Now that we have our focus back to our adversary in the North and his deployment of light tanks along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Military Operational Planners felt the need once again. The Indian Army and Air Force too have carried out deployment to thwart any plans of the Chinese

by Lt Col Manoj Kumar Channan (Retd)

In the recent past as the Chinese “Transgressions” seems to fade away from the headlines; in its Operational Preparedness the need for light tanks is being felt. In the early 80’s when the tank PT 76 was in its last cycle of operational employment, the Indian Army had carried out user trials of Swedish IKV 91 and French AMX 10 tanks.

Now that we have our focus back to our adversary in the North and his deployment of light tanks along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Military Operational Planners felt the need once again. While it’s a “necessity”, yet at the same time let’s analyse what are the possible options that we have, under the circumstances.

The terrain is high altitude, with passes as high as 19,000 feet. The mountainous terrain has steep gradients and in the desert plains that exist the heights are in general region of 14,000 feet. There is a very fine dust that enters all the systems and needs a very high quality of air purifiers. The temperatures vary from searing heat during the day which can cause sunburn and freezing temperatures at night resulting in chill blains. The terrain has fast-flowing rivers with freezing temperatures as they are at the very source of the glacial ice cap. There is no cover as the area is devoid of plantation. The roads and bridges in the area have classification restrictions for the moment and therefore needs to be kept in perspective with the existing inventory.

The Chinese pattern of operations and his likely aim is something the Military Planners would have assessed and in order to achieve these aims he has concentrated his forces along the line of control.

Quoting from an article by Mandeep Singh Bajwa, a Military Expert in the Indian Express dated 27th July 2020, “The Western Theatre Command (WTC) has benefited enormously from China’s military modernisation. Newly inducted weapon systems are reportedly deployed first in the Tibetan and Xinjiang MDs for testing and induction protocols. These include logically the third-generation Type-15 light tanks, specially designed for mountainous terrain, extreme conditions and harsh terrain. Also, the PCL-181 laser-guided vehicle-mounted howitzers, Z-20 medium utility rotary-wing aircraft and GJ-2 attack UAVs. KJ-500 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft are now deployed permanently in the Tibet MD. This could be a fallout of the 2017 Doklam stand-off. Though the PLAAF’s latest J-20 stealth aircraft has not been noticed in the skies above Tibet or Xinjiang, the latest J-10s, J-11s and J-16s (the last being an indigenous variant of the Russian Su-27) are now deployed in the theatre.” Unquote.

The Indian Army and Air Force too have carried out deployment to thwart any plans of the Chinese. Keeping this note to the employment of armour. To counter the Chinese armour there are adequate resources to support the infantry predominant operations. These are the Apache 64 E attack helicopters, Rudra indigenous Attack Helicopter, Light Attack Helicopter, the main battle tanks T 90 and T 72. The T 90 having the capability to fire an anti-tank missile from its main gun. These are duly supported by the mechanised infantry with Infantry Combat Vehicle BMP II, which has its main armament Anti-Tank Guided Missiles as well as a 30 mm cannon for taking on Attack helicopters at standoff distances. The infantry battalions too have their complement of anti-tank missiles and handheld light anti-tank weapons.

Given the limitations of terrain and the likely enemy approaches/need for containment or restoration of an adverse situation at any particular point, for the ease of understanding for a non-military reader, we are well poised to evict and destroy the adversary.

If we were to look at an expeditionary force to be launched to secure areas across the LAC then we need to augment our military resources to be able to build combat superiority in the chosen area duly supported by logistics and adequate reserves to exploit fleeting moments of opportunities.

Tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles are diesel guzzlers. In operational conditions, a tank easily consumes 12 litres of Diesel High-Pressure Point Alpha per Kilometre. In addition, it needs to replenish water of its cooling systems mixed with antifreeze additives to keep the systems running.

Logistics is a nightmare in mountainous terrain. The logistics are transported by the road along the Zoji La and Rohtang passes during the summer months. These are further supplied to the units by mule trains on beaten tracks on the mountains. In the winter months this becomes critical as the supply chain is now maintained by an aerobridge.

So What Does This Imply?

The area is starved for oxygen an important ingredient for internal combustion engines, road classification restrictions, it has steep gradients, the atmosphere has very fine dust, the area is interspersed with rivers and nullahs and the temperatures vary in extremities both by day and night.

The platform that would ideally suit such a deployment would, therefore, need to have the following:-

Should be capable of being air transported to the given area of operations by the existing inventory of heavy-lift transport aircraft.

A tank preferably in the 25-30 ton category to be able to move cross existing bridges and roads.

A superior and efficient multi-fuel engine to function at optimum levels given the terrain of operations. The air and oil filtration has to be extremely efficient to reduce corrosion of systems and engine seizure.

Should have a built-in secondary engine to keep the systems functioning as well as ensure fuel conservation.

Should have environment control in the fighting compartment.

Should have very high mobility cross country as in the given areas of operations should be able to “secure the passes in the minimal time frame”.

Should be able to do medium fording with minimal preparation.

The ground pressure has to be minimal for efficient movement.

The power to weight ratio of the tank should allow it to climb gradients of 45 degrees. The existing Main Battle Tanks can negotiate 30-degree gradients at sea level.

The main gun calibre could be a 105 mm gun to have a knock out capability of the enemy tanks and bunkers.

The radio communication should be encrypted and should be able to function in a highly electronic warfare environment.

The equipment and its sensors should be ruggedized and not prone to cyber-attacks.

NBC protection is a must.

The tank must have a built-in Armour Protection Suit against kinetic energy projectiles and missile attacks.

The modern-day sighting systems in the tank need to be ruggedized to withstand the environment.

Ammunition storage should be in blast-proof bins.

Taking into account that the fact that the Chinese have well-developed communication and infrastructure opposite us, across all sectors, he has the capability to build up his mechanised forces and employ them to his advantage for which we need to be able to match him with a suitable platform in all the sectors.

The procurement of the light tank should be on the fast track mode and the Indian Industry should step up to indigenise the components and support the manufacturing with quality control measures in place. Once again the spirit of “Atmanirbhar” needs to be awakened.