NEW DELHI ― As preparation for a possible conflict with China in high, mountainous areas, the Indian Army’s armored directorate has begun setting requirements for a small tank order, according to a source in the Ministry of Defence.
Military planners in the MoD asked the Army to draw up requirements for a light tank after China tested its homegrown light tank, Xinqingtan, which is equipped with a 105mm main gun and a 1,000-horse-power engine.
The Xinqingtan was tested in July 2017 in the Tibet region bordering India.
Currently, India only uses the Russian-made T-72 and T-90 as well as its homegrown Arjun tank, which is too heavy for the mountainous regions and is made for the desert along the border with Pakistan.
Military planners want lighter tanks that can be airlifted to elevated areas along the Chinese border, the source explained.
An Indian Army official said: “The requirement of rapidly deployable, protected and mobile fire power, which can result in precision engagement in the mountains in view of terrain and technology advantage enjoyed by China, has always remained high in the desirability matrix.”
The light tank requirements come in the wake of a standoff between India and China over a small strip of land along their borders called Doklam. The standoff, which saw soldiers from both countries standing eyeball to eyeball in the area since June, has now been resolved. Soldiers have been withdrawn, said an official with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
The Indian Army wants its light tanks to weigh about 22 tons and be capable of operating at heights of more than 3,000 meters in hilly terrain, according to another Army official. The tanks would need to be able to penetrate highly protected armored vehicles and main battle tanks from a distance of more than 2 kilometers, as well as be able to fire highly explosive anti-tank shells and guided missiles.
“There are some areas in the mountains where light tanks will be useful, and the Chinese are possibly trying the same (developing light tanks),” said Rahul Bhonsle, a defense analyst and retired Indian Army brigadier.
“Light tanks, which can operate in high altitude, are a better option than modified T-72 tanks,” Bhonsle added..
The Army currently has T- 72 tanks and armored personnel carriers stationed in select areas along the border with China.
The process for procuring the light tanks after the requirements are finalized will depend on how urgently they’re needed, the MoD source said.
In 2009, the Army issued a request for information for light tanks, but it was later shelved and no formal tender was issued.
The state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization has encouraged the MoD to grant it the light-tank development project. DRDO had developed a light tank in the 1990s, but the project was closed in 1994 due to a lack of demand within the Army.
”The DRDO project can be revived; however, this will have to be undertaken jointly with the Indian Army so that there is user confidence and assurance of support,” Bhonsle said.
The Indian Army has about 4,000 tanks, including the T-72 and T-90 tanks as well as the Arjun tanks, 248 of which have been contracted and of which 118 have been delivered.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.