Coming Zorawar Tanks

The proposal is that 59 of the 354 light tanks will be reserved for the tanks developed by the DRDO and the remaining 295 tanks will be manufactured under the 'Make-1' category of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP)

December 14, 2022 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Rosoboronexport
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

A LIGHT AMPHIBIOUS TANK IN ACTION

Recent reports say that the government has taken the decision to go for the indigenous 'Zorawar' tank to meet the Army's requirement of light tanks. The report elaborates that faced with the ongoing over 30-month long confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has resolved the "festering differences" between the Army and DRDO over the light tanks meant for high-altitude warfare in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as well as riverine areas like the Rann of Kutch which can be swiftly deployed after being transported by air.

It is ironic that despite an urgent operational requirement, it has taken 30 months to decide upon a light tank to be procured. This certainly reflects very poorly on our decision making. With such benchmarks, one wonders how many months or years would be required to decide on complex issues like 'theatreisation'; unless the latter is to be simply thrust down? The mention of "festering difference" between the Army and the DRDO apparently is a ruse to cover up issues like pricing,normal for deals negotiated between bureaucrats and the governmental-defence industrial enterprises.

DAC will soon take up the grant of acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the armoured fighting vehicle-Indian light tank (AFV-ILT) under Project 'Zorawar', at a cost of around 17,500 crore

According to media reports quoting unnamed sources, the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will "soon" take up the grant of acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the armoured fighting vehicle-Indian light tank (AFV-ILT) under Project 'Zorawar', at a cost of around 17,500 crore. The proposal is that 59 of the 354 light tanks, each weighing less than 25 tonnes with a high power-to-weight ratio as well as superior firepower and protection, will be reserved for the tanks developed by the DRDO.

The remaining 295 tanks are reportedly to be manufactured under the government-funded design and development project for the Indian industry in the 'Make-1' category of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP). This decision for the 59 tanks is "exclusive" because the DRDO says its first light tank "prototype" will roll out by "mid-2023". Obviously, the loss of another 6-8 months for the DRDO to produce the prototype (whether it would meet the operational parameters or not looking at the past examples) is of no consequence to the bureaucracy. In fact, it can be safely assumed that issuance of the AoN will be "suitably delayed" to accommodate the DRDO even as reports say that the AoN would be issued soon.

The Army had strongly pitched for all 354 tanks should be manufactured by the private sector under the Make-1 category. This would have been much faster and perhaps better given the problems of metallurgy, valves and rubber parts that are recurring problems with similar DRDO products. But the DRDO has put a spoke that the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) is working on a light tank prototype in conjunction with Larsen & Toubro (L&T).

The DRDO cannot produce a prototype of the 'Zorawar' tank without L&T whose contribution will be in no small measure

Over the years the Army was blamed for wanting imports over indigenous equipment despite the fact that the final decision is always of the MoD and imports meant bigger "cuts". Now this has been replaced with DRDO products vis--vis indigenous private sector products despite the fact that private sector products are better and enable faster induction the very reason why in the US, the UK, Europe and even Japan and South Korea defence manufacturing is privatised. The DRDO should have been privatised long ago but for its nexus with the bureaucracy for very understandable reasons!

The DRDO cannot produce a prototype of the 'Zorawar' tank without the L&T whose contribution will be in no small measure. This is also the trick played in 'Make in India' with provisos like 60 per cent must be indigenous components, even though it is the balance 40 per cent which are the critical components. But the Army or the Military per se can do little other than continue to suffer the bane of the bureaucratic-DRDO nexus.

The Army wants new light tanks to incorporate niche technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), drone integration, active protection system, high degree of situational awareness and the like in the fastest timeframe because it had to deploy T-90 and T-72 tanks, designed for operations in plains and deserts, which have limitations in high-altitude areas ranging from 11,000 to almost 17,000-feet. This is causing unwanted wear and tear on these tanks in addition to not having the required degree of maneuverability and operational flexibility in these areas. Even the K9 'Vajra' self propelled howitzers had to be specially modified for deployment in Ladakh. In contrast, the PLA has deployed the Type 15 light tanks which have a significant advantage.

Army wants new light tanks to incorporate niche technologies like AI, drone integration, active protection system, high degree of situational awareness and the like in the fastest timeframe

The proposed design of the new 25-tonne tank (AFV-ILT) under Project 'Zorawar' is supposed to be light and maneuverable, without sacrificing firepower. Its capabilities are also planned be supplemented by Artificial Intelligence, integration with swarm drones for higher situational awareness, loitering ammunition for high lethality and active protection system as a shield against modern anti-armour systems.

The main features of Zorawar light tank include: a three-man crew; 105mm semi-automatic main gun with muzzle brake; aluminum alloy turret with 12.7 AP protection level; APFSDS, APDS, HESH ammunition; COTAC semi-automatic fire control system (FCS); stowing capacity - main gun (42 rounds), turret (10 rounds), ammunition compartment (32 rounds); Laser Range Finder (LRF) for accurate ranging; low-light level TV for commander and gunner; panoramic sight for commander, and amphibious capabilities.

Hopefully the Army will get the 354 light tanks in an early timeframe with the continuing standoff and chances of conflict high given China's aggressive stance.