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Needed, a tank for high altitude

The ongoing LAC standoff between India and China has highlighted the lack of a suitable tank for high altitudes. The nation needs such tanks not only for defending its territories but also for carrying out any offensive into China.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The current SinoIndian standoff has highlighted the lack of a suitable tank for high altitudes. The tank is required not only for defending our territory but also for carrying out any offensive into China. Unless we pose a credible offensive threat to China, our territory will always be subject to salami slicing. Having a light tank in adequate numbers in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim is mandatory. The second issue which has been starkly highlighted is that we need this tank as of ‘day before yesterday’. India does not have the luxury of daydreaming through strategic partnerships or building the castles (FRCV) in air. Procrastination by our military and civil bureaucracy has been the thief of our territory. Enough of paperwork. Keep the draft DPP aside and get down to business. We do not need a DPP. We need a tank. We must build a tank now with what we have and can. We have two choices. We can go back to the Russians as we have traditionally done and buy a light tank from them. The Russian lobby in our uniforms must already be salivating at this prospect. Otherwise, we take the Aatmanirbharta route and do things on our own. I would prefer the second route.

There are basically two options. First use the K9 Vajra hull and build a light tank on it. The second option is to up-gun a BMP and convert it into a light tank. I have grave doubts whether anything beyond a 40mm gun can be mounted on a BMP. A 40mm gun will be inadequate for the task. Also, OFB has major issues of capacity, on time delivery and quality, besides undergoing the wobble of corporatisation. We are left with only one option. Luckily it is credible. However, within this we have two choices. We can design and build a tank using the Vajra Hull and mating it with a 105/120 mm gun and turret. We might come out with a prototype in about 2years. Carry out trials for another two years and then negotiate and place orders. By then we would have lost some more salamis to China! The other option is to evolve into a light tank by down gunning the Vajra progressively in stages while increasing our combat power. Have a look at the Russian T series of tanks — T34, T55, T62, T72, T80, T90. It is an evolution. Though the current case is different, the lesson is to evolve and not attempt reinvention of the wheel.

Stage1: Convert two VAJRAs into high altitude capable guns by incorporating heating devices, turbo chargers, using thinner oils, modified fuels and using better rubber parts. Incorporate a CM3LR Sight to improve its antitank engagement capability. Induct them into eastern Ladakh forthwith. Use both guns for a couple of months. Based on the experience, modify and induct one regiment of high altitude capable VAJRAs into eastern Ladakh by October. The hull and engine would be proven fit for the job. Any other problems will also bubble up. It is a concept of operational utilisation cum trials. Use the experience of 155mm Dhanush environmental trials of a troop in high altitude. Additionally, the regiment so inducted reinforces the existing armour in eastern Ladakh. A 155mm 52 cal SP gun with a sophisticated night sight like CM3LR will provide devastating direct fire. Remember Tololing and Tiger hill being plastered by BOFORS? All Chinese defences will become vulnerable. It will blow any Chinese tank to smithereens. The CM3LR Sight is important. It is available in India with other guns. At 47 tons, the AFV will be mobile enough for the purpose. The gun can be used in normal role also. Its 52 Cal barrel achieves a range of 40 km. In high altitudes, it will achieve over 50 km. One VAJRA SP regiment will change the firepower balance in eastern Ladakh. It will immediately generate offensive options. The major payoff will be that intent is conveyed.

Stage 2: Strip the VAJRA of unwanted weight. Even if its weight can be reduced by about 2 tons, its mobility will improve substantially. However, care should be taken to ensure the overall stability is not lost. A stripped-down VAJRA should be able to operate in Eastern Ladakh in about 3-4 months. This stripping operation should be done in Leh. If nothing else, we will have a high-altitude capable VAJRA — fit for both antitank and indirect roles. Let us also not fret too much about purity of a tank design. In eastern Ladakh the requirement is mobile shooting capability with a degree of protection and not great manoeuvrability. Till this stage ammunition is not a problem at all. We have adequate 155mm ammunition.

Stage 3: It must commence simultaneously in parallel. We need at least two options of a Vajra mated with a turret and guns in the range of 105-120mm. It should make use of the feed-back received from the inducted VAJRAs. I am not too worried about stability, mating etc. the VAJRA hull will take on any tank gun in the 105/120 mm class. Reason is simple. A 52 cal 155mm gun which achieves 40 km range is a beast-compared to all other guns. Remove that and the VAJRA hull could be prancing horse. Target a weight of about 35 tons. Time frame. In 18 months, we should be evaluating the equipment in Eastern Ladakh. The evaluation should be for about 2-3 months (Max) since the VAJRA would have been in use already in High Altitude for 2 years plus by then. Thereafter it is production time. We must have clarity on ammunition in the meanwhile. We should not end up in a cul-de-sac where we have a tank without ammunition. All maintenance and quality related issues should have been sorted out meanwhile. Trials should be largely truncated since most of such evaluation has already been done on the K9 VAJRA Gun. Commence production when some degree of assurance is visible that the effort will succeed. Some risk taking is mandatory.

Stage 4: It must commence once the candidates for the turret are identified. The idea will be to reduce the weight of the hull by incorporating better and lighter materials. Our aim should be to ensure that the overall weight should not exceed 30 tons ultimately. Part of this endeavour should be to come up with an indigenous 1000 hp engine within this time frame on a mission mode. Otherwise sack the entire R&D staff of those who have been fooling the nation for the past two decades that they will produce an engine. Induct some right thinking, risk taking youngsters to deliver the goods. I am making this statement very deliberately.

For this option we have everything in place — design, development and production capability. What we have been lacking is the motivation. That has been provided by the Chinese, who have appeared with a salami slicing knife. The natural question will be — will our system permit this? My answer — the system will enable it double time if two gentlemen sit across a table and decide that it should be done. One sits in the 5th Floor of Sena Bhavan. The other sits in the 1st floor of South Block. In my opinion, the Army should have the fire in the belly to take the reins and ride this horse with everyone (MoD, DRDO, OFB, Industry) enabling it.

If this comes through, and I do not see why not, we will feel late Manohar Parrikar’s warm smile from heaven as it was depicted with the Rafale in flight in the social media. After all it was he, when sitting in 1st floor South Block decided with the gentleman in 5th floor Sena Bhavan that the Vajra (and more) should come in. Everything came — despite the GSQRs, trials, CNC, DPP, DAC, DPB, DGQA, FADS, etc. If the path to hell is crooked. The path to heaven is more so.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.

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NORTHERN ARMY COMMANDER FELICITATES ‘VEER NARIS’ AND WAR HEROES OF 1971 INDIA-PAK WAR

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NEW DELHI: Lt Gen YK Joshi, GOC-in-C, Northern Command laid a wreath to Swarnim Vijay Mashaal and paid tributes to fallen heroes at the Warrior’s Grove War Memorial, Crossed Swords Division, Akhnoor as a part of Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations. The Army Commander accompanied by Lt Gen MV Suchindra Kumar, GOC White Knight Corps was briefed on the saga and valour of gallant soldiers of Indian Armed Forces during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. A documentary on the 1971 Indo-Pak War was screened for the audience.

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TRIBUTES PAID TO THE BRAVEHEARTS ON ‘SWARNIM VIJAY VARSH’ CELEBRATIONS

The ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh Victory Mashaal’, symbolic of India’s 1971 war victory over Pakistan, reaches Kashmir Valley, given a grand reception at Wuzur.

Ashish Singh

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The ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh Victory Mashaal’, symbolic of India’s 1971 War Victory over Pakistan has reached the valley, was given a grand reception at Wuzur. To commemorate 50 years of India’s victory over Pakistan in the epic war of 1971, on 16 December 2020, Prime Minister lit the ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’ from the hallowed and the eternal flame of the National War Memorial that marked the commencement of this Golden Jubilee Year. Four such ‘Mashaal’ travelled in the four cardinal directions, reaching the remotest corners of the nation to include villages of our valiant and intrepid warriors who participated in the war and received PVCs and MVCs for their gallant actions. Today, one of these ‘Mashaal’ entered our beautiful Kashmir valley through the newly constructed Navyug Tunnel and was received by Brigadier Vivek Singh Thakur, Commander 2 Sector Rashtriya Rifles at the northern portal of the tunnel.

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Speaking to the media persons present, Brigadier Vivek Singh Thakur paid homage to all the brave soldiers of the 1971 war who laid down their lives in the finest traditions of the Indian Army and expressed his gratitude to all the War veterans, Veer Narees, and Ex-Service Men who made this event possible by their benign presence. He said that the Indian Army continues to move forward with its ethos of honour, valour and tradition and is always prepared and ready to defend the nation and give a befitting reply to any adversary.

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Defence

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Ashish Singh

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To commemorate the decisive and historic victory of Indian Armed Forces over Pakistan Army in December 1971 and to pay homage to the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal (Victory Flame), a solemn Wreath Laying Ceremony was held at ‘Dhruva Shaheed Smarak’ at Headquarters Northern Command in the Udhampur Military Station. Lt Gen YK Joshi, Army Commander, Northern Command laid the wreath to honour the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal lit in remembrance of the valiant soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation. The event was attended by Veterans, NCC Cadets and senior Army officers of Udhampur Military Station.

The Swarnim Vijay Mashaal had arrived at Udhampur on 13 Jun 2021 from Nagrota & was received with full ceremonial honours. The Victory Flame was then escorted to the local unit quarter guard. After the customary ‘Last mile run’ the Victory Flame was handed over to the Station Commander, Udhampur Military Garrison who placed the Victory Flame at Dhruva War Memorial. Wreath laying was thereafter carried out by JCOs / OR and Veterans followed by Wreath Laying by the Army Commander, Northern Command. On culmination of the Wreath Laying Ceremony the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal was further handed over to Counter Insurgency Force (Delta) where it will be taken to various units to commemorate the unforgettable victory of 1971.

The year 2021 has been named as “Swarnim Vijay Varsh”, by the government of India and the Nation started the celebrations of the 50 years of Indo-Pak War which had resulted in the largest military surrender after World War-II. The inaugural event was held at the National War Memorial (NWM) in New Delhi on 16 Dec 2020 where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff and Tri-Services Chiefs laid wreath and paid homage to the fallen soldiers. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi lit the ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’ from the eternal flame of NWM on the occasion. Four Victory Mashaals (flames) lit from the Eternal Flame of NWM were then carried to various parts of the country including to villages of Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra Awardees of 1971 War. Soil from the villages of these Awardees and from areas where major battles were fought in 1971 are being brought to the NWM.

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