Indian Army Eyes ‘Mountain Tanks’ That Can Counter Chinese Swarm Drones & Its T-15 Tanks

The Indian Army looks to acquire 350 indigenous light tanks that can easily maneuver at high-altitude battlefields and could rival the much-publicized Chinese T-15 tanks. 

An initial Request for Information (RFI) was issued by the Indian Army to vendors on Thursday.

The RFI sets the maximum combat weight of the tanks at 25 tons and mentions that the tanks’ “physical dimensions should not impede its transportability by rail, road, air, and water”. The project itself will take several years to be fulfilled.

After the Galwan Valley clash last June, the Indian armed forces started preparing for a war-like situation by deploying huge numbers of Russian-origin T-90 Bhishma Tanks and T-72M1 tanks in key areas of the Ladakh valley.

The Chinese quickly sent their own Type 15 lightweight tank which at 33-ton are increasingly suited to the mountainous conditions near the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Heavier tanks such as the 45-ton T-90 generally require more oxygen to support their engines than that available at higher altitudes.

Also, the border areas sometimes receive 40 feet of snow, making operation that much difficult.

The T-90s with their 125-millimeter guns are generally preferable to T-15’s 105-mm in the Depsang plains, which at 15000 feet altitude don’t provide that much cover to the lighter tank. But at higher altitude plateau of other border areas, the lighter, more maneuverable Type 15 will have the advantage.

Additionally, Indian infrastructure and connectivity don’t support efficient transportation of armored tanks. The proposed lighter tanks would also need to be airlifted to the border.

Thus, the Indian Army is hoping to procure “much more maneuverable” and “operationally flexible” light tanks to meet the Chinese challenge. Despite the agreement for partial disengagement in February, China continues to deploy advanced weapons close to the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border that divides the two countries.

Some of the requirements mentioned in the RFI include thermal night-fighting capabilities, anti-aircraft weapons, and “smart munitions with gun tube-launched anti-tank guided missiles”. Additional features such as anti-drone capability, UAV jammers, and some AI (artificial intelligence) technologies would also be preferred.

The RFI also mentioned the project would be under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, aimed at promoting indigenous defense production.

Under this scheme, the 51-ton K9 Vajra came up as the domestic variant of the South Korean K-9 self-propelled howitzer. India might have deployed the howitzers along LAC last year but critics say these weapons could be vulnerable to anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).

The viability of the scheme has been questioned too. Strategic analyst Prakash Nanda has previously raised concerns about whether the quality of the arms and weapons available to the Indian army gets compromised due to the ‘Make in India’ and the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ schemes of domestic production of military hardware.

The domestically-made Arjun Mark 1A Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) have not been able to meet the Army’s requirements.