Here's What You Need to Remember: The Indian military’s intention to procure and locally manufacture a modern light tank is the latest in New Delhi’s effort to build up its domestic defense industry as part of the government’s 2014 Make in India program.
The RFI document, dated to late April, expresses the Indian Defense Ministry’s intent to acquire 350 light tanks. The first part of the document lays out the tank’s design concept and desired specifications. “In the foreseeable operational scenario, the need for an agile and mobile light platform, with adequate firepower, protection, surveillance and communication capabilities is increasingly finding its operational relevance,” the document states. The RFI further defined what the government means by a “light” tank. “The Light Tank must have the versatility to execute operations in varying terrain conditions across diverse threat and equipment profile of the adversaries,” the document stated. “Hence, Light Tank, having employability in various sectors in the country, as well as rapid overseas deployment capability is an operational imperative.” These tanks are to be locally manufactured, in keeping with New Delhi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat—or “self-reliant India”—ethos. The RFI stipulated extensive technology transfer rights, with the Indian government and military having full access to all facets of the manufacturing process, as well as ownership rights over the design. These robust requirements come on the heels of previous joint ventures-- notably, India’s participation in the Su-57 project with Russia—in which New Delhi deemed it was being unreasonably denied certain technology transfer rights.
The RFI includes a detailed list of expected specifications. The tank is to weigh no more than 25 tons and has a horsepower (hp) to ton ratio not less than 25:1; for a frame of reference, the baseline model of China’s Type 15 light tank weighs around 33 tons and has a hp/ton ratio of 30:1. The tank should be capable of operating in mountainous terrain-- a militarily salient requirement in light of the India-China dispute over the Himalayan border. Aside from the obvious mobility concerns of operating in uneven and constricted terrain, heavier tanks like China’s Type 99A are difficult to operate in mountainous regions due to oxygen deficiency. There is no specific requirement for a primary armament, with India interested instead in a “modular” and “upgradeable” weapons platform that is capable of high-angle fire. Nevertheless, the RFI specifies that the primary and secondary armaments should be compatible with modern “smart munitions” and anti-tank guided missiles. The guidelines prefer but do not require amphibious warfare capabilities. The RFI’s other requirements are fairly standard for modern advanced tanks, including a robust electronic countermeasures toolkit and hybrid navigation systems.
The RFI’s deadline is June 18, 2021, with the defense ministry seeking to work out a phased production arrangement with its chosen vendor. The Indian military’s intention to procure and locally manufacture a modern light tank is the latest in New Delhi’s effort to build up its domestic defense industry as part of the government’s 2014 Make in India program. That effort likewise includes a homegrown next-generation fighter and a class of advanced diesel-electric attack submarines.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.
This article is being reprinted due to reader interest.