Faced with the Chinese threat, the army launches the Zorawar project to deploy light tanks for mountain warfare

New Delhi: With the ‘increased threat’ from China along India’s northern borders ‘likely to persist for foreseeable future’, military launches Project Zorawar the induction of native light tanks for faster deployment and movement in high altitude areas.

These tanks will be used to counter the Chinese deployment of a large number of similar armored columns along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Defense and security establishment sources told ThePrint that the Army has finalized the General Staff Quality Requirements and will approach the Department of Defense in September for Acceptance of Requirement (AON) – the first step that will initiate the project.

The army is considering a light tank with a maximum weight of 25 tons – with a margin of 10% – with the same firepower as its regular tanks, but also armed with artificial intelligence (AI), integration of tactical surveillance drones to provide a high degree of situational awareness and roving ammunition, as well as a system of active protection.

An active protection system is designed to protect vehicles from anti-tank guided missiles and projectiles away from combat vehicles.

The military also wants the light tank to be amphibious, so it can be deployed in river regions and even Pangong Tso Lake in East of Ladakh.

The project was named “Zorawar” after Zorawar Singh Kahluria — a military general who served under Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu – known as the “conqueror of Ladakh”.

“We will approach the Ministry of Defense for AON as early as next month. It would be an indigenous project that would be designed and manufactured in India. We hope to have the production of a prototype and the start of testing in three years from the sanction of the project,” said a source.

Sources further stated that the proposal to convert the Vajra self-propelled tracked artillery into a light tank has been dropped as it will not be able to meet the weight criteria sought by the military.

They added that the weight of 25 tons is the maximum that can allow the tanks to be transported by air in high altitude areas.

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The deployment of Chinese light tanks gave them an advantage

Sources said Ladakh’s clash with China showed that armored columns are one of the most important factors in defining the operational capability of land forces.

Army sources admitted that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had inducted a large number of “state-of-the-art” tanks, which were used operationally as a mixture of medium and light tanks with high power to weight ratios..

The increased threat on the northern borders is likely to remain a threat for the foreseeable future, the sources added, adding that while the military had also deployed its T-90 and T-72 tanks – surprising the Chinese – lighter tanks would mean faster deployment. and increased mobility in mountainous terrain.

The army currently operates three different types of tanks, the latest being the Arjun Mk 1A, which weighs 68.5 tons. The T-90 weighs about 46 tons and the T-72 about 45 tons.

“The tanks were primarily designed for operations in plains and desert terrain and have their own limitations when operating in high altitude areas (HAA). They face a similar handicap when employed on the marginal land of the Rann of Kutch,” another source told ThePrint.

“There is therefore an operational necessity to procure light tanks to overcome the limitations faced by medium battle tanks and equip the Indian Army for all eventualities in HAAs, marginal terrains and island territories, in addition to its use in plains, semi-deserts, and deserts,” the source added.

Sources explained that the setback that the global supply chain has experienced in the supply of defence-related components due to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war has impacted both the manufacturing and maintenance of the foreign tank fleet that India currently holds.

It is therefore essential to locally design and develop the light tank for the Indian army, they added.

The sources made it clear that India would not opt ​​for Russian Sprut light tanks, but added that they were looking for something with similar capabilities.

The Modi government had in March this year given approval in principle for indigenous design and development of light tanks for mountain warfare.

This decision sealed the prospect of a possible enthronement of the Germ tanks that the Russians offered to India during Defense Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Russia in 2020.

Indian Light Tank Deployment History

The military has successfully used light tanks as force multipliers in multiple combat engagements in the past.

This includes the deployment of Stuart tanks of the 254 Indian Tank Brigade in the Battle of Kohima in World War II, in Naushera, Jhangar, Rajauri and most successfully in Zojila in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 -1948.

AMX-13 tanks were deployed to Chushul and Bomdila in 1962 and to Chammb in 1965.

PT-76 amphibious light tanks were successfully deployed in 1971, with the tanks leading the race to Dacca.

The AMX-13 and PT-76 tanks were phased out in the 1980s after the army’s focus shifted mainly to the western frontiers, resulting in the conversion of PT-76 units to the T profile -72.

The requirement for light tank capability, which had proven in the past to be a winning factor for the Indian Army in mountainous and riverine terrain, had been voiced numerous times since 1982, sources say.

“The current threat scenario and the contours of likely future wars have brought forth new challenges for which the Indian military must be prepared. The Indian Army’s tank equipment profile must have the versatility and flexibility of medium and light platforms,” a third source said.

Sources said a lightweight agile platform with a high power-to-weight ratio with substantial firepower, protection, surveillance and communications capabilities is essential to provide the military with the versatility to execute missions. operations in varied terrain against various adversary threats and equipment profiles.

“Armored Fighting Vehicle – Indian Light Tank (AFV-ILT) offering capability for multiple employment options as well as niche technologies is therefore an operational imperative,” said one of the sources quoted above.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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