Ongoing military conflicts around the world demonstrate that a solid concentrated tank force still is a decisive factor in winning contemporary wars. India’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) clearly understands this, paying close attention to increasing its armed forces’ combat strength and its tank forces in particular.
Modern India’s armored forces include three divisions and 8 tank brigades, not accounting for 8 light armored brigades. The total number of battle tanks employed is approximately three thousand. But more than half of them — about two thousand machines — are Soviet-developed T-72M1 Ajeya main battle tanks (MBTs). The last batch of these tanks came out of the factories in March of 1994. Only 950 of the modern T-90S MBTs are employed by the Indian Army. There are also 120 Arjun tanks that had been developed and produced in India.
The only way out the MoD sees is to retire the T-72M1 completely and replace them with foreign contemporary tanks that would have to be built in India.
India’s MoD attempted this in 2015 for the first time. In June of 2015, it published a five page document, in which they announced a Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) program, aimed at joint production of a MBT, or licensing one but manufacturing it locally to a degree, in order to replace the T-72M1. The new tanks were planned to be employed in 2025-2027.
Besides that, the selected new tank should have served as the basis for 10 more armored vehicles, including a light crawler tank and a light wheeled tank, an armored bridge launcher, an armored recovery vehicle, an anti-air defense system, an artillery fire-control system, an armored engineer reconnaissance vehicle and an armored medical evacuation vehicle. However, there were no letters of interest received from military contractors, in no small part because of the vague tactical and technical requirements specified for the future tank.
The T-72M1 obsolescence problem wasn’t solved. On top of that the Syrian war exposed several problems with T-72s regarding mostly insufficient armor and lack of defense against high-precision weapons. On November 8, 2017, India’s MoD published the requirements for the new MBT once again, this time sufficiently describing what the military wanted the tank to be. The document states that the MoD would like to buy nearly 1770 armored combat vehicles in different configurations and that MoD would like to sign 10-year contract for their after sale support, and a 40-50-year agreement regarding the training of personnel (including training simulators), and tech support for the duration of the tanks’ lifecycle. The document separately stated that production technology should be transferred and that most tanks should be produced in India according to the transferred license and technical documentation.
What sort of a battle tank the Indians want?
Firstly, it should “rapidly assert dominance on the battlefield” and be highly mobile, have high accuracy and have several layers of defense. It should be able to take part in battle during any time of the day, on any terrain available in India (mountains, deserts, flatlands, river valleys and so on), and its weaponry should assure the destruction of any target, including moving and highly-defended stationary ones. The tank also should be able to use several types of ammo, including anti-tank guided missiles, and also it should be able to hit low flying helicopters and jets.
Secondly, the tank should weigh about 42,5-57,5 t, it should have a low profile and should be combat ready at temperatures ranging from -30°C to +50°C. It’s size should allow transporting it by road, railway, ships and airplanes.
Thirdly, the tank’s weapons should include:
- 120 mm or 125 mm cannon, able to fire 6-8 shots off per minute. The anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) used by the tank should be able to pierce 1000 mm armor at a distance of 5 km (minimum capacity should account for 40 shots, including the ATGM);
- a 7.62 mm machine gun paired with the cannon, with the range no less than 1000 m (with capacity of no less than 2000 shots);
- a 12.7 mm or more anti-aircraft machine gun, able to hit the targets in the air at a distance of 1500 m and land targets at 2000 m (ammo capacity: no less than 800 shots). The fire-control system should be able to detect tank-type targets at a distance of 5 km during the day and 3.5 km during the night, and should achieve a 0.9 hit probability for the first shot. The tank’s movement range should be no less than 300 km on varying terrain, and no less than 500 km on road.
The manufacturers have until December 20, 2017 to respond.
Right away the American Abrams and the German Leopard heavyweights do not satisfy the weight requirements. Besides that, India’s MoD is interested in modern technologies, hence buying the tanks mentioned above as well as Russian T-90 tanks are out of the agenda. Russian T-90s are being manufactured in India with a varying degree of localization.
The Indian media stir up interest for the contract by “citing anonymous sources in the military sphere,” which claimed that the command shows interest in Russian Armata T-14, French Leclerc and South Korean K2 Black Panther battle tanks.
It stands to mention that the French Leclerc, while having good armor and modern enough fire-control, navigation and communication systems, was developed in the 1980s, is expensive to produce and maintain, and is currently out of production. The Korean K-2 is the most modern MBT, employed by a military, but at the same time, it is very technologically advanced and is the most expensive tank in the world. The preferable option for Indian Army would be buying the new Russian T-14 tank.
But there’s a caveat: Russia only entered serial production of the tanks, and they are currently in the process of being employed by the army. Consequently, not all possible problems of the tank have been discovered yet.
India has been cooperating with Moscow in the sphere of tank manufacturing for decades. During these years many company connections were established. One can say with a degree of certainty that India won’t betray its old proven partner. It’s possible that Moscow would provide Deli with a simplified Armata MBT version. Even in this case, the T-14 would be head and shoulders above the competition.
It’s too soon to speak of the amount of production technology meant for India, because the contract isn’t signed yet, but one thing is clear: the T-14 sell contract will allow Russia to sway the tide of military cooperation in its favor.