(This was originally posted in The Print by Amrita Nayak Dutta)
The Indian Army is planning to procure around 350 light tanks in a phased manner under the Make in India initiative. On Friday, it floated a Request for Information (RFI) to seek prospective vendors.
These 25-tonne tanks, if and when procured, would form nearly six regiments in the Army.
The preliminary document comes amid an ongoing stalemate in the disengagement process between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh.
Procuring light tanks — considered a versatile platform — is part of the Army’s efforts to sharpen its edge in mountain warfare as they will be able to exploit the limited space available in mountainous terrains by way of enhanced mobility, thus providing additional firepower.
During the Ladakh stand-off, the Army had deployed its existing heavier T-90, T-72 tanks, and infantry combat vehicles in eastern Ladakh. The Army’s Armoured Corps’ Russian-origin tanks weigh anywhere between 40-50 tonnes. The latest version of the Arjun tank weighs 68.5 tonnes.
The People’s Liberation Army had deployed their lighter tanks, which offer greater manoeuverability but less armour protection.
Requirements for the tanks
According to the RFI, the new generation combat vehicle platforms will come along with “performance-based logistics, niche technologies, engineering support packages” as well as other maintenance and training requirements.
The technical specifications for the tanks decided by the Army indicate the combat weight of the tanks should not exceed 25 tonnes. It states that the physical dimensions of the tanks should not come in the way of them being transported by water, air, road or water.
The tanks should be able to operate in different conditions and terrains, including cold high altitude areas and deserts as well and they should be able to attack tanks, armoured vehicles, UAVs, precision guided munitions, among others.
They should also have several weapons for anti-aircraft and ground role, advanced multipurpose smart munitions and gun tube launched anti tank guided missiles.
Other suggested specifications include the tanks having a high detection recognition, identification ranges and thermal night fighting capability and sleuth features such as the ability to suppress visual, audio/acoustic, thermal and electromagnetic signatures.
The RFI also seeks to know if the vendors would be able to offer other features such as anti-drone capability and UAV jammers and some AI technologies.
It also calls upon the vendors to indicate the approximate cost for the platform, transfer of technologies to be offered and the tentative delivery schedule. The deadline for filing the response is 18 June.
Russia already offered its 18 tonne Sprut light weight tanks to the Indian Army last year amid the standoff with China.
The Army is also in talks with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is working with private firm L&T to convert the K9 Vajra into a light tank that could come in handy in high altitude areas.
Need for light tanks
Speaking about the need for light tanks, Major General Birender Dhanoa (Retd) told ThePrint these tanks would be purely for the mountains, primarily against China, but would be effective north or south of the Pir Panjal as well.
The former armoured corps officer explained that a light tank cannot carry troops inside so they will have to be grouped with Infantry Combat Vehicles and other combat support, especially air defence.
“Actually, based on the need, even a common platform that can become a tank or an ICV (infantry combat vehicle) and even a light self propelled howitzer could be a better bet for the mechanised forces,” he said.
“Last but not the least, we do need to consider whether light tanks are going to be relevant on a future battlefield that may or may not resemble what planners have in mind when they firm in the light tank requirement,” said the Maj Gen.
“A hard look at the cost benefit analysis vis-a-vis newer technologies that right now may appear sci-fi and unattainable such as unmanned platforms and drone swarms mounted with precision ordnance or kamikaze drones may well do a better job. It’s never an easy choice for planners who have to fit square pegs in round holes, here and now,” he added.
The retired officer also said that some measures for cold proofing the tanks as well as for ruggedness and ability to traverse mountainous terrain would be ideal.
“Airportability and palletization of ammunition would be necessary and finally some measure of compatibility of maintenance with the existing ecosystem of repair and recovery,” he added.