The necessity for a light tank for the Indian Army was anticipated some years back, however the proposal after some preliminary moves for development through the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in the 1990’s did not take off possibly due to shifting priorities.
The long standoff in Eastern Ladakh that has continued since May 2020 saw the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deploying light tanks.
In response the Indian Army had in place and moved T 72 and T 90 medium tanks. These were found unsuitable in the some areas which lacked the deployability and possibly operational requirements led for the proposal for procurement of light tanks was revived.
The Indian Army thus issued a Request for Information (RFI) the primary objective of which is to assist the service HQ in formulation of the Service QRs to enable practical evolution of either and Expression of Intent (EOI) and Request for Proposal. This also assists in estimation of the budgetary cost as is indicated in the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.
The RFI denotes that the Army intends to acquire approximately 350 Light Tanks in a phased manner planned to be procured under the “ ‘Make-in-India’ ethos and spirit of the DAP – 2020”.
This denotes that the intent is to outline the SQRs for acquisition under the Make category of DAP 2020.
The DAP relevant section on the issue states that, “In line with the Government’s ‘Make in India’ programme, several initiatives have been taken in the recent years to build a robust defence industrial ecosystem capable of meeting existing and future requirements of the Armed Forces. The emerging dynamism of the Indian industry needs to be gainfully utilised to build domestic capabilities for designing, developing and manufacturing state of the art defence equipment”.
There are a number of options for procurement under this proposal.
Make 1 Category
Under the Make I category design and development of major platforms is undertaken. As per DAP 2020, Make-I (Government Funded) projects involving design and development of equipment, systems, major platforms or upgrades will be undertaken where the, “MoD will provide financial support up to 70% of prototype development cost or maximum “.
The other option is to progress the development through the DRDO/DPSU/OFB [corporatized in the near future], These cases would be categorised as ‘Buy (Indian-IDDM)’ for subsequent procurement from the industry partner of DRDO or DPSU/OFB.
The lead time required for procurement through these means will be around five to seven years.
On the other hand, the requirement is for the Army to acquire the light tanks urgently due to the operational requirements.
Buy and Manufacture in India
Towards this end the proposal could envisage acquisition through the Buy (Global - Manufacture in India) route resulting in “ outright purchase of equipment from foreign vendors, in quantities as considered necessary, followed by indigenous manufacture of the entire/part of the equipment and spares/assemblies/sub-assemblies/Maintenance along with Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility etc”. The indigenous content has to be 50% IC on cost basis of the Base Contract Price.
At present there are essentially three light tanks which are globally on the manufacturing stream – the Russian Sprut-SDM1, South Korean Hanwa K21-105 and the Israel Elbit systems ASCOD 2 Sabrah.
Of these the Russian Sprut is the classic light tank with a 125 mm gun which may be suited for the operational role desired in Eastern Ladakh.
This could be acquired through the Buy Global and Manufacture in India route though transfer of technology and related issues may remain a challenge.
The other options could also be considered with the South Korean Hanwa Systems already having a joint project with L & T for the manufacture of the 155mm artillery Vajra Self Propelled gun which has taken off very well and almost the entire lot of 100 guns are likely to be delivered.
The ASCOD 2 Sabrah may have a number of challenges with multiple developers clearance required even though this option has been selected by the Philippines armed forces recently.
Given operational requirement of deploying of light tanks some of the possible options that can be considered post the RFI stage by the Indian Army are discussed herein. An early consideration of the proposals received is essential before the proposal goes into the usual loop of procurement officialdom bane of Army acquisitions in the recent past.