lowermost rod in second picture shows the main penetrator without tailfin and ballistic cap.
Wikipedia on the subject:
The sub-projectile consists of a high density core with a penetrating cap, enclosed within a high strength sheath (steel) with a lightweight alloy (aluminum-magnesium alloy) ballistic cap. For modern small/medium calibre APDS projectiles, the core is not sheathed and the ballistic and penetrating caps are combined. A tracer element may be added to the APDS sub-projectile, for large calibre weapons this is part of the outer sheath, for small/medium calibre weapons it is contained within a hollow cavity in, or attached to, the base of the core. Most modern APDS projectiles used high strength shock resistant tungsten alloys. The main constituent is tungsten, alloyed or sintered with/to cobalt, copper, iron or nickel. Very few APDS use depleted uranium (DU) titanium alloy for the penetrator material, though the retired 20 mm MK149-2 Phalanx round did use DU.
However, most western designs of APFSDS use mono-block of high density material for the penetrator and the same is not sheathed in a steel jacket. Such jacketed rounds are seen from Russian stable.
Schematic diagram of movement of Projectile Assembly within the tank gun barrel and separation of Sabots on exit from the gun.
Danger zone in front of the tank from the sabot petals when APFSDS round is fired. The diagram is for Abram tank.
A beautiful video which shows the sabot separation in flight from a projectile. However, when fired from tank guns, the base metal cap does not travel with the Sabot – it does in this case because it has been fired from test rig without extraction mechanism.
Picture below shows the Sabot separating from the Penetrator on leaving the gun barrel. This happens within 500 meters from the main gun. The Penetrator continues forward towards the target.
Western and Russian APFSDS
There are two major difference between Western and Russian Kinetic Energy (KE) Penetrator rounds:
(a) While the former is unitary or single piece, the latter is two-piece round. This is primarily because of the auto-loader employed by the Russian tanks as compared to western tanks which opt for manual loading of the tank rounds (except for French Leclerc’ MBT) – the dimension of the auto-loader is such that the rounds cannot exceed a particular length. To overcome this problem, Russians employ two-piece rounds which consist of primary and secondary charges. This limitation on length of ammunition (due to auto-loader requirement) places drawback on ammunition design. Therefore, while the autoloader and the loading mechanism allowed for a compact and 3-man crew, it also placed penalty terms of ammunition design and performance. This is explained later.
Picture showing the autoloader assembly and arrangement of ammunition cassette in a T-72 tank. One can clearly see the two piece ammunition stored in concentric layered manner in the tank.
An excellent video of 3D model of the same autoloader depicted in the picture above which shows the loading and fire mechanism.
The red colored object ejected by the gun in the beginning of the video is the metal base case (called stub in the picture above) which receives the firing pin. Rest of cartridge (both primary and secondary) is made from cellulose (called as Combustible Cartridge Case) and burns completely inside the gun barrel.
Here is another video of actual autoloader in T-72 in action.
Unitary or one-piece western APFSDS round being loaded in a tank. The scale can be judged from the men loading the ammunition.
Two-piece Russian APFSDS (BM-42 Mango)
For sake of comparison with western Unitary round, please see the picture below of propellant part of the two-piece ammunition being loaded in a T-72 by tank crew.
(b) Russian rounds use ring shaped Sabot while Western rounds use spindle shaped sabots. Ring shaped sabots have bore-riding fins and while in case of spindle shaped sabots, the sabot touches the barrel at two points.
Western Sabot: The round is in contact with gun barrel where white band is located (called the riding band) and the front conical section called the bourrelet.
Russian Sabot: This is the 3BM-42 Mango APFSDS projectile encased in a Sabot. The single ring shaped sabot is visible with white colored driving band which is contact with the gun barrel. If one observes the tail fins, shearing marks can be seen at the apex of fins. These positions have small ball bearings which come in contact with gun barrel and help to center the sabot.
Components of Western APFSDS
The picture below is that of American M892A3 APFSDS-T. The internal layout with placement of Penetrator and Sabot within the cartridge case can also be seen.
Cross section of M829A2 APFSDS-T round. As can be seen, main penetrator is a mono-block made from Depleted Uranium. Ballistic Cap mounted upfront is for aerodynamic performance rather than terminal ballistics.
Cross section of different generations of American KE Rounds – One can see the length of the main Penetrator increasing over the generations. Use of Depleted Uranium (DU) allowed Americans develop penetrators with high Length: Diameter Ratio (L/D Ratio).
Components of Russian Two-Piece APFSDS
The picture below is that of Russian 3VBM-17 APFSDS.
Picture on Left: On left is projectile assembly (3BM-44) which houses the actual penetrator – this is also the secondary charge. The component on the right side is the main charge used to propel the round.
Picture on Right: The projectile inside the 3BM-44 projectile assembly. It is called 3BM-42 ‘Mango’.
As compared to American KE Rounds where the length of penetrator has been increased within Combustible Cartridge Case (CCC), the length of 3BM-44 projectile cannot be increased due to dimensions of the auto-loader. This places limit on length on Penetrator and on L/D Ratios which can be achieved by Russian ammunition. As compared to T-90 tanks, Indian Arjun tank does not suffers from any such limitation.
Research topic “Mango” initiated 1983. An advanced round designed to defeat modern laminate armor arrays. Had a very complicated design, including the solid frontal ballistic/penetrating cap, shock absorber/secondary penetrating cap, and then two WHA penetrators of very high elongation. The penetrators interfaced with the projectile body by means of a sheath manufactured of a low-melting-point alloy; during the penetration the sheath would melt allowing the penetrators to slide freely forward without losing energy and integrity on separation from the projectile body. Used a further evolution of the sabot introduced on 3BM-29, manufactured out of improved V-96Ts1 alloy. This round is common in current Russian inventory, and has also been exported in the recent years for use with more modern Russian and Ukrainian export tanks (T-80U, T-80UD and T-90).
Indian APFSDS ammunition scenario
(A) The Beginning: 105mm APFSDS
The Indian quest for APFSDS (Armor-Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot) began in 1976 when DRDO initiated work on development of 105mm APFSDS ammunition for Vijayanta Tanks in Indian inventory. It is interesting to note that this development of 105mm APFSDS ammunition itself was a spin-off of the work which started on Arjun MBT program in 1974.
The design of this ammunition was finalized and accepted in mid-1982 and it was accepted for use by Indian Army without conducting any trials citing urgent operational matters. Trials were subsequently conducted in late-1982 and no issue was reported at this stage.
As a parallel exercise the development of 120mm APFSDS for Arjun MBT was also in advanced stages in 1983.
Development work on 105mm ammunition was completed by 1983 and it was decided to establish a new factory to manufacture this ammunition. This new factory would was sanctioned in 1984 and would subsequently become the Heavy Alloy Penetrator Project (HAPP) under the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Trichy.
In the interim period before HAPP came into being, it was decided that 2 x DRDO laboratories involved in the development of 105mm APFSDS round would work with OFB to produce the new round. These laboratories are most probably ARDE, Pune and HEMRL, Pune. The targeted production number was 6,000 AFPSDS rounds.
However, this first attempt to manufacture the APFSDS was not successful as the manufactured end-product started failing – apart from various other defects in manufacturing process, the failure was also attributed to lack of CNC machines with OFB.
The biggest drawback was inability to develop right quality penetrators for the ammunition. While the failure rate was brought down from an average of 10% to 1%, there was gross under-utilization of facilities and as against the target of 6,000 rounds per annum, only about ~800 rounds per annum were produced.
This phase of first attempt at production of 105mm APSDS before HAPP came into being lasted from 1983 to 1989.
However, production of 105mm APFSDS at HAPP Trichy also faced issues and the rejection rate was very high.
(B) Development Cycle – Phase 2:120mm & 125mm APFSDS
Heavy Allow Penetrator Project (HAPP) Factory, Trichy was conceived in 1984 for production of high quality kinetic energy rounds for the tanks in service of the Indian Army. While initial requirement was for manufacturing 105mm APFSDS, the factory was also expected to undertake production of APFSDS round for Arjun MBT under development and T-72 tanks from Russia which had made appearance in the Indian Armored Corps inventory.
However, the army was in the process of phasing out Vijayanta tanks from service by the time HAPP came online in 1990 and the amount of 105mm APFSDS produced was much less than the installed capacity. As per 1995 CAG Audit Report of HAPP, the average per annum production was not even 10,000 rounds. And this was expected to go down as more Vijayanta tanks were phased out.
It is important to note here that when HAPP was established, it had production capacity of 65,000 105mm APFSDS rounds. This capacity was subsequently utilized for production of other caliber APFSDS rounds with 125mm APFSDS round being the prime candidate.
DRDO Name: 125mm Mk1
Indian Army Designation: AMK-340
In the mid-80s, Indian Army had projected the requirement for indigenous 125mm APFSDS for T-72 and same was under development by DRDO when HAPP came into existence.
The initial development of 125 mm FSAPDS ammunition was with steel core material and was sanctioned in 1984. The expected date of completion was 1987 which was extended to 1993. This steel core 125mm APFSDS ammunition was trialed by DRDO in 1993.
Parallel to development of 125mm APFSDS round with steel core, the development of indigenous 125 mm FSAPDS ammunition with soft core material was also taken up by DRDO in 1984 and this ammunition was also developed by 1993. The first series of users’ trial were done in the same year and the results were considered satisfactory.
The APFSDS round with Soft Core is what finally made into production and this round is referred to as AMK-340 in IA as well as DRDO Mk-1.
However, as there was a delay in development of indigenous 125mm APFSDS rounds (planned 1987 but users’ trial in 1993), Indian Army signed three contracts to import 125mm APFSDS for T-72 tanks. I have not been able to figure out as which rounds were imported during this period.
The production of this round was initiated in August 1997 with initial production of 31,000 per annum which was scaled to 40,000 rounds per annum by 1998.
Technical details of DRDO 125mm Mk-1 round from OFB website:
Army Designation – None known
The initial attempt to produce 120mm APFSDS round was made by adapting the penetrator from 105mm APFSDS. However, the same was not successful and various combination and permutation of sabots, penetrator and other elements was tried.
The product development took place between 1983 and 1993 and round was put for user trials in 1993.
Again, I’ve not come across mention of as to when this round was put into production but it seems the period is likely to be 1996-97.
Technical details of DRDO 120mm Mk-1 round from OFB website:
(C) Production & Disaster – 1997-2005
The 125mm APFSDS for T-72M1 tanks was most probably put into production in 1997-98 with production capacity of 40,000 per annum. However, there is circumstantial evidence that this production capacity was enhanced to 65,000 APFSDS rounds per annum – the entire production capacity of HAPP, Trichy.
However, soon after production was established, disaster of epic proportion struck at OFB. To quote CAG Report of 2003:
“In October 2000, an accident occurred to a tank using this ammunition at Babina following its failure, in which the driver of the tank was killed and the tank commander and gunner survived after being critically injured. Following trials conducted on the ammunition, it was found to be of poor quality and unsatisfactory in performance on account of (i) poor quality of the projectile and charger; (ii) the projectile getting detached from its casing on many occasions; (iii) the tendency of the outer casing to leave a burning residue in the gun tube/charger posing a fire hazard. Besides, the performance of the ammunition was also found to be inconsistent and unsatisfactory during zeroing check and in respect of its accuracy, penetration and stowage. A ban was therefore imposed on issue of the ammunition to the units in the five Commands and the Factory was also instructed to suspend its production.
Subsequent investigation by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance revealed that certain lots of the ammunition were of a hybrid version and the remaining lots were of an indigenous version. In January 2002, the Army Headquarters decided all ammunition of the hybrid version would be declared unserviceable and back loaded to the Ordnance Factory Board, while the rejected lots of its indigenous version would be replaced free of cost.
Based on this decision, the Master General of Ordnance branch of the Army Headquarters informed the Army Commands in June 2002 that the ammunition would be rectified/replaced by the Ordnance Factory Board in a phased manner. The latter was also requested to carry out the rectification on fast track basis.
Pending back-loading of the ammunition to the Ordnance Factory in a phased manner, the five Army Commands were holding 1,34,986 shells valued at Rs 607.43 crore under segregated conditions. In respect of 1,23,794 of these shells valued at Rs 557.06 crore, 40 per cent of the shelf life of 10 years had expired while the shelf life of another 11,192 shells valued at Rs 50.36 crore had already been halved.”
The defective rounds were primarily Hybrid Round which was manufactured by OFB by mating foreign penetrator (Russian) with domestic casing using the DRDO design for APFSDS ammunition. This was not the same round developed by DRDO i.e. 120mm T-1 round.
As per statement of George Fernandez in PIB Release of December 2003 88,000 Hybrid 125mm APFSDS rounds were found to be un-serviceable. However, the indigenous DRDO 125mm Mk-1 round continued to be in production and 130,000 rounds @ 65,000 round per annum were produced between mid-2001 and December 2003.
The same PIB release also gives an indication of the holding inventory of APFSDS rounds in the IA – To quote the same press release:
After accounting for the receipt from OFB & ex-Israel, the deficiency for this ammunition, on March 31, 2003 was 3,47,193 rounds.
Israeli import stood at 20,000 rounds while OFB had produced 130,000 rounds. So, the total holding of APFSDS by Indian Army in 2003 stood at ~500,000 rounds.
(D) Enter The Yahudis – 1999 and 2003-2010
Israeli Designation – CL 3254M
Indian Army Designation – AMK 340A
It is generally believed that Israeli got the foot in the door as far 125mm APFSDS ammunition is concerned during the Kargil War in 1999. This is only one part of the story.
As per the CAG Report which reviewed the emergency purchases authorized during Kargil War the Indian Army had trialed the ammunition from Israeli Military Industries (IMI) in August 1996 and initiated process for acquisition in 1997.
IA issued RFP for 125mm APFSDS ammunition in 1997 but this initial process for acquisition did not fructify due to various reasons mentioned below:
- Production of AMK-30 round had started in 1997 and the production was to be stabilized at 40,000 rounds from 1998.
- DRDO made representation that performance Mk-1 matched stated performance level of Israeli round and they were working on Mk-2 version of indigenous 125mm APFSDS round. This round would have been superior to Israeli round.
- There was option clause with RVZ Russia for purchase of 26,500 rounds for the tank.
- IA got responses from three manufacturers for the ammunition. One bid was rejected on technical grounds while Russian bid was rejected due to procedural lapses. This left on the Israelis in the fray. By 1998, IA had recommended ToT for Israeli ammunition technology.
- After initial issues with above single vendor situation, the negotiation was started with IMI in 1999 (for offer received in 1997) but the same broke down because IMI did not want to undertake TOT.
- No purchase happened in 1999-2000 due to lack of funds.
Using the emergency purchase clause due to 1999 Kargil War, MOD placed orders with IMI for 26,000 125mm APFSDS rounds. The round were delivered in tranches but after the Kargil War was over. This was the first phase of entry of Israeli 125mm APFSDS rounds in the IA service.
The fiasco of Hybrid 125mm ammunition by OFB and segregation of close to 140,000 such defective rounds in 2001-2002 coincided with Operation Parakram phase from December 2001 to Q3 2002. This created lacunae in the holding of such ammunition and IA placed a case for import for 20,000 more IMI CL 3254M rounds. Contract for this import was signed in 2003.
Combined with 26,000 imports in 1999, the import in 2003 took the total number of rounds imported from IMI to 46,000 rounds.
IA had already pitched for TOT for IMI round in 1998 and OFB entered into MOU with IMI in October 2003.
As part of this agreement, OFB entered into co-production agreement with IMI to produce the CL 3254M 125mm APFSDS for T-72 tanks.
To understand how India gets shafted in such TOT agreements and issues faced with production of Israeli round by OFB, I’m producing the excerpt from CAG Report No 15 of 2010‐2011 (Point 3.3 – Co-production arrangements for FSAPDS12 with IMI):
- In the phase I, the work share of OFB was to provide Primer and Igniter (US$ 17), Stub Case (US$ 41), Assembly of complete round, Test (US$ 56), Packaging, Transportation and Proof Cost (US$ 40). Compared to this, IMI was required to supply complete penetrator assembly (US$ 508) and Combustible Cartridge Case and Propellant (US$ 227).
- In Phase II, IMI was required to supply blank penetrator (US$ 278). Machining & complete penetrator assembly (US$ 215) was required to be done by the OFB. Thus in effect, in phase I, OFB was essentially required to assemble the final product.
- A contract agreement was signed between OFB and IMI Israel in September 2004 for supply of 15,000 units MK-I FSAPDS 125mm anti-tank ammunition in two phases. The first batch assembled in India was subjected to proof test in May 2005. Controller of Quality Assurance (Ammunition) did not accord Bulk Production Clearance as it failed in the proof test. Meanwhile, in the Target Fixation meeting for 2005-06 held in January 2005, it was decided that OFB would supply further 30,000 of the ammunition during 2005-06 (cumulative 45,000). Though the consignment of 15,000 units was awaiting Bulk Production Clearance from inspectorate authority, OFB imported further 30,000 units in September 2005 valuing Rs 99.34 crore (US$22 million) at the Phase-I rate. 45,000 units valuing Rs 141 crore were still lying idle as of May 2010.
- Without stabilizing the co-production of FSAPDS from the first consignment of imported components, OFB’s procurement of 30,000 additional units worth Rs 99.34 crore and MOD’s sanction thereof was a case of wrong judgment.
- Though it was repeatedly mentioned by OFB and MOD at the time of processing of case that the agreement was meant for ‘co-production and co-development’ of 125mm FSAPDS, the details of work-share worked out by OFB indicated that it was neither a co-development nor co-production in the initial phases. The share of IMI to OFB was 83 per cent to 17 per cent. Further, the 17 per cent contribution of OFB was insignificant.
- Between 2001 and 2003, Army had directly procured 46000 rounds of 125 mm FSAPDS from IMI Israel without any problem relating to quality. DGQA was the Inspection authority also for imported ammunition. The ammunition was acceptable both DGQA and Army. However, when the ammunition against the agreement dated September 2004 was received by OFB, both DGQA and Army could not clear the ammunition. Ministry remained the silent spectator during the whole process and failed to resolve the issue which resulted in 45000 units of FSAPDS worth Rs 141 crore lying idle. The ammunition procured by OFB and Army were proven products and were supplied by the same supplier. Ministry replied that bulk production clearance was accorded in June 2009 and in view of the selective permission for business dealings with IMI, the preparatory action was being taken
There were three big fall-outs of this TOT deal with IMI for 125mm APFSDS ammunition –
- HAPP stopped the production of indigenous 125mm Mk-1 APFSDS ammunition. This happened in 2005.
- Due to issues with QC of the finished product, the production of APFSDS ammunition could never stabilize in OFB. As the CAG article states, bulk production was given clearance only in 2009.
- While in Phase II of the contract, OFB was to undertake 44% of the work involved by value, India still continued to import the penetrator blanks from IMI.
(E) Current Phase (2010 to present)– Tragedy and Opportunity
Russian 125mm APFSDS Designation – BM-42 ‘Mango’
Indian Army Designation – AMK 339
In 2010, IMI was blacklisted by MOD for dubious dealing with OFB Chairman and this put a spanner in the works as far as the production of AMK-340A round was concerned.
It has already been mentioned that the production of this round at OFB had not stabilized and after the QC fiasco, bulk production was given clearance only in 2009. When this information is coupled with the fact that production of AMK-340 round had been stopped in 2005, one has a situation where no substantial production of 125mm APFSDS rounds had taken place in 2005-2010 period.
Consequently, army was in a tight spot as far as holding of 125mm APFSDS ammunition is concerned. And then we did what we do the best – panic purchase.
In 2010, IA issued RFP for purchase of 125mm ammunition on urgent basis – it sought ammunition meeting the performance of AMK-339/BM-42 and AMK-340A/ CL 3254M. Initial requirement was projected for 75,000 – 100,000 rounds to be supplied over 12-18 months.
India signed contract with Russia in 2012 for import of 66,000 125mm BM-42 Mango rounds and 25,000 3UBK-Invar missiles. Of these 10,000 missiles were to be imported from Russia while 15,000 missiles were to be bought from BDL Limited.
It is said that Russians charged 3x-4x the price for the 125mm ammunition purchased under this contract.
Link to RFP floated by Indian Army for 125mm APFSDS tank ammunition:
DRDO 125mm Mk-2
Indian Army Designation – Not Known
When the DRDO Mk-1 125mm round went into production in 1997, it was already working on Mk-2 version of the round. This it was doing without any GSQR for such a product. With TOT for 125mm round leading to suspension of production of DRDO Mk-1/AMK-340, IA was not interested in DRDO Mk-2 round.
However, DRDO persisted with the development and when ground was literally pulled from below the feet of Army due to IMI blacklisting; this became the only recourse available.
The CAG Report No.24 of 2011-12 (Defense Services) explains the development of DRDO Mk-2 round:
“Ministry of Defence, Department of Defence Research and Development (DDRD) in May 1996 sanctioned the above project at a cost of INR 2.30 crore to be completed by May 1998. It was sanctioned by DRDO without GSQR from Army HQ. The project after four revisions of probable date of completion (PDC) and three cost revisions, was closed in December 2004 after an expenditure INR 7.27 crore. The ammunition developed by the Laboratory did not meet the Users’ requirement as Users expressed an apprehension as to whether the trials conducted for MK-II ammunition in the absence of GSQR for this ammunition would qualify as user trials.
To resolve the issue, the ammunition was subjected to Accelerated User Cum Reliability Trials (AUCRT) in August 2007 which again proved to be unsatisfactory. Ministry of Defence in its reply in February 2011 stated that trials with 30 rounds of improved ammunition, have been successfully completed in May 2010 and Army HQ has given go ahead for accelerated user trials with 500 rounds of the improved ammunition. Ministry’s reply should be viewed in the background of the fact that even after a lapse of 15 years the ammunition is yet to be inducted. Such ammunition is still being imported by Army.”
This ammunition is expected to go into production in 2015.
One measure of technological progress made by DRDO in development of 125mm APFSDS is the comparison of L:D Ratio of DRDO MK-1 and MK-2 round – this parameter was 14:1 for earlier round while the L:D Ratio of Mk-2 is 20:1.The picture above shows the comparative parameters for the Mk-1 and Mk-2 125mm rounds.
DRDO 120mm Mk-T-2
DRDO has also developed the Mk-2 version of its earlier 120mm round for Arjun tank.
(Source: The information in this write-up has been sourced from CAG Reports, Parliamentary Standing Committee Reports, DRDO Technology Focus, OFB and earlier discussions on BRF)