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ISLAMABAD, April 17: The first locally-produced tank gun is ready for delivery to the Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) for Al-Khalid and Al-Zarar tanks.

So far the HIT used to get 125 millimetre 'blanks' from France for the two main battle tanks (MBTs) of the Pakistan Army. Blanks are the final shape of the gun barrel prior to its finishing and its fitting into the tank is done at the HIT.

The first blank has been jointly produced at the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) in Taxila by experts of the HIT, the Peoples Steel Mills Limited (PSML) of Karachi and other defence-related organisations, in coordination with the army -- the end-user.

An HIT official told Dawn that the army had given a go-ahead for the production of 50 125mm barrels for the two MBTs at the HMC after a joint team assured it of meeting strict standards.

According to sources, the army and the HIT wanted the barrels to fire at least eight rounds a minute, and for the automatic ammunition handling system, with 24-round ready-to-fire magazine of Al-Khalid tank.

The official said that the manufacturing of the first 125mm tank gun was an achievement of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) set up in 2000 to improve the control of nuclear operations and monitor and develop coordination among various defence production and research organisations in the country.

The specialised weapons grade steel was manufactured at the PSML and the block of metal was retreated at the HMC which has such facilities under the heavy forge and foundry section. The block of specialised metal is pressed to become a five-metre-long square bar that is forged into a smooth bore 125mm barrel.

The HMC also has specialised facilities of large vertical furnace where the blanks are given heat treatments several times. Since it was the first job for the HMC, experts from other defence organisations monitored the process which took almost two to three months to complete.

The HIT has finalised a deal Rs200 million for 50 barrels which is slightly less than the cost of each barrel procured from France.

The official said that after the completion of 50 tank barrels, the HMC would consider producing artillery guns for the Pakistan Army.

Al-Khalid is a product of a joint venture between Pakistan and China. It has been in use of the army since 2001. Al-Zarar is an upgradation of T-59 tanks. The new barrels are likely to be part of the project for upgraded variants of Al-Khalid II and III now under way at the HIT.