Army Chief General Manoj Pande confirmed in an exclusive interview with BharatShakti Editor-in-Chief Nitin A. Gokhale that the indigenous light tanks are scheduled to be fielded by April-May this year. Trials for these light tanks, which form part of a 59-tank order to DRDO and its private sector development and production partner, are currently in progress. The induction of these tanks is aimed at enhancing the Army’s mechanized warfare capabilities along the northern borders, especifically in the Ladakh sector, where the Chinese have deployed their light tanks amid military stand-off since 2020.
As part of the Make in India initiative, DRDO is partnering with private sector major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) Defence to develop a 25-tonne light tank designed for agile movement in challenging high mountainous terrain for the recently approved project by the Defence Acquisition Council.
Providing insights into the project, the Army Chief stated, “We are looking at tanks with in the category categories of 25 tons against the currently available types of 45 tons, which we will use in the mountains. We have a total of 354 light tanks for which the AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) has been given to us. It is under two routes – one is the design and development route, in which the DRDO, alongside the industry partner, is working on 59 tanks, and there is another 295, which is under the ‘Make I’ category which will be partially funded by the government as well as development partners. So, the first DRDO product will be fielded by April-May this year”.
Commending the contribution of the Indian private sector, Gen Pande highlighted that it serves as a noteworthy example of the indigenous industry taking significant strides to deliver key conventional military platforms. Over half a dozen companies have shown interest in securing the Army’s coveted project involving 295 light tanks. “In the second route, the EoI (Expression of Interest) has received a good response from the industry that is currently under evaluation, then we will put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) and identify two development partners, maybe in another two-and-half years we will have a product,” informed Army Chief.
The light tank named ‘Zorawar’ is expected to outperform the Chinese Type 15 tanks in terms of mobility, firepower and accuracy. The tank is expected to have a high power-to-weight ratio and substantial firepower, protection, surveillance, and communication capabilities, inbuilt.
The armoured threat posed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh revolves around China’s latest light tank, the nimble and adaptable ZTQ 105, also recognized as the Type 15. Developed by China’s North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO) and unveiled at the Zhuhai Air Show in 2016, the ZTQ 105 is equipped with a 105-mm rifled gun capable of eliminating enemy tanks within a range of two to three kilometers. Additionally, it deploys anti-tank guided missiles, enabling it to neutralize tanks at distances of up to five kilometers.
The military stand-off along eastern Ladakh currently sees the deployment of Russian T-72 and T-90 tanks by the Indian Army. However, these robust main battle tanks, weighing about 45 tonnes, are specifically designed for plains. Negotiating steep and narrow mountain roads proves challenging for them. Moreover, their heavy 120-mm guns have limitations in terms of depression or elevation, occasionally hindering their ability to engage targets located on hilltops or in valleys.
Recognising these challenges, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the Ministry of Defence’s apex body for capital acquisitions, has granted an Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) or initial approval for the setting up of seven light tank regiments, each to be equipped with 45 tanks.