A proposal to develop light tanks for rapid deployment and high mobility in mountains to counter Chinese capabilities is set to come up for approval by the defence ministry at the same time that the Indian Army’s mechanised forces are introducing swarm drone systems capable of carrying out offensive missions in enemy territory, according to officials familiar with the situation.
According to one of the aforementioned officials who requested anonymity, drone swarms will be a force multiplier for commanders because the systems will enable better surveillance, support close reconnaissance of areas of interest, and, if necessary, engage a variety of targets, including enemy artillery, air defence equipment, command and control centres, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, and ammunition and fuel dumps.
“A group of drones operating in concert with the ground manoeuvre forces will give a substantial capability for offensive and defensive operations and enhance the fighting potential of the army,” he said.
According to HT, two Indian start-ups have created and provided the swarm drone systems to address a crucial military need and protect soldiers.
Drone technology has given the mechanised forces the potential to produce decisive outcomes in recent military operations and conflicts around the world, such as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Armenia-Azerbaijani War.
According to a second official who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, the army’s introduction of drone swarm capability reflects its increased focus on disruptive and emerging technologies to convert itself from a manpower-intensive to a technology-enabled force.
According to the second official, artificial intelligence-based algorithms allow the drones to distribute tasks among the swarm, navigate to the target area with ease, conduct searches, identify and hit targets, or communicate inputs to the control station for engagement by the weapon of choice.
Given the continued increased threat along India’s northern borders with China, the light tank is another crucial capability improvement that the army is pursuing. The army will soon request government approval for the indigenous development of the tank, according to a third official who also asked to remain anonymous.
The upcoming tank is already known as Zorawar after famous general Zorawar Singh, who served under Dogra dynasty monarch Gulab Singh in the nineteenth century.
After finalising the qualitative specifications for the new 25-tonne platform, which has been classified as an operational requirement, the army will request the defence acquisition council’s acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the light tank project in September, according to a third official.
Rajnath Singh, India’s defence minister, serves as the council’s chairman. According to Indian defence procurement regulations, the AoN is the initial phase in the acquisition or development of military hardware.
According to the fourth official, the present border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh has demonstrated that the armour equipment profile is one of the most important aspects defining the operational capability of the land forces.
He added that the Indian Army had stationed a sizable number of Russian-origin T-72 and T-90 tanks in the Ladakh theatre “to gain tactical surprise over the adversary and force him on the back foot.” The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has inducted and fielded several modern tanks, including light tanks with high power-to-weight ratio, across the contentious Line of Actual Control (LAC), he said.
But these tanks (T-72s and T-90s) have limitations on high altitudes because they were primarily made for operations in plains and deserts. When working in the challenging Rann of Kutch terrain, they encounter a comparable disadvantage. The light tank is essential for operations, he said.
The military anticipates three years for the creation and testing of the light tank prototype.
According to the third official, Zorawar will be equipped with cutting-edge technologies including drone integration, active protection systems, and enhanced situational awareness. It will be a mobile platform with excellent firepower, protection, surveillance, and communication capabilities and a high power-to-weight ratio. It will give the army the adaptability to conduct operations in a variety of terrain and counter the platforms used by the enemy, he continued.
The light tank project, according to the officials, will support the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (independent India) movement.
In the past two to three years, India has taken a number of steps to increase self-reliance in the defence manufacturing industry, including limiting imports and allocating cash for domestic purchase.
310 different types of weapons and systems, including light tanks, naval utility helicopters, artillery guns, missiles, destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft, long-range land-attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, and multi-barrel rocket launchers have been placed under a phased import ban by the government.
India has allocated 84,598 crore for 2022–23, or 68% of the military’s capital procurement budget, for the purchase of domestically produced weapons and systems. Additionally, 25% of the defence R&D budget has been set aside for private business, start-ups, and academic institutions.
The defence ministry was able to “overachieve this aim” and local military acquisitions accounted for 65.5% of the capital budget, even though it had set aside 64% of the capital acquisition budget for domestic industry in 2021–22.