Edging past China, India Army is all set to procure Zorawar, a light tank that will put our mechanized forces to advantage vis-a-vis China in the Ladakh sector.
A need for such a tank was being felt for quite some time as India is engaged with China in the ongoing standoff in Ladakh. The Army faced several operational gaps while operating heavier tanks in these high altitude areas.
Need For Light Tanks
The Indian army was in need of a light tank for a very long time. The Chinese incursions in the Ladakh sector have shown the urgent need to have a lighter tank. The situation became more urgent after the Ladakh standoff and thus the country started actively pursuing in this direction.
The Indian Army currently operates heavier tanks like the T-90 Bhishma and T-72. The army was forced to deploy these tanks in Ladakh as India currently does not possess a light tank with huge firepower.
The heavier tanks were designed and procured to operate in the desert and plain areas of western front. They face operational limitations while operating in the rough mountainous terrain like Ladakh. Moving these tanks in the high altitude areas is a challenge.
Importance of Tanks in Ladakh
Tanks have always been a game changer in warfare. Tanks have been used in battles in the plains and desert warfare. Usage of tanks in the mountainous areas is a rare event. But the terrain in Ladakh, especially in eastern Ladakh is flat atop, which is suitable for tanks to operate and conduct missions.
Tanks bring in a huge amount of firepower, and hence they act as a force multiplier in facing any contingency. They will also act as a deterrent against any Chinese misadventure in the region.
Tanks will help India in launching a counter offensive against China in Ladakh which would allow Indian forces to check Chinese advances as well as put them under pressure in other sectors.
The New Tank Zorawar
The new tank “Zorawar” has been named after Zorawar Singh, a military general of Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, who was the master in mountain warfare.
The new tank will be a light tank with an approximate weight of 25 tonnes equipped with the component of Artificial Intelligence. It will be integrated with small tactical drones for better coordination and situational awareness of the battlefield.
The tank will be equipped with an active protection system to protect it from anti tank guided missiles. It will have higher maneuverability owing to its lightweight. These tanks, if made amphibious, can even be deployed in Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh.
These tanks will be having the same firepower as other existing tanks of the Army and will be suitable to operate at higher altitudes
The Indian Army is planning to approach the Ministry of Defence for the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) by September, which will set the project to roll further. The design and production of the tank will be done in India.The first prototype is expected to come within three years after the project gets approved.
Challenges of Operating Tanks at Higher Altitude
The temperature in higher altitudes goes beyond freezing point. Both the men and the machine bear the extreme harshness of the weather. The air at such heights is rarified, putting pressure on machines to operate which uses oxygen to burn the fuel.
Special fuel is used for machines which need day to day maintenance for better functioning. The infrastructure in these areas is not as good as in plains. This makes it tough for the army to operate these machines in such high altitude areas.
India’s Experience of Operating Tanks in High Altitude. India first deployed tanks in higher altitude during the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48. India deployed Stuart tanks at a height of 11500ft. and surprised the adversary.
The Indian Army deployed AMX-13 tanks in the Chushul sector during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. These tanks were effective in delaying China’s advances into Ladakh.
Self Reliance in Defence
India is the largest importer of weapons in the world. India primarily imports weapons from Russia, France and the US. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) India accounted for 11 percent of global arms imports in 2017-21. Russia was India’s largest supplier of arms.
Self reliance in defense is of utmost importance for India not only for building a powerful state of the art military but also for exports of defence equipment to strengthen its economy.
The Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted the supply chain of India’s defense equipment. This has impacted India’s existing weapons machinery as they need spare parts from Russia for maintenance.
Looking at the current scenario in our borders, dependence on other nations for military hardware can be detrimental for India’s security in case of a conflict.
China has deployed small lighter tanks during the Ladakh standoff. This has given the Chinese advantage to quickly mobilize its troops against the Indian side. India needs to build a match for the Chinese and start developing light tanks which would be quick to deploy and easy to maneuver.