A functioning prototype of an American made Mobile Protected Firepower or Lightweight Tank

New Delhi: Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, India has given in-principle approval for indigenous design and development of light tanks for mountain warfare, a need for which was felt during the current stand-off with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The Russians had earlier offered its Sprut light tanks to the Indian Army — a proposal that is being considered — even as private firm Larsen and Toubro was working with the DRDO to convert the tracked 155 mm howitzer Vajra into a light tank, which was reported last year.

The move is expected to boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for self-reliance and is the first defence ministry announcement since the launch of the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 which aimed at ‘simplifying’ project acquisition processes and involve indigenous industry in the development of such projects.

The in-principle approval of light tank development, announced Thursday, forms part of the ministry’s approval of nine defence projects. Four, including the light tank, come under the procedure’s Make-I, or “government funded” project category, while the remaining five are under the Make-II, or “industry-funded” project category.

The ministry also approved the autonomous combat vehicle project and an integrated surveillance and targeting system for the Indian Army. The remaining approvals — full motion simulators for the Apache and Chinook helicopters — were given to the Indian Air Force.

Why Light Tank Is Significant For The Army

While the Indian Army has had a historic need for lightweight tanks, or light tanks, the situation became increasingly apparent since 2020 due to the Indian-China standoff along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. At that time, India had deployed heavier tanks like the T-72 and T-90.

When the Mountain Divisions were being raised in 2009, the Army had “issued a Request for Information (RFI) for 200 wheeled and 100 tracked light weight tanks”.

After the stand-off broke out in 2020, DRDO was reported to be in talks with Indian private firm Larsen & Toubro for a project to convert the K9 ‘Vajra’ 155 mm self-propelled howitzer into a 35-ton light weight tank.

By February 2021, L&T was reported to remain in talks with the DRDO over the tank conversion project after delivering the last of hundred K9 Vajra howitzers, as part of a contract awarded in 2017.

Two months later, the Army had put out an RFI for 350 25-ton lightweight tanks and sought vendors for the same as part of the effort to improve its mountain warfare capabilities.

Aside from prospects of indigenous development, Russia had also offered India 18-ton Sprut SDM1 lightweight tanks as a potential procurement project in August 2020. India showed interest in Sprut in June 2021 and had received the opportunity to observe trials of the Russian lightweight tank later that summer.