(This story originally appeared in on Jul 15, 2020)
NEW DELHI: The government, amid
with China, has given the army approval for emergency procurement of lightweight tanks that can be deployed in high-altitude conditions.
This will be a significant upgrade allowing the reintroduction of light tanks that can play a critical role in areas such as Ladakh, where they can be more nimble than the heavier main battle tanks, informed sources told ET. The acquisition will be made under the emergency purchase nod given after the recent Ladakh standoff to bolster defences.
The deployment of new Type 15 light tanks by China along the LAC in eastern Ladakh in late April has come as a wakeup call.
The army has been given the go-ahead for urgent purchases amid signs that
intends to keep the border hot.
The army is looking for air-transportable tanks that can be landed or airdropped at forward locations for lightning-quick deployments to counter aggression, sources said. Unlike China, which has an extensive road network connecting the border, India’s infrastructure is still matching up and is being upgraded, though forward airfields have been developed at strategic locations.
The decision to go ahead with a new light tank is part of a series of major emergency procurements cleared by the government at a critical meeting last week. This includes new loitering munitions from Israel, more Heron unmanned aerial vehicles, additional Sig Sauer assault rifles, man-portable surface-to-air defence missiles, Spike anti-tank guided missiles and a range of ammunition.
“The satellite imagery visuals of Chinese T-15 / ZTPQ light tanks camouflaged in the depth areas of eastern Ladakh, during the recent standoff, is a wakeup call for upgrading deterrence in areas where medium-category tanks are difficult to employ,” former director general, mechanised forces, Lt Gen AB Shivane (retd), has written in a detailed study on the reintroduction of light tanks for the government-backed Centre of Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS). The retired officer has suggested that light tanks would add to the credible deterrence posture and war-fighting capability on the northern front where medium-category tanks cannot reach. He has also suggested that these new tanks be made in India.
However, for emergency procurement, India will have limited options as few nations currently produce these tanks. While China is not an option, the US has embarked on a light tank under its Mobile Protected Firepower Program but it’s currently at prototype stage.
has the air-transportable Sprut SDM1 light tank that has commonalities with the T72 and T90s operated by India.
While India has a robust tank force, all of them are heavy main battle tanks — T72s, T90s and the Arjun — considered more suitable for operations in the plains. While these tanks have been sent to the Himalayan border as well, navigating them to difficult borders has been a major issue.
India has operated light tanks in the past that came in handy during the 1947-48 Kashmir operations as well as the 1962 war but these have been slowly phased out as the world moved to heavier armour.