The rising tensions between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has led to both the neighbours stationing their tanks face to face in Eastern Ladakh. However, experts believe that India’s Russian-designed T-90 tanks are positioned, not to defend the Indian territory, but as a symbol to warn China.
As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, India has deployed the T-90 ‘Bhisma tanks’ in Ladakh along with fighter jets and helicopters from the Indian Air Force. The T-90 Bhisma tanks are considered one of the deadliest tanks in the world with the capability to deal with biological and chemical weapons.
“With the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deploying close to 50,000 troops in Aksai Chin, the Indian Army for the first time has deployed a squadron (12) T-90 missile-firing tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and a full troop brigade (4,000 men) at Daulat Beg Oldi to prevent any Chinese aggression from the Shaksgam-Karakoram pass axis,” according to the Hindustan Times, citing top Indian military commanders.
In comparison to the 45-ton Russian origin T-90 tanks, Beijing has deployed Type 15 tanks which are way lighter giving them an added advantage of navigating through the challenging terrain of the Himalayan region.
“Ladakh is one of the most difficult places on Earth for tanks to operate. The thin air and temperatures in the region can plunge to 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit,” said Major S Singh, an Indian Army colonel.
“They (T-90s) are not there to defend Indian territory, but to threaten Chinese territory,” said Arzan Tarapore, a non-resident fellow at the U.S.-based National Bureau of Asian Research thinktank.
“This is and has long been Indian doctrine: to threaten a punishing riposte against China – ideally to strengthen India’s hand in disengagement negotiations; or in the worst case, to actually try to seize Chinese territory as a bargaining chip to reverse China’s incursions,” he added.
The Type 15 lightweight tank is highly agile even on plateaus, a type of terrain which heavy tanks can struggle in due to the lack of oxygen to support the engine; any lesser armoured vehicle that can operate on plateaus are no threat to the Type 15.
This means that the Type 15 is basically unparalleled on plateaus and poses a tremendous challenge for the Indian soldiers. However, India’s T-90s are equipped with the non-Russian gear such as a French thermal imaging system and offer superior firepower and armour protection.
To get an edge over Beijing, New Delhi has also reportedly approved the urgent procurement of similar lightweight tanks from Russia. The procurement of these lightweight tanks is critical for India because unlike China, India doesn’t have an elaborate road network along the border and heavy tanks like T-90 are difficult to transport and manage at high altitude regions.
For now, Russia seems to be the only option for the acquisition of such lightweight tanks. Other than China, the US is developing lightweight tanks under the Mobile Protected Firepower Program but it’s currently at the prototype stage. Russia has the air-transportable Sprut SDM1 light tank that has commonalities with India’s T72 and T90s.