Firstly, can the Indian Army clearly define why it wants tanks in what sector. Secondly how does he visualise the enemy operations being played out against his sector. Thirdly do we have a clear offensive intent in that sector. Fourthly can there be a better platform for the type of battle he wants to fight in his sector, economy of survival and deliverables. Fifthly is it a fire and forget system or a resilient sustainable system that he wants.
Every tank man knows that survivability on the battlefield is just a hit away. Any tank man who in a contact battle has been able to expend 10 rounds from his arsenal without getting hit is either too good, invisible, or just bloody lucky. In an attrition battle survivability is complex. Lack of cover increased all weather Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), bad field craft make these platforms vulnerable to every known weapon system.
The tank is a piece of metal that has been given limited protection, mobility, fire power. It is to either help defend. Lead the attack, or just be in support as a fire power means to an attack. As a defender you need the armour protection, the mobility to be flexible and the fire power to sustain and deter the inevitable onslaught. Therefore, you need to move fast and yet stay safe. It is like having both the shots, the hand sanitiser and the double mask, yet to eat or drink you need to take it off. Therefore, to move and fire at times you will be visible. Therefore vulnerable.
In attack you just need mobility, armour protection for sustainability and lethal fire power. Here we do not have to follow the concept of all tanks carrying 44 rounds, just not needed. If we could have a mix of fast-moving attack tanks (lesser load of ammunition), resilient medium tanks, not so fast movers but with greater fire power and staying power (more ammunition) therefore increased sustenance. Especially in limited high friction terrain and an attrition form of battle.
The life of a tank in attack is limited. All weapon systems will be used to target it. Therefore, whether you have a 105 gun, or a 125 gun does not matter. You need an above 100 caliber gun, power pack for surge mobility and the armour protection. In both cases of attack and defence the common factor is mobility and armour protection. Firepower can vary depending upon the operational role. Remember we are talking of mountains, where the ridge lines do not permit lateral shifting or large cross ridge movements. Therefore, each tank has a specific life and role in each sector.
With lighter tanks comes mobility but decreased armour protection therefore sustainability. The argument that you need to move fast, from one place to another is fine. But you also need to move from fire position to fire position, in the valleys where is the cover? The main threat is from the air and the Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM) on vantage points. So, move fast to where? Do we have the capability to provide such huge quantities of armour that targeting a few tanks will not make a difference in our operational concept, will terrain permit it? Is preemption even an option? If it is, then race to the passes is okay, but what after that? How do you survive? Tanks best fight tanks, are our tanks better? We need to be adequately protected to move and fire; light tanks deny you that.
Armour protection comes with increased weight, increased weight decreases mobility, decreased mobility makes the tank vulnerable. So again, we are at the crossroads of the argument. In all situations the tank is vulnerable. Yes, it takes off the focus and the attention from the follow up infantry in a tactical battle.
So, what do we need and for what role? That is the best answer. A configuration and combination of a mix of light and medium tanks in race to the passes. Medium tanks when the role is entirely defensive. Where a riposte or QPQ is the aim, we need light tanks and infantry carrying vehicles.
Yes, we need light tanks, we need medium tanks, we need anything that provides us the ability to deter the enemy. But it is not as if the same size fits all. We need role-based displacement of equipment, just the way guns and engineers are utilised. The greatest folly is being convinced that a tank is a tank is a tank … so use it everywhere in the same manner because it is a tank. It is a weapon system, terrain and enemy will dictate which can be employed where.
Let us for god’s sake does not mess it up this time. Remember the T-90, the T-72, the T-55 and the ARJUNS. All used in different roles in different terrain configurations in the West, so light tanks only. Is hara-kiri. But do not we like axing our own feet. We are indeed masters of that.
About the Author
The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security issues. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India