What Type of Light Tank Does India Need?

There is no denying the need of Light Tank but is there prudence in going for a 25 tonne with similar firepower as T-90 and capable of floatation? It would compromise on protection and other basic fighting features, no matter how much you may load it with Artificial Intelligence (AI), surveillance drones and/or loitering munition.

August 29, 2022 By Lt. General J.K. Sharma (Retd) Photo(s): By proshillong/Twitter, eng.mod.gov.cn, spsc, Rosoboronexport
The Author is Former Chief of Staff (COS), Central Command, Indian Army. He is an expert on Siachen and Ladakh with experience in counter insurgency operations in J&K and North East and is also an expert on Information Warfare.

 

China has deployed Main Battle Tanks and Light Tanks across the LAC with India

A media report "Eye on China threat, Army launches Project Zorawar to deploy light tanks for mountain warfare" published earlier goes on to say that the "Indian Army wants the light tank to be amphibious, allowing it to be deployed across the Pangong Tso lake in Eastern Ladakh". Leave aside a strategician, even a person with common knowledge of military tactics would be rather intrigued with this kind of thought process. With the type of surveillance and acquisition systems deployed across the frontage and precision weapon systems to back the same available, will PLA allow even a single tank to float across the Pangong Tso across the imaginary LAC? No doubt Indian Army needs a light tank, but is this the light tank that we need for the areas in Eastern Ladakh and Sikkim?

These tanks will be used to counter Chinese deployment of a large number of similar armoured columns along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)

The quest for a light tank was hyped in the aftermath of Galwan in June 2020. Implaned articles on "Why India Desperately Needs the Russian Aquatic Tank Killer The SPRUT against China" started to appear in print and online news media. On July 28, 2020, post the visit of Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister of India to Russia, the media reports mentioned of Indian Army's decision to pick up 2S25M SPRUT-SDM1 Tank Destroyer (light tank) under the emergency purchases clause, as the same is already in service with the Russians Army for some time. The reports also mention that these tanks will be used to counter Chinese deployment of a large number of similar armoured columns along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It also stated that the Army has finalised the general staff quality requirements (GSQR) and will approach the defence ministry in September for the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for a tank with a maximum weight of 25 tonnes with a margin of 10 per cent capable of floatation with the same firepower as its regular tanks, but also armed with Artificial Intelligence (AI), integration of tactical surveillance drones to provide a high degree of situational awareness and loitering munition, along with an active protection system.

PLA deployed - (LEFT) TYPE 15 LIGHT TANK AND (RIGHT) VT-4 MAIN BATTLE TANK

This is a travesty of even naivety. Because PLA opposite deploys VT-4 main battle tank and Type 15 Light Tanks. VT -4 also known as the MBT 3000 previously, is a third generation Main Battle Tank. It is also the latest tank model from T-90 II A series and compares a shade better than T-99. Rightly, so we have T-72 and inducted T-90 after Galwan against the same in Ladakh. Type 15 weighs 30 tonnes against which Indian Army is looking for a Light Tank. This uses a new fully-stabilized 105mm rifled gun and not similar gun as on T-72/T-90, which have a 125mm gun. And that is because a 25/30 tonne tank can never be a stable platform with 125mm gun having a trunnion pull of 102 to 105 tonnes which would hugely affect the efficacy to fire accurately even when static. So the Indian Light Tank cannot have a 125mm main gun and will have to settle for calibre up to 105mm. Secondly, Type 15 is powered by a 1,000 hp (746 kW) electronically controlled diesel engine, with hydro-mechanical full automatic transmission which ensures operation at high altitudes with its powerful engine and oxygen generators.

We should not land up having an equipment which is no good either way just because we want to have something and raise additional armoured regiments

While there is no denying the need of Light Tank, is there prudence in going for a 25 tonne with similar firepower as T-90 and capable of floatation? In its endeavour to ensure one size fits all, essentially implying that light tank should also be capable of operating in riverine terrain of North Punjab/South J&K and Rann of Kutch the tank weight has been pegged at 25 tonnes so that it can float. Consequently it would compromise on protection and other basic fighting features, no matter how much you may load it with Artificial Intelligence (AI), surveillance drones and/or loitering munition.

Both T-90 and BMP II are deployed by Indian Army across the LAC opposite China

While the Armoured Corps makes Qualitative Staff Requirements for 25 tonne tank capable of floatation, the Mechanised Infantry is seeking a Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) of similar tonnage but with 30mm Cannon as its main armament and four ready to launch third generation Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM), which gives it a tremendous potential as tank destroyer. One of the main and non-negotiable feature of FICV is that it should be capable of floating. And that is why the weight is pegged at 25-27 tonnes.

The Light Tank is needed with a reckoned fire power, adequate armour protection and good power to weight ratio to ensure agility and survivability, the two non-negotiable characteristics of any Armour Fighting Vehicle (AFV)

Indian Army has deployed T-72/T-90 Medium tanks along with BMP II both in Eastern Ladakh and North Sikkim opposite China. The requirement of a Light Tank of 30 tonne class hence cannot be overemphasised. But to have a tank of 25 tonne Class with floatation capability(least required) while the Mechanised Infantry, which forms an integral part of a Combat Team/Group/Command along with tanks, proposing for development and acquisition of an FICV of 27 tonne class also with similar protection and floatation capabilities is certainly not a prudent approach as it is not only an issue of duplication of effort amidst scarce resources, which the country is grappling with, but also a matter of complexities of design and development of military hardware.

A LIGHT AMPHIBIOUS TANK in action

There is no doubt that military minds amongst the serving fraternity would have applied themselves on this much needed weapon platform against China but the literature, implanted or otherwise, evince an approach of impracticality. Just as in 2020 we almost bought SPRUT-SDM1, a vintage technology BMP Chassis based system with unstable 125mm turret in the name of Light Tank, we should not land up having an equipment which is no good either way just because we want to have something and raise additional armoured regiments.

The Light Tank is needed with a reckoned fire power, adequate armour protection and good power to weight ratio to ensure agility and survivability, the two non-negotiable characteristics of any Armour Fighting Vehicle (AFV) and loaded with features of AI, Active Armour protection System, Loitering Ammunitions and integrated drones. Hence, what Indian Army should be looking at is not a 25 tonne floating tank which would be designers nightmare with these requirements, as no other nation has come up with anything like this so far. Given the expertise of Indian Defence Industry, making one even with the assistance of DRDO would be a huge challenge. What it should strive for is to have a 30 tonne light tank with 105mm Gun, 1000 HP engine and STANAG IV/V level protection with other features as mentioned above.