Defence Industry

India And China Acquire Tanks Designed For High-Altitude Battlefields

Story Highlights
  • Indian officials have said that the first tanks will be ready for trial testing by the end of this year, and that the first order will be for 59 units.
  • The Indian army may have a specific enemy in mind for its new light tank because it is called "Project Zorawar," which is a reference to Zorawar Singh

Three years after the first deadly fight on the disputed Himalayan border between India and China in decades, the area is still dangerous.

Talks about disengaging have failed many times, and in December, Chinese and Indian troops got hurt in another fight. Both countries keep building up their military troops and infrastructure near the border, where tensions are high.

China’s use of light tanks, which can move well in hilly areas and can be used quickly in large numbers, has been a key part of this buildup. Their appearance has shown that the Indian military’s armored equipment, which is mostly made up of main battle tanks that don’t do well at high altitudes, isn’t as good as it could be.

So, India wants to make its own light tank to level the playing field.

Light tanks

Light tanks are meant to help troops directly attack enemy positions and light armored vehicles instead of going up against enemy tanks alone. Their design puts more importance on speed and agility than on armor and weapons.

India and China aren’t the only ones interested in light tanks; the US and Japan are also putting money back into the idea. However, China and India need them the most because the ground between them is hard for main battle tanks.

In 2020 and 2021, after a deadly border clash in Ladakh that killed at least 20 Indian troops and at least 4 Chinese soldiers, both countries sent armored units to parts of the Himalayas higher than 11,000 feet.

Low air pressure at those heights made it hard for tank engines to work well, and freezing temperatures meant that troops had to turn on their armored vehicles for up to 30 minutes every two or three hours to keep engine parts from freezing. The terrain was also hard for bigger cars.

Even though armored vehicles have problems, neither side is ready to send troops to the area without them. This is mostly because tanks are still very important on the battlefield.

The Type 15

China has dealt with these problems by sending in its Type 15 light tank, which is one of the few current light tanks made in the 21st century.

The Type 15, also called the ZTQ-15, was shown off in 2016. It is meant to be a lighter, cheaper choice to Russia’s and the West’s heavier, more complicated tanks. The Type 15 weighs between 33 and 36 tons, depending on how much it is carrying. This is much less than China’s Type 96 tank, which weighs 41 tons, and Type 99 tank, which weighs 55 tons, and less than half as much as current versions of the US-made M1 Abrams.

The Type 15 is said to have gone into service in 2018, but it won’t be seen in public for the first time as a working tank until the military show for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2020. People think that China has about 500 soldiers in the military.

It has a 105 mm rifled gun with an automatic shooter and 38 rounds of ammunition. It has a remote-controlled 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher as its backup weapons. It can go as fast as 43 miles per hour on paved roads and 25 miles per hour off-road.

The tank is made of regular steel, but its turret and sides are protected by explosive-reactive armor blocks. It can also have an active protection device made in China added to it.

The Type 15 is full of current electronics, such as a laser range finder, nighttime and thermal optics, a warning sensor system, satellite communications, and inertial and satellite navigation systems.

Aside from its weight, the Type 15 is good for activities in mountainous areas because of its other features. It can aim its gun higher or lower than most tanks because of its hydro-pneumatic suspension. This is useful for hitting targets at high levels. It also has oxygen generators that make it easier for the engine to work at high levels.

Project Zorawar

The Indian army hasn’t had a light tank since the Soviet-made PT-76 was taken out of service in 1989.

Instead, it almost always uses its heavy-armored T-90 and T-72 tanks, which weigh 43 and 46 tons, respectively, and its main battle tanks from the Arjun series, which weigh between 58 and 68 tons. These tanks were bought with Pakistan in mind, and they are better for open areas and deserts.

India has been trying to make a new light tank on and off since 1983, but it has never settled on a type. The fight in Ladakh in 2020, which was followed by a military buildup by China in which the Type 15 worked with relative ease, led to new steps to get a light tank. (One former Indian general even said that India couldn’t stop Chinese aggression because it didn’t have enough light tanks.)

In 2021, India’s Ministry of Defense asked businesses for information about making 350 light tanks, each of which would weigh no more than 25 tons and have a crew of two to three people. A remote-controlled machine gun, the ability to fire “smart munitions” and guided anti-tank rockets, and the ability to add explosive-reactive-armor blocks were also needed.

At first, people thought that India might buy the 2S25 Sprut-SD from Russia, which has frequently offered to give India the information it needs to build it. But the Indian government has said that it wants a design made in India. This is in line with the “Make in India” policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India’s Ministry of Defense gave the go-ahead to buy 315 tanks, which will be split into seven units. India’s news sources say that the army may increase the order to almost 700 tanks.

In September, the government named the Indian global company Larsen & Toubro as its development partner. In April, the company was given the contract for the first prototype. It will have a Rolls-Royce engine with 800 horsepower and a gun turret with 105 mm guns made by a Belgian company.

Indian officials have said that the first tanks will be ready for trial testing by the end of this year, and that the first order will be for 59 units.

The Indian army may have a specific enemy in mind for its new light tank because it is called “Project Zorawar,” which is a reference to Zorawar Singh, a general who took Ladakh from the Chinese in the early 1800s.

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