India Turns to South Korea for Development of New Light Tank
India and South Korea could now be moving forward on developing light tanks.
Since establishing formal diplomatic ties in 1973, India and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) have become close trading partners. In 2010, the two nations also signed a number of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that included defense cooperation and research and development (R&D). India and South Korea could now be moving forward on developing light tanks.
According to a report from Janes, India's Larsen & Toubro (L&T) is prepared to produce light tanks with South Korea's Hanwha Defense for the Indian Army. An L&T spokesperson told Janes last week that the Indian multinational conglomerate had plans to partner with Hanwha Defense to manufacture the light tanks.
The two companies had previously partnered to produce the K9 Vajra-T self-propelled howitzer (SPH), a variant of the K9 Thunder SPH, for the Indian Army
It may not be a fully "done deal" just yet, as a spokesperson added that the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has only released the request for information (RFI) for the light tanks and has not actually placed any orders.
As such, the joint production of light tanks remains uncertain at this stage since the tender's categorization will decide what direction the program might take, the spokesperson added.
"Given this situation, I believe it is far too early for any global player to offer their product to India," explained the L&T spokesperson.
This comes after a spokesperson from Hanwha Defense told Janes last month that the South Korean company was willing to jointly produce the K21-105 light tank with L&T for use with the Indian Army. It would be similar to the program to build the K9 Vajra-T SPH.
"Hanwha Defense will discuss with its Indian partner the level of technology as required under the Make in India policy," the Hanwha Defense spokesperson told Janes.
New Delhi has been making great strides to equip the Indian military with the latest in military hardware, and last year the government of India issued a request for information for 350 light tanks. That was reportedly spurred on by Indian troops who had spotted the new Chinese light tank, the Type 15 or ZTQ 15, deployed in Eastern Ladakh, where the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) have been locked in a border dispute for almost twenty-two months.
The India Army has deployed its fleet of T-90 main battle tanks (MBTs) to the region, but each weighs around 46 tonnes and as such could likely be too heavy for rugged terrain. In addition, a number of Soviet-made T-72 tanks—weighing roughly 45 tonnes—from India's vast tank arsenal had been previously deployed. Those tanks had been modified and adapted to run on a special fuel mix designed specifically for the high altitudes and low temperatures of the region.
However, the Ladakh Valley isn't considered ideal tank country, especially for lumbering MBTs, which is why the Chinese have deployed the Type 15 to the region.
Weighing in at around 35 tons, the tank is about half the size of the American M1 Abrams and armed with a smaller 105mm main gun. However, the Type 15, which has a crew of three, features a robust armor package as well as the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CRBN) protection typically found in larger tanks. It is able to produce its own oxygen, which is critical in the high-altitudes, and also features advanced weapons and fire control systems, a ballistic computer, laser rangefinder, and thermal sights for the gunner.
It would seem that India is seeking to counter the Type 15 with its own light tank—and it could be turning to South Korea to help produce it.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.