Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Video Shows Indian T-72 Tanks Manoeuvring The World's Highest Battleground; OBJECTIVE: Neutralise Thrust Of Chinese Aggression In Ladakh

T-72 Tank - Indian Army - Ladakh - 01

The recent escalation of aggression by the Chinese, on India's border with Tibet, brings into focus availability of options for an Indian pushback, in the event of further Han Chicom escalation. One among the many, thwarting PRC's attempt at crossing the Rubicon, would be India's Armoured Formations, deployed on the Ladakhi plains, located at the unimaginably challenging altitudes, in excess of 4,500 metres.

This interesting, undated video footage, above, shows a convoy of Indian Army's T-72 Tanks, executing manoeuvres in the icy Plateaus of the Ladakh region, bordering Tibet. Reports indicate that the Indian Army has stationed a Brigade-strength of, roughly, 174 T-Series tanks [3 Regiments] in Ladakh, under the Command of it's XIV 'Fire & Fury' Corps. Of these, two Regiments [116] are composed of the T-72 Tanks - one being 4 Horse, while the more advanced T-90 equipped 85th Armoured Regiment, completes the triumvirate. The decision to introduce an Armoured Brigade in this Theatre of Operation is less than a decade old, in light of the continually escalating threats emanating from India's Communist neighbour.

T-72 Main Battle Tank - Cut-Section - 01

Availability of these Russian-origin, Indian-built Tanks, with their 125 mm bore Main Gun Barrel, lends Field Commanders the flexibility to bear considerable firepower upon the Aggressor. Clearly visible in the video, under a thick layer of snow, are the Explosive Reactive Armour [ERA] modules covering the Tank's Turret, & Hull. These fitments are a result of India's in-house upgrade programme, the end-result that India calls the Combat Improved Ajeya [CI Ajeya].

T-72 Tank - Combat Improved - CI - Ajeya - DRDO - 01
For a considerable time, word on the streets has been that the Indian Army is looking to enhance the lethality of it's T-Series tanks, for launching 3rd-gen Anti-Tank Missiles from it's Smooth Bore Barrel. It would engage targets over a range of 8 kilometres at any given time of the day, whether visible or not [LOS, BLOS, NLOS]. A Barrel replacement plan, it has set in motion, so that a common successor, mounted on either tanks, can fire higher-penetration Armoured Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot [APFSDS] projectiles, than what it is currently capable of.

In the meanwhile, the Army has gone ahead replenishing it's inventory, stocking up on APFSDS ammunition that the current Barrels can fire.

A retrofitted Auxiliary Power Unit [APU] is also sought to be mounted on the Russian Tanks, to ration engine operation. APU has been a native feature of the indigenously developed Arjun Main Battle Tank [MBT]. The previously Night-blind T-72 Tanks have received upgrades, now making them capable of combating, both, darkness & the enemy.

T-72 Tank - Indian Army - Uprated Engine - 1000 HP - 01

Capability enhancements resulted in T-72's weight gain. To maintain original performance parameters, Defence Research & Development Organisation [DRDO] lab, the Avadi-based Combat Vehicle Research & Development Establishment [CVRDE] lead a developmental effort. This resulted in uprating the original engine to output 1000 HP of Power, from the earlier 780 HP. This would be implemented across the entire T-72 IA fleet. While the Western Sector would be a major focus of, best avoided, Tank Battles for the Army, with it's vast stretches of undulating plains, starting from Gujarat, extending up North to Punjab, these upgrades would equally benefit the Tank in it's China-facing deployments too.

High altitude Tank Warfare have, in fact, been the hallmark of Indian Military operation, since the birth of the Nation. Pioneers, the Indian Army have been. Light-weight British-supplied Indian Army Stuart M3 Tanks, the Indian Air force [IAF] airlifted, in 1947, in the campaign to protect the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir from the marauding pakistan Army-backed/disguised tribal militia, that had descended upon the state, attempting to capture it for self. Petrified by the sight confronting them, at the Zojila Pass, the barbarians stopped dead in their track.

Indian Army Stuart M3 Tank - Burma - World War 2 - 01
Evident in the video, is the inclement, unfriendly weather conditions in which the Tanks operate. Some years back, during a visit of a NDTV journalist to those regions, the Army let in on some of the debilitating challenges & specific SOP it had to adopt,

"The Indian military uses special lubricants and fuel to keep the tanks running, he said, and added that at least twice every night, the engines are revved-up to keep the systems in order…..

….The weather and the terrain are exacting for the soldiers. The air, thin in oxygen, makes it difficult to breathe. The fierce winds amplify the chill. The accidental touch of a piece of metal can lead to chilblains and other injuries"

Logistical challenges abound in transporting Tanks, such as the T-72, weighing 43 MT, to those altitudes. The Tanks are first, partially, disassembled, loaded onto the aircraft, unloaded & reassembled at destination - RO-RO not convenient, Para-drops out of the question. Loss of valuable time in commencing a campaign, being the prime impediment with such arrangement. Conforming to the adage, 'Quantity has a quality all its own', sorties needed to airlift a given number of Tanks is another drawback. Currently, a C-17 Globemaster III & Ilyushin Il-76 Transport Aircraft can airlift only a part of a T-72, at a time. Thus, a single T-series necessitates roughly 2 sorties. Their weight also limits their area & nature of deployment.

T-72 Tank - Upgrade Programme - Indian Army - DRDO - 01

Group Captain [Retd.] AG Bewoor gives a fine, humour-laced account of the Army's early experiences air-lifting the T-72 Tanks to the Area of Operation. Of relevance was his observation that, "it took over 3 hours at times to load one T-72, and another 3 hours to off load it". A metric, whose value they, subsequently, brought down to 30-odd minutes, he states.

To plug these capability gap & transportation migraines, the end-user has often vocalised the need to have similar Brigades of Light-weight Tanks as part of it's Formation.

DRDO Light Tank - India - 01

DRDO had undertaken 2 efforts to develop a light tank variant, called BMP-I Light Tank, mounting on a BMP-I chassis, a 105 mm Field Gun. A subsequent involved mounting a French GIAT TS-90 turret atop the Russian Infantry Combat Vehicle [ICV], driving in a 105 mm gun. Both stillborn, with the primary end-user evincing no interest in such solutions. Now, with the wall moving forward, towards the back, the quest resumes to select a lean, Armoured platform. A RFI, it put up a decade ago, informs of it's interest in acquiring up to 300 Light Tanks - 200 in wheeled configuration, 100 tracked. Plan met with dead end, owing to end-user reconsiderations.

DRDO Light Tank - India - French GIAT TS-90 Turret - 01

Now, with the Chinese having fielded their own, the IA wants it's own, too. The Russian have tabled it's sparingly-produced, Soviet-vintage tracked, Sprut-SDM1 for retail. A DRDO-L&T proposal involves developing a 35 MT-class of Tank, it pitches as a 'Light Tank'. 10 MT heavier than what, generally, qualifies for the definition of a Light Tank.

Tata Kestrel - Wheeled Amphibious Platform - India - 01


In India, the Tata Group has developed it's TATA Kestrel, a wheeled ICV, in a joint-venture with the DRDO. With end-user commitment & budgetary allocation, an undertaking would achieve mounting a Turret & Gun atop it, to meet wheeled platform requirement.

Given that the need to acquire Light Tanks is being looked at on an "Emergency Procurement" basis, such self-sufficient options wouldn't find many takers in the present climate, despite the issue festering since 2009. A broom closet encounter is the current flavour, not a chivalrous dalliance. Anyone following the news would know, no news here, so far.

Till then, the trusty, quasi-rusty Ajeya, as the T-72 are now known in India, would stand guard at the border, ever-vigilant, as lethal.


Also Read: Fighting Night Blindness, Indian Army To Upgrade It's BMP II For Night Combat Capability