India has provided in-principle approval for domestic design and development of light tanks for mountain combat, a necessity that was felt during the current standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control, despite the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine (LAC).
While private firm Larsen and Toubro was working with the DRDO to convert the tracked 155 mm howitzer Vajra into a light tank, ThePrint reported last year that the Russians had offered their Sprut light tanks to the Indian Army – a proposal that is being evaluated.
The move is expected to bolster Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for self-sufficiency, and it is the first announcement from the defence ministry since the launch of the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020, which aimed to “simplify” project acquisition processes and involve indigenous industry in their development.
The ministry’s acceptance of nine defence projects included the in-principle approval of light tank development, which was revealed Thursday. Four of the projects, including the light tank, are classified as Make-I, or “government supported,” while the remaining five are classified as Make-II, or “industry-funded.”
The autonomous combat vehicle project and an integrated surveillance and targeting system for the Indian Army were also approved by the ministry. The Indian Air Force received the final permissions, which included full motion simulators for the Apache and Chinook helicopters.
Why is a light tank important to the Army?
While the Indian Army has historically had a need for lightweight tanks, or light tanks, the situation has become more obvious since 2020 as a result of the Indian-China standoff in Eastern Ladakh along the LAC. India had deployed larger tanks like the T-72 and T-90 at the time.
The Army “released a Request for Information (RFI) for 200 wheeled and 100 tracked light weight tanks” when the Mountain Divisions were established in 2009, according to ThePrint.
After the standoff began in 2020, DRDO was said to be in talks with Larsen & Toubro, an Indian private company, about converting the K9 ‘Vajra’ 155 mm self-propelled howitzer into a 35-tonne light weight tank.
After delivering the last of a hundred K9 Vajra howitzers as part of a contract won in 2017, L&T was reported to be in talks with the DRDO about the tank conversion project by February 2021.
Two months later, as part of its endeavour to upgrade its mountain combat capabilities, the Army issued an RFI for 350 25-tonne lightweight tanks and sought bidders. In August 2020, Russia offered India 18-tonne Sprut SDM1 lightweight tanks as a potential procurement project, in addition to chances for indigenous development.
In June 2021, India expressed interest in Sprut and was given the opportunity to see testing of the Russian light tank later that summer.