India has taken a significant step to bolster its defence capabilities by selecting the American company Cummins to supply engines crucial for its indigenous light tanks. These light tanks are urgently required to counter Chinese deployments in high-altitude regions.
The project to create a light tank received approval last year, and Larsen and Toubro partnered with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to build a prototype. Unfortunately, the project faced a setback when a German company, initially selected for engine supply due to its high power-to-weight ratio, could not come to an agreement.
Defence insiders revealed that after several months of negotiations, the German company couldn’t commit to the engine supply timeline, even after diplomatic efforts. This delay in the light tank development process prompted a decision to explore negotiations with American companies, ultimately leading to the acceptance of Cummins’ offer.
The Indian Army has estimated a need for 354 light tanks in high-altitude Ladakh. L&T-DRDO will produce 59 of them, and the remaining tanks will be manufactured by other Indian companies after a competitive bidding process.
The development project for the Indian light tank has been dubbed “Project Zorawar.” It is envisioned with modern features like the integration of artificial intelligence, drone warfare capabilities, and active protection systems. The L&T-DRDO option is based on the chassis of the K9 Vajra self-propelled artillery currently in service and produced in India for the Army.
These light tanks will be designed to operate in all types of terrain, including high-altitude regions and island territories. They must be air-transportable for rapid deployment. Officials have emphasized that these tanks need to provide a lightweight, agile platform with substantial firepower, protection, surveillance, and communication capabilities.
The need for light tanks became apparent two years ago when China deployed a significant number of troops and heavy equipment to disputed areas in eastern Ladakh. China’s deployment of new Type 15 light tanks along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh in April 2020 temporarily tilted the balance.
The Indian Army deployed multiple T-72 and T-90 tanks, which are heavier and less suitable for high-altitude operations. While these deployments had a deterrence effect, the tanks were primarily designed for operations in plains and deserts, posing limitations in mountainous regions.