“India had considered acquiring the Russian light tank the Sprut SDM1 following the outbreak of the current Sino-Indian boundary in May 2020.”
On 3 March, the Indian government announced the development of a light tank that could better operate at high altitudes and mountainous terrain along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The project would also provide a boost to Indian firms as part of the Make in India initiative. The accompanying excerpted article from the Indian independent think-tank Observer Research Foundation, provides some background to the decision to develop this indigenously and points out some issues that could come up in the process.
According to the article, the proposed tank will be developed under the “Make-I category of the 2020 Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).” This means the government will fund the development, instead of the defense industry. The article also points out that China has already developed its Type 15 light tank and deployed it in the high-altitude regions along the LAC. The author notes that India considered purchasing Russia’s Sprut light tank just after the border clashes with China in May 2020, but officials ultimately decided to develop an indigenous light tank. He also notes that while building it at home would be beneficial for the domestic defense industry, there “could potentially be a minimum five-year lag before the country witnesses the emergence of the initial variant of a homemade light tank.”
The author cites the pained development of the Arjun main battle tank, including delays and a lukewarm reception, as an example of the issues that could come up during the development of a new tank. He also notes the Arjun’s limited deployment only in certain geographic areas as a “reminder of how not to proceed with the development of an indigenous light tank.” He believes that if India repeats these mistakes with a light tank, it could eventually need to import one at a time when sanctions against Russia make it a risky source of supply.
Kartik Bommakanti, “Light tanks: A shot in the arm for the Indian Army,” Observer Research Foundation (an independent think tank in India), 21 March 2022.
The Modi government on 3 March 2022 announced the development of light tanks for the Indian Army (IA). This decision was taken under the Make-I category of the 2020 Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)…
…the Chinese have designed and developed a dedicated light tank called the Type-15 and deploy them due to their suitability for high altitude warfare against India. The Type-15 weighs 35 tonnes with a 105 mm gun making it significantly lighter than the IA’s T-90, T-72… It is one of the few light tanks built in the last three decades…
Against this backdrop, India had considered acquiring the Russian light tank the Sprut SDM1 following the outbreak of the current Sino-Indian boundary in May 2020. In April 2021, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces issued a Request for Information (RFI) under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for 350 light tanks in the weight class of 25 tonnes. Notwithstanding Russia’s offer, India has now turned to native development of a light tank rather than import them.
…Irrespective of the merits of native development of light tanks, India’s decision-makers have to recognise that there could potentially be a minimum five-year lag before the country witnesses the emergence of the initial variant of a homemade light tank.
…The light tank project cannot be hobbled by past native development of armoured platforms such as the nearly 70 tonne—Arjun MBT…it is an overweight tank and can only be deployed in “pockets” such as the desert areas along the India-Pakistan border…The delayed and lukewarm integration of both variants—Mk1 and Mk1A of the Arjun MBTs by the IA also serves as a reminder of how not to proceed with the development of an indigenous light tank, because it could compel the IA and the government importing light tanks at the cost of an indigenous capability. A heavily-sanctioned Russia in the coming months and years will be a highly risky source of supply…