Indian Army Light Tank : Decoding RFI, Potential Contenders
Last year around this same time, India and China went in a stand-off in Eastern Ladakh. The situation kept on worsening which resulted in bloody ‘sticks and stones’ combat in Galwan valley. This incident also changed the rules of engagement which for the first time gave permission to use firearms against each other. The result was that the situation kept on escalating eventually resulting in concentration of more than 50000 troops along with artillery, tanks, air defense units etc. on each side. It was around this time India realized, or let us say reconsidered its decision to get light tanks. Chinese deployed, in good numbers, their Type-15 Light tanks with 105mm gun. Being light this tank has advantage in mountainous terrain as compared to other heavy tanks like Type 99 or T-90. But even after realizing the need for such system, it took India almost a year, to just issue a Request for information (RFI) for 350 light tanks. So, let’s decode the RFI first before moving on towards the possible contenders.
Capabilities sought for in the light tank
The RFI demands for 350 light tanks along with performance based logistics, maintenance and training. The tank should able to operate in various terrains like high altitudes, marginal terrain(wetlands), amphibious role, should operate in minimum temperature in High Altitudes to Hot and humid temperature in deserts without affecting its performance and should also have adequate firepower and protection. The tank should also be highly agile and deployable rapidly including overseas, if need arises.
Looking at the RFI it seems like army is looking for an established platform along with TOT instead of going for a new one. The basic configuration asks for combat weight not to exceed 25 tons with a crew of 2 or 3, power to weight ratio >25 hp/ton and should be modular in design. With respect to firepower demand is of system which provide adequate solution towards varied threats and should be upgradeable if needed, and should include a remote controlled weapons station for anti-air and anti-infantry role along with capability to fire gun launched ATGM from main gun. The main gun should have high angle of fire and should have auto loader with blow-off panels. Tank should have thermal night fighting capabilities, 360 degree real time situation awareness, ERA, protection as well as fire detection and suppression system.
Other than these, there are capabilities which are desired for and may or may not necessarily form part of the tank including hard kill/soft kill capabilities, hybrid navigation system, APU, anti drone capabilities and UAV feed. 2 interesting points which came out of this RFI was that Battlefield Management System (BMS) is kept in desired list instead of demand list and other being request for UAV jammer in desired list.
Contenders for the light tank RFI
The Russian tank weighting merely about 19 tons is powered by 510hp 2V-06-2S diesel engine which gives it power to weight ratio of around 27 hp/ton with top speed of 70km/h. The tank is manned by crew of 3 i.e. gunner, commander and driver. The tank feature a powerful 125mm 2A75 smoothbore gun which is capable of firing APFSDS, HE-Frag, HEAT and ATGM like 9M119 Svir. Secondary armament is 7.62mm PKT coaxial machine gun and also feature a 7.62mm RCWS. The protection of base tank is terrible which provides protection against 23mm round from 500 yards in frontal arc, however with add on armor package which increases weight to 21 tons, the protection increases to 30mm in frontal arc and 12.7mm round to the side.
It also provides NBC protection. The reason for lower level of protection has to do with its base armor which is aluminum steel armor with composite skin. The tank features a battle management system, independent commander and gunner sight providing hunter-killer capability and fire detection and suppression system. The tank features smoke grenade and may likely feature APS in future which will increase the weight. The tank also has amphibious capabilities with speed of 8km/h in water using water jets and can fire while moving in water. Another unique capability of Sprut is that it can be air dropped.
The South Korean tank weights around 25 tons with 105mm rifled gun, however weight increases to 27 tons if armed with 120mm rifled gun by Cockerill. The tank has crew of 3 i.e. gunner, commander and driver. The armor is classified but is believed to be made up of combination of aluminum steel alloy, glass fiber composite and ceramics. The front provides protection against 30mm APDS rounds, while side provide protection against 14.5mm rounds. As mentioned main gun can be 105mm or 120mm and is capable of firing variety of rounds including 105mm Falarick ATGM. The secondary armament consist of 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and 12.7mm RCWS for anti-air role.
The tank is powered by 750hp D2840LXE V-10 diesel engine which provides it top speed of 70km/h and power to weight ratio of 29 hp/ton. The tank is equipped with Independent commander and gunner sights and allow inter usability of sights by either of the two, providing true hunter killer capability. The tank has bustle mounted auto loader which allows separation of ammunition from crew compartment. The Tank will feature K2 – Black Panther AWiSS system based APS. It can perform amphibious role using a pontoon system that provides it buoyancy and uses its track to propel itself at max speed of 6 km/h. The main gun has unique capability to elevate upto 42 degrees which allow it to be used in indirect mode upto 10km.
The Swedish light tank weights around 25tons with 105mm rifled gun based on Cockerill XC-8 turret, while gross weight with 120mm smoothbore RUAG compact gun may go upto 35tons. It can fire variety of rounds including ATGM like Falarick and can carry 45 rounds with claimed Rate of fire of upto 14 rounds/minute. The tank use 670hp DI 16 or 1000hp DC 16 diesel engine which provides top speed of 70 km/h and power to weight ratio between 27 hp/ton or 28.5 hp/ton. The tank has crew of 3 with commander, gunner and driver.
The tank has secondary 7.62mm Co-axial machine gun as well as 12.7mm RCWS. The frontal arc with passive add on armor provide protection against 30mm APDS rounds while side provide protection against 14.5mm AP rounds. The tank feature soft kill APS which include laser warning receiver, MAWS, radar and multi spectral aerosol active counter measure system. The tank also features Independent commander and gunner sight providing hunter killer ability. Just like K-21-105, CV90-105 turret can go upto 42 degrees of elevation providing indirect fire support upto 10 km. The tank has fording capability of upto 1.5m.
The German Light tank feature 105mm/L52 rifled gun. The secondary armament consist of 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and pintle mounted 12.7mm RCWS. It can fire variety of ammunition including ATGM. The tank weights 35 tons and is powered by 680 hp MTU MB 883 diesel engine giving max speed of 65 km/h and power to weight ratio of 19.5 hp/ton. The frontal armor is made up of aluminum alloy, steel plates and composite which provide protection against 30mm APDS rounds while side protection is at 14.5mm AP rounds.
The tank can also withstand mine blast of upto 8 kgs and also provide NBC protection. The tank has crew of 4 i.e. commander, gunner, loader and driver. The tank features Independent commander and gunner sight providing hunter killer ability. The tank feature laser warning receiver and smoke grenade launcher. The fording ability is upto 1.5m.
US Moblie Protected Firepower (MPF)
The US is also working on a new light tank program called Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF). It has two contenders i.e. BAE and General Dynamics. US has requirement of 504 such vehicles. The BAE system is likely to weigh between 20-25 ton. Considering the comments of BAE officials a C-17 may carry upto 3 MPF which means weight will be less than 23 tons fully armored. They also claim C-130j Super Hercules can also carry 1 with armor removed which means base tank will be <20 tons. It will carry a 3 men crew i.e. commander, gunner and driver, which means it will sport an autoloader.
The main gun will be 105mm rifled gun with high rate of fire of upto 12 rounds per minute. It uses aluminum alloy armor with spaced laminate armor which provides protection against 30mm to 14.5mm AP rounds at different sections. the Urban Survival Kit can be used to enhance protection level but at increased weight penalty of 3 tons. The engine could be 600hp Detroit DD16 diesel engine with power to weight ratio of 26 hp/ton. The general Dynamic model will weight between 30 to 40 tons. The tank will be based on combination of AJAX armored vehicle and Griffin tank Demonstrator.
It will feature 4 men crew i.e. commander, loader, gunner and driver. It will likely feature 105mm main gun based on Abrams modified turret and an 800 hp diesel engine. Both tanks will feature independent commander and gunner sight with hunter killer capability, fire detection and suppression system and smoke grenade launcher. The tanks will most likely feature a secondary co-axial gun as well as RCWS.
Watch out video here.
Other ATVs not considered
We have not considered platforms like Stryker or Kestrel because both are wheeled and they kind of do not fulfill the requirements. Another option can be Japanese Type 89 IFV or Italian Dardo IFV based light tank, but with no prototype currently available, we have ignored it too. OFB too may go for Abhay/BMP2 or FICV based light tank but issue is army is looking for established platform on urgent bases and developing and testing a new tank will take years that will affect operational preparedness of Indian Army. Yes it is possible that Army acquires 350 of these vehicles to meet immediate operational requirements and in future can go for indigenous options.
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