High-Altitude Warfare: India Needs Russian Help To Counter Chinese Type-15 Lightweight Tanks

New Delhi has given its approval to the Indian army for emergency procurement of lightweight tanks akin to Chinese Type 15 tanks that Beijing recently deployed in Ladakh during the ‘high-altitude’ India-China border clash.  

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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.

The reintroduction of these lightweight tanks is seen as a big boost for the Indian army. These tanks can be airdropped at the forward locations at the border. The decision to acquire lightweight tanks came after China swiftly deployed its Type 15 tanks along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a move that reportedly stunned India.

Earlier this month, the Indian army deployed thousands of troops on the LAC in the barbaric clash with Chinese PLA soldiers. The Indian Air Force (IAF) also moved a sizeable number of its frontline Sukhoi 30-MKI, Jaguar, Mirage- 2000 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to several key airbases including Leh and Srinagar following the clashes.

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.

According to the Chinese state mouthpiece, Global Times, Type 15 lightweight tanks of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been engaged in military drills in a low-temperature mountainous plateau region.

It further said that an infantry battalion at the PLA Tibet Military Region organized the infantry-tank cooperation drills at an “undisclosed location” at an elevation of more than 4,700 meters, putting the troops’ teamwork and rapid-response capabilities to a comprehensive test.

The Type 15 lightweight tank is highly mobile 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 unrivalled on plateaus and poses a massive challenge for the Indian troops.

“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,” wrote Lt Gen AB Shivane (retd), former Director-General, mechanised forces in a detailed study on the reintroduction of light tanks for the government-backed Centre of Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS).

He has further 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.