Historically, tanks have played pivotal roles during the wars; these heavily armed and armoured combat vehicles can survive harsh conditions and are combat ready on the trickiest terrains. Militaries around the world use different types of ground vehicles, including the Indian Army, especially with the changing dynamics of mountain warfare, and with the recent India-China skirmish at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which is a mix of mountains and open hard track terrain. Towards the end of September 2020, India sent its T-72 tanks along with BMP-2 Infantry Combat Vehicle to counter the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s deployment of armoured columns.
The term ‘tank’, however, is often used as a blanket word. There are several categories and vehicles that are a part of it; this article intends to address the three categories which include: Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), and Armed Personnel Carrier (APCs). These vehicles are significant to ground warfare as they are both armed and armoured.
Battle Tanks or Main Battle Tanks (MBT)
These tanks are heavily armed and armoured vehicles that are designed to clear out well protected targets, engage other vehicles, and use their off-road mobility to target and terminate the weaknesses in the enemy’s defences. Battle Tanks are usually large and weigh over 45 tons. The best way to identify a battle tank is that their tank guns are long and protrude beyond the front of the tank.
Significant tanks of the Indian Army include:
This French-origin lightweight tank. AMX-13 played a pivotal role during the Indo-China War 1962, in the Chushul sector. If the Indian forces lost this sector it would give China unhindered access to the roads and valleys leading up to Leh. Therefore, being a gateway to Leh, it holds a strategic significance. At the time, supporting Chinese offense into Chushul were China’s tanks, and to respond to their firepower the Indian Army demanded airlifting six AMX-13 tanks of the Lancer 20 regiment to Chushul.
The tanks were kept in reserve until recently, now they are used in a variety of roles like target practice by the Indian Air Force and static memorials at various Military establishments around the country.
The PT-76 tank is a Soviet amphibious light tank. This tank was used during the 1971 India-Pakistan War. They were used to provide armoured support for the Indian troops despite the rivers of the Ganges Delta that stood in the way. Due to their amphibious capability, these tanks played a crucial role in the crossing of rivers and other water bodies during and war; not to mention their role in the famous Battle of Garibpur, as they outshone a much larger force and technically superior M24 Chaffee tanks of the Pakistani Army.
Left: AMX-13 Tanks of 20 Lancers in Chushul, October 1962. Source: The Better India Right: Indian Army PT-76s with infantry squads mounted on top. Source: Medium
Vijayanta (Vickers Mk I)
Vijayanta was the first indigenous battle tank of the Indian Army. The Vijayanta (Victorious) was the main battle tank, built in India based on the licensed design of the Vickers Mk I. The first 90 tanks were built by Vickers in the UK, and the production continued at the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi, Tamil Nadu until 1983, approximately 2,200 being built by then. The Indian Armoured Division which was now largely equipped with Vijayanta intervened and these tanks became a part of this war.
The prototype was completed by 1963 and the tank was inducted in 1965. They were first used in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, due to the mountainous nature of the terrain. In the 1990s it was decided that the entire fleet of Mk Is will be phased out by 2008. In 2018, the scrap of Vijayanta was used to make bunkers for the Army.
Vijayanta (Vickers Mk I). Source: Tanks Encyclopaedia
The soviet-origin T-55 MBT nearly 700 of them were inducted in 1968. This tank played a crucial role during the Battle of Basantar in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War for securing the Fazilka sector on the western front of Pakistan.
The T-55 tank weighs 36 tons and can carry 4 crew members. It is also equipped with night vision and nuclear, biological and chemical protection. The tank has a main gun of 100 mm calibre with two 7.62 calibre machine guns and one 2.7 mm anti aircraft gun.
These tanks are named after the great legend Bhishma Pitamaha from the Mahabharata. T-90 was designed in Russia and they were tailor-made to remain operational even at -40 degree celsius with the special fuel that does not freeze even in sub-zero temperatures.
The T-90 tank weighs approx. 51 tons, can carry a crew of 3 and is armed with one 125 mm smoothbore 2A46M gun, one PKT (a variant of “Pulemyot Kalashnikova” machine gun produced in Russia), 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun, one NSVT (a variant of NSV machine gun) 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine gun, and 8x81 mm smoke grenade launchers.
Tank T-90 Bhishma. Source: Financial Express
T-72 Ajeya Mk-1 and Ajeya Mk-2
T-72 Ajeya is a Russian designed, produced under license in India which started in the late 1970s. The Indian Army’s MBT force consists of over 1,800 T-72M1s, imported between 1982 to 1986. India launched its domestic production at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Tamil Nadu. T-72s is also one of the tanks that were deployed near the Line of Actual Control in the Chumar-Demchok area in Eastern Ladakh.
The T-72 Ajeya Mk-1/Mk-2 can reach a maximum speed of 60km/h, weigh 40 tons and are equipped with a full ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour) protection. Even though India has almost over 2,400 tanks only about 900 of them will be upgraded to the Mk- 2 variant. The new Ajeya Mk-2 includes upgrades like new engine, fire control systems, ERA Mark-2 variant developed by the DRDO which gives protection against shaped charge warheads and kinetic energy projectiles and fire detection and suppression system. It is also equipped with thermal imager fire control systems which boasts of the tanks’ ability to identify targets up to 3 km during the night time.
Arjun MBT (Mk-1, Mk-1A and Mk-2)
Named after the best archer of the Mahabharata, the Arjun MBT also known as the Arjun Mk-1 is said to fire as accurately as the legendary Arjun. There are three variants of this tank, Arjun Mk-I, Arjun Mk-IA, and Arjun Mk-II.
The Arjun project started in 1996 when the Indian government decided to mass-produce the tank at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF). The project was initiated in the mid-1970s, but the first two regiments of the tank were inducted much later in 2004. 124 Arjun tanks (MK I) were ordered in the year 2000. This third-generation tank is also significant as this made India a part of the selected group of 10 countries worldwide that have designed and developed their own Main Battle Tank. The other countries include the UK, France, Germany, USA, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Japan and China. In 2010, during comparative trials between the Arjun Mk-I and T-90 tank, the Arjun outperformed its opponent on several parameters. Besides the 120 mm gun and missile, The Arjun Mk-I tank also consists of a 12.7 mm Anti-Aircraft machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. To operate these advanced weapons, the Arjun tank has a computer-based fire control system jointly developed by Israel and India.
In March 2020 after intensive trials the Indian Army, Arjun Mk- IA cleared all tests, after working on 72 improvements and 14 major improvements. Mark- IA, weighs 68 tonnes and features a 120mm main gun. Due to increased weight, the speed of Arjun Mk- 1A has decreased from 70 km/h of Arjun Mk-I to 65 km/h of Arjun Mk-I, that is why the Indian Army asked DRDO to redesign Arjun Tank so that the weight of the new Arjun tank is at least 3 tons lesser, which will be seen the third variant Arjun Mk-II along with 93 new improvements from Arjun Mk-I.
Left: Arjun MBT Mk- I. Source: Army Technology
Right: Arjun MBT Mk- IA. Source: DRDO
Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICVs)
ICVs are often mistaken for tanks, however, the main difference between the two is role and weapon size. They carry infantry into battle and participate in combat, whereas tanks do not transport infantry. This difference is reflected by the smaller primary weapon size, which frees up space for infantry and equipment.
The BMP-2 is a Russian manufactured and designed and was manufactured under license in India under the name ‘Sarath’, which means “Chariot of Victory”. It is a BMP-I variant with armament change. Sarath BMP-2 is also an amphibian vehicle which has a speed of 65 km/h in cross terrain and 7 km/h on water and can also go over slopes up to 35 degrees. The Sarath BMP-2 weighs approx. 16 tons and can carry 7 soldiers and 3 crew members on to the battlefield. The armaments include one PKT 7.62 MM medium coaxial machine gun, a 30 mm 2A42 cannon, and a second-generation homing type anti-tank guided missile. The BMP-2 is also able to create a smokescreen by injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust outlet on the right side of the hull. This ICV was deployed at LAC during the recent Galwan Valley clash. However, the Indian Army is now looking to upgrade its ageing BMP-2 as among its many commendable features like anti-tank missiles, cannons and machine guns it suffers from night-blindness as the present equipment was inducted in the year 1985.
Armoured Personnel Carrier (APCs)
APCs are primarily the vehicles that are used to move soldiers in and out of the areas that may be subjected to enemy fire. They can withstand heavy impact and damage and are lightly armed with a machine gun or a grenade launcher. The Indian Army heavily relies on the BMP-2 for this function, however, to provide its soldiers with highly mobile armoured protection is now seeking APCs. The three different vehicles including the indigenous Tata Wheeled Armoured Protection (WhAP) along with American Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicle and Humvee. In September 2020, the Indian Army also conducted a trial run for the DRDO designed Eight Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier, this APC was airlifted to Leh for high altitude winter trials to see how the engine and systems onboard perform. If the trials are successful it could mark a significant and tremendous advancement in India’s Infantry Combat Vehicles Operation.
Left: Infantry Combat Vehicle BMP- 2. Source: Indian Defence Times
Right: Eight Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier. Source: India Today
The Indian Army has a number of strong contenders for armed and armoured vehicles. The tanks used in the past, and present have both played crucial roles on the battlefield, Battle of Garibpur, Battle of Basantar and the recent Galwan valley clash are a testament for the same. In the light of recent events, upgrading the ageing vehicles and procuring new ones; along with the country’s goal of becoming an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant), there is a strong emphasis on indigenization of the industry.
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