The Army is planning to acquire 300 light tanks for deployment in the mountainous regions of the border with China and Pakistan, a move seen as part of efforts to beef up capabilities on the frontiers.
Process for acquisition of the tanks has been initiated with the Request for Information being issued for the same. The tanks are intended to be deployed in the mountainous region of Jammu and Kashmir in the north and Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in the north-east, army sources told PTI. The tanks are expected to weigh around 22 tonnes and be capable of operating at heights of over 3,000 metres in hilly terrain, they said.
The light tanks are being considered for deployment as part of mechanised force in the high altitude regions as heavy tanks cannot reach there, they said. The army wants the tanks to be able to penetrate highly protected armoured vehicles and Main Battle Tanks of the enemy from a distance of more than two kilometres and also be able to fire high explosive anti-tank shells and guided missiles. Conventionally, tanks are deployed only in plains and it is very rare to station such armoured detachments inmountainous areas. Heavy tanks face problems in mobility as narrow and spiralling roads make their movement very slow and the bridges there are also not built to bear those heavy loads of above 40-45 tonnes, they said.
At present, the only mountainous region in India where tanks are deployed is the 'Finger Area' in Sikkim along the China border. The army has been maintaining a squadron of heavier T-72 and T-55 tanks here since mid-80s.
'Finger Area', a few kilometre tract, has been known to have witnessed incursions by Chinese army. In one such incident last year, Chinese troops had threatened to destroy a structure of stones erected by India there. India had protested the Chinese aggression and the matter was raised at the flag meeting between the two armies.
India has also strengthened defences in the 'Finger Area' by converting its positions into a permanent post to keep watch over troop movements. The army earlier used to send in only regular patrols and had a few traditional defensive positions in the area.
China has made rapid strides in building infrastructure close to border with India. Viewing the developments with concern, India has also lately started matching up by improving roads and other transportation network. The last Army Commanders' Conference held here recently discussed the issue of infrastructure building along the China border, including a proposal to lay a railway line.
Defence Minister A K Antony made it clear earlier this week that efforts were being made to bolster capabilities along the China border. "Just as China is doing, we are also trying to strengthen our capabilities in our part of the country. Earlier, we were not doing anything but in the last few years, our government is also strengthening our capabilities in our areas by strengthening Army, Air Force and the infrastructure," he said.