New Delhi: Russia has offered India its 18-tonne Sprut SDM1 lightweight tanks for possible procurement amid the ongoing stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the offer for Spruts, capable of being airlifted, was made during Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Russia in June.
The move came as India has deployed heavy T-90 tanks, weighing about 46 tonnes, in Ladakh, besides T-72 tanks, which weigh around 45 tonnes and were deployed earlier.
China, meanwhile, has deployed its new lightweight tanks, Type 15, which weigh around 33 tonnes.
Lightweight tanks allow faster mobility in mountainous terrain than regular battle tanks that weigh over 40 tonnes.
During Rajnath Singh’s visit, New Delhi and Moscow prepared a list of items that could be bought and sold in wake of the tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The lightweight tank didn’t feature in India’s demands but was part of the Russian offer, said the sources.
However, some sources said the technical discussions are ongoing between the Indian embassy in Moscow and Russian authorities. Under technical discussions, both sides talked about the technical aspects of the weapons system to understand its capabilities and limitations.
But defence sources maintained that no emergency procurement is planned for these light weight tanks currently.
The interest in lightweight tanks
The need for light weight tanks has been noted in the past too, but the Army’s interest in it comes in the wake of tensions with China.
In 2009, the Army had issued a Request for Information (RFI) for 200 wheeled and 100 tracked light weight tanks for the new Mountain Divisions that was then being raised.
Now, the government-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is reportedly working on lightweight tanks. Reports suggest the DRDO is in talks with private company Larsen & Toubro for converting the K9 ‘Vajra’ 155 mm self-propelled howitzer into a 35-tonne light weight tank.
According to the planned DRDO design, the K9’s 155/52 mm howitzer will be replaced by a modular turret and 105 mm gun made by Belgian firm John Cockerel Defence SA. The gun is capable of firing at 42-degree elevation, which would be helpful in a mountain warfare scenario.
If the project fructifies, the L&T’s production line of Vajra would be used to produce these tanks. The production line in Surat is set to go idle by the end of this year when the 100th Vajra is delivered under the contract.
In the past, India had lightweight tanks that were used during the 1947-48 Kashmir operations and then the 1962 and 1971 wars. However, these later paved the way for heavier tanks.