The satellite imagery visuals of Chinese T-15 / ZTPQ Light Tanks camouflaged in the depth areas of Eastern Ladakh, during the recent stand-off, is a wakeup call for upgrading deterrence in areas where medium category tanks are difficult to employ. Eastern Ladakh saw it coming....we cannot keep procrastinating ..... Imagine the presence of air portable amphibious light tanks in Pangong Tso or in valleys of Ladakh to push back any transgression. Deterrence would have been more credible.
STUARTS OF 7TH LIGHT CAVALRY AT ZOJI LA - 11,575 FEET - SAVIOURS OF LADAKH NOV 1948
Victory in 21st Century is measured by least cost and minimum time. The importance of Light Tank as a mobile protected firepower for the Indian Army for multi spectrum, multi front application cannot be ignored by professionals. It’s time Indian Army looks at upgrading the Combined Arms Capability for the Northern Borders. The present requirement of light tanks has been endlessly debated by the Indian Army, albeit more often than not with clouded fixations to medium tank and technological perceptions of yester years. With technology now permitting and evolution of next generation light tanks in the battle space, time has come to review our ‘one size fits all’ med tank solution. The need is to revert to a mix of medium and light tanks to meet emerging threats and generate future capability to fight the next war differently.
While we continue to deliberate, we see the resurgence of state of art Light Tanks world over, including the threat from Chinese Light Tank ZTPQ recently deployed opposite our northern borders in Tibet. It’s time we stop discussing and start acting, building up on our experience of the past and the operational necessity of the future. Let us not forget given the same borders and foe, the light tanks did us proud and emerged victorious, even when we had medium tanks as part of our inventory. Let the Light Tank be a shining model under “Make in India”.
Lessons of the Past and Images for the Future
Historical Evidence. While history is a place of reference not residence, its relevance needs to be imbibed by a professional Army for future conflict. History is a testimony of Light Tanks doing the nation proud. In the Indian context, light tanks (Stuarts and Shermans) of the 254 Indian Tank Brigade in the World War II at Kohima successfully stalled the ingress of the Japanese Army. This has been described as one of the bloodiest battles in history surpassing the famous ‘Battle of Waterloo’. Soon after independence in the first Indo-Pak War of 1947-48, the bold and innovative employment of Stuart Light Tanks at unimaginable 11,575 feet high ZojiLa pass pushed back the shocked Pakistani invaders and saved Ladakh. Light tanks were also employed in Rajouri during the same period. Later in the Indo-China 1962 conflict, AMX-13 Light Tank were air lifted by an AN-12 aircraft and gallantly fought alongside infantry in the famous ‘Battle of Gurung Hill’. Also, in the Eastern Sector, the light tanks were employed in Bomdila and Darrang. Again in 1965 Indo-Pak war, the AMX-13 tanks were deployed at Natu La. In 1971 Indo- Pak conflict, both AMX-13 and the amphibious PT-76 Light Tanks played a major role in the liberation of Bangladesh spear heading the advance through marginal terrain. A squadron of Indian PT 76 in one swoop completely destroyed the Pakistani Squadron consisting of 14 American made M-24 Chaffee tanks and mauled two infantry battalion of Pakistan in the famous battle of Garibpur. Indeed, a decisive blow which created a sense of psychological despondency and physical paralysis leading to the surrender of Pakistani force.
OUR VICTORIOUS WAR HORSES
Lessons for the Future. So, what are the lessons we draw from these conflicts for the future:-
Global Overview of Light Tanks
There are a large number of light tanks, both tracked and wheeled, in the inventory of foreign armies. Amongst the more advance are the Russian SPRUT- SDM1, the Chinese ZTQ 105 / Type 15 and the USA Project MPF Light Tank.
Light Tank - Operational Perspective
India’s security paradigm entails multi-spectrum, multi-front and diverse terrain challenges at short notice. In particular the threat trajectory is likely to take ascendancy on our Northern Borders and future limited wars, being fought in the mountains and marginal terrains. Deterrence and coercive diplomacy will thus need to be empowered through combat ready and credible rapid deployable forces. Towards this end the Indian Army restructuring initiative aims to generate lean, agile, versatile and technology enabled Integrated Battle Groups. The equipment profile of Mechanised Forces must accordingly have the right mix of medium and light tanks to generate greater operational options and versatility in future wars. The reintroduction of light tanks would permit air deployability, move on tracks or wheels across mountain passes/low classification bridges, pass through narrower lanes inbuilt up areas, and wade through marshier / riverine terrain like in Punjab or Rann of Kutch, otherwise impeded bythe present medium tanks in inventory.
The broad employment concept of light tank thus revolves around its superior mobility (Strategic, Operational and Tactical), versatility, enhanced manoeuvrability (small turning radius, high power to weight ratio and low nominal ground pressure), and lethal firepower especially high angle fire cum missile firing ability. While strategic mobility advantage of light tank certainly provides strategic flexibility, however its superior agility, ‘power to weight ratio’, and ‘dimensions’, which gives it a major advantage with reference to inter and intra valley movement in high altitude terrain.
Along the Northern Borders, it would augment the defence potential by forward deployment and denial of corridors to enemy. The primary role would essentially be to close in and destroy enemy forces and facilitate the freedom of action by infantry in mountainous or marginal terrain. Its availability would add teeth in limited offensive or quid pro quo operations into enemy territory. The light tanks would not only target the will of the enemy but also enhance capability through pre-emption, dislocation and disruption of enemy forces. Thus, light tanks would add to the credible deterrence posture and war fighting capability in the Northern Front especially where the medium category tanks cannot reach.
Along the Western Borders proliferation of BUA and canals / swamps have restricted mobility corridors for medium tanks. The Rann of Kutch with its low soil bearing capacity also impedes movement of heavier vehicles. A mix of medium and light tanks with amphibious capability and superior tactical agility would thus facilitate the tempo of operations as also serve as potent reconnaissance force in the Western Front. Its innovative application could help in seizing control of time, space and force matrix in war. Light tank would also find its enhanced utility in hybrid wars of the future.
With its air portability and amphibious characteristics, its role as part of Rapid Deployment Force for OOAC as part of an emergency response force, backup armour-deficient airborne troops,amphibious operations for establishing a beachhead and protection of our island territories, would add to our capability matrix. Its utility as part of UN Forces could also find favour and add to the nation’s international stature.
Role, Deployability and Desired Capabilities
Role. The light tank must be designed to defeat armour and low flying helicopters, provide fire support to assaulting infantry, destroy strongholds and fortifications and perform reconnaissance and combat security task.
Deployability. The light tank weight and its dimensions must facilitate tactical, operational and strategic lift capability and adaptability to designated operational roles. It must ensure transportability by rail, road (on tank transporters) and in service aircrafts, as also operational and tactical mobility within the theatre of operations. It must be an amphibious fighting vehicle capable of day and night operations in both High Altitude mountainous terrain of Northern Borders and plains of Western Front. It should facilitate low air drop in emergencies.
Desired Capabilities. The desired capabilities necessitated are:-
Given the emergence of Chinese Light Tank and escalatory matrix of the threat on our Northern Borders, the operational necessity for a light tank is well established. A pragmatic and professional analysis is indicative of operational imperative of light tanks for the Indian Army. The process is often debated and offers multiple options for procurement. In the order of priority, it could be through the SP partnership model, a Government to Government deal, a variant of FICV or new project under Make categorisation. It must be shining example of Make in India initiative. May the decision makers never be clouded by myopic vision and address this critical capability, already delayed beyond reasons professional, at the earliest.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CENJOWS.