India — Modernisation of the Mechanised Forces (Armour)

“If the tank suc­ceeds: Vic­to­ry fol­lows” – Heinz Gud­er­ian

In the days of yore, heavy cav­al­ry was the arm of deci­sion as it per­formed a func­tion no oth­er arm could – to break the will of the ene­my to resist by their sheer speed, sur­prise and feroc­i­ty of attack. Cap­tains of war would hold their heavy cav­al­ry back to be unleashed at the deci­sive moment and point of appli­ca­tion to ensure vic­to­ry. No oth­er arm enjoyed such suprema­cy in the bat­tle­field hence cav­al­ry was always revered and placed on a pedestal. Dur­ing World War I, the stale­mate of trench war­fare was bro­ken with the intro­duc­tion of the tank on the bat­tle­field and with the demise of the horse cav­al­ry it was only nat­ur­al for the cav­al­ry to man the tanks. Tank bat­tles of World War II are leg­endary and tanks evolved into a mean fight­ing machine and gave birth to the all arms con­cept.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

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In India the eupho­ria of Inde­pen­dence had not yet sunk in when the Indi­an Army, in Octo­ber 1947, was called upon to push back the “raiders” from Pak­istan, in Kash­mir. Dur­ing the oper­a­tions armour was employed in the dizzy­ing heights of Zoji­la Pass (11,400 ft) where our Stu­art tanks were trans­port­ed piece-meal, reassem­bled and there­after con­duct­ed oper­a­tions with dev­as­tat­ing effect. Tanks were also employed in sup­port of infantry in the Rajouri sec­tor, how­ev­er in both these sec­tors employ­ment was lim­it­ed due to con­straints of equip­ment. Dur­ing the 1962 oper­a­tions, two armoured reg­i­ments were sent to the east­ern bor­ders, but saw lit­tle or no action. It was only in 1965 that the armoured corps proved its met­tle and blunt­ed the much tout­ed thrust of Pak­istan armour spear­head­ed by Pat­ton tanks to cre­ate their “grave­yard” at Khem Karan in Pun­jab and in turn launch the counter-offen­sive in the Sialkot sec­tor. In both these sec­tors the Cen­tu­ri­on tanks proved their supe­ri­or­i­ty sup­port­ed by the Sher­man (up-gunned) tanks manned by bet­ter trained crews.

Since the demise of the cold war most coun­tries have con­cen­trat­ed on upgrad­ing their exist­ing tank fleet to meet their oper­a­tional require­ment. Dur­ing the past two decades only Rus­sia (T-90S), France (Leclerc), South Korea (M-2) and India (Arjun) intro­duced new MBT’s. How­ev­er from the lessons learnt from their war’s in Iraq, the US embarked on their Future Com­bat Sys­tems (FCS) and the UK on their Future Rapid Effect Sys­tems (FRES) pro­grammes

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Dur­ing the inter­ven­ing years T-54 / T-55 / PT-76 and Vijayan­ta tanks entered ser­vice and hence in 1971 the Corps played a major and deci­sive role in the lib­er­a­tion of the Bangladesh and the bloody bat­tles in the Shakar­garh bulge, in the west­ern sec­tor.

An analy­sis of all these bat­tles as regards the mech­a­nised forces brings out the fol­low­ing per­ti­nent points:

  • Wars are won by the side which has a deci­sive com­pet­i­tive edge with regards to qual­i­ty of equip­ment.
  • For armour to be ful­ly exploit­ed it must suit the ter­rain in which it is employed.
  • Due to the vast and var­ied ter­rain con­fig­u­ra­tion along our bor­ders spe­cialised equip­ment, pre-posi­tioned, gives dis­pro­por­tion­ate advan­tage.
  • Armour must be employed con­cen­trat­ed and used bold­ly. Hold­ing back large reserves at every lev­el will ensure that the major­i­ty do not par­tic­i­pate in the oper­a­tions.
  • There is no sub­sti­tute to a well trained tank crew.

Geo-strate­gic envi­ron­ment

India’s ris­ing sta­tus as a region­al / super pow­er makes it an impor­tant pil­lar of sta­bil­i­ty with­in the region. How­ev­er to main­tain and fur­ther this sta­tus we must take into con­sid­er­a­tion the chang­ing geo-strate­gic envi­ron­ment and emerg­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenges which will entail expand­ing our sphere of influ­ence to pro­tect and fur­ther our inter­ests in the Indi­an Ocean Region (IOR) and even beyond. Geo-strate­gic com­pul­sions may dic­tate tasks for Out of Area Con­tin­gen­cies (OOAC) which could be sup­port­ive, inter­ven­tion­ist, or pre­ven­tive in design. The key geo-strate­gic chal­lenges emanate from the ongo­ing con­flict in Afghanistan and the unre­solved ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes along our north­ern bor­ders with Chi­na as also against Pak­istan. With the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Chi­na and Pak­istan get­ting stronger by the day there is a high prob­a­bil­i­ty that the next con­flict on the Indi­an sub-con­ti­nent would break­out in the moun­tains first before expand­ing to the plains sec­tor. The need is thus well estab­lished to evolve a strat­e­gy and force capa­bil­i­ty for the mech­a­nised forces to remain ready and rel­e­vant from the point of view of our nation­al aspi­ra­tions and the dynam­ics of the future geo-strate­gic envi­ron­ment. This man­dates a threat cum capa­bil­i­ty based approach for our force restruc­tur­ing that would ensure it is capa­ble of per­form­ing its task in diverse ter­rain. Obvi­ous­ly one size fits all con­cept is not pos­si­ble and there­fore we would in the future need dif­fer­ent types of tanks and infantry fight­ing vehi­cles to be able to per­form their oper­a­tional task.

Oper­a­tional sce­nario

The Armed Forces doc­trine enun­ci­ates that they are to be pre­pared to con­duct oper­a­tions form a “Cold Start” along the west­ern front and yet be pre­pared for a simul­ta­ne­ous two front war. Where­as the mech­a­nised forces have the req­ui­site capa­bil­i­ty to con­duct suc­cess­ful oper­a­tions along the west­ern front, along the north­ern bor­ders it is more dis­sua­sive in nature. Dis­sua­sion needs to be con­vert­ed to a deter­rent capa­bil­i­ty which would require an aug­men­ta­tion in the capa­bil­i­ty and ver­sa­til­i­ty of the equip­ment.

In any future con­flict the bulk of the mech­a­nised forces will be fac­ing the west­ern bor­der. With the “green­ing” of our imme­di­ate bor­ders future bat­tles are like­ly to be fought in ter­rain akin to the devel­oped sec­tor whilst seek­ing high val­ue tar­gets in a lim­it­ed time frame. Mech­a­nised forces would, there­fore, need to adapt to fight­ing in built-up areas with a high den­si­ty of veg­e­ta­tion and water chan­nels. There­fore the present and the future gen­er­a­tion AFV’s would have to be equipped with urban fight­ing and sur­vival kits. Along our north­ern bor­ders there is an inescapable need of greater strate­gic and tac­ti­cal mobil­i­ty for AFV’s to be able to switch axes along the val­leys which have no lat­er­al con­nec­tion. Due to the slow rate of the devel­op­ment of infra­struc­ture along the north­ern bor­ders it is a logis­tic night­mare to deploy an MBT in these areas as they have to be air lift­ed in sec­tions and re-assem­bled, test­ed and there­after deployed. Once deployed the prob­lem of tac­ti­cal mobil­i­ty aris­es. There­fore there is an inescapable need of deploy­ing a lim­it­ed num­ber of wheeled light tanks which can be gain­ful­ly employed to ini­tial­ly blunt any offen­sive at the bor­der itself gain­ing time for the heavy forces to build-up. Wheeled tanks can also be employed in OOAC oper­a­tions which in the fore­see­able future is a real­i­ty. With the east­ern bor­der and the river­ine tract of our west­ern bor­ders get­ting active, the light tank is an oper­a­tional neces­si­ty which would pro­vide the strate­gic com­man­der a means of gain­ing the ini­tia­tive with deep out­flank­ing manoeu­vres over dif­fi­cult ter­rain. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of light tanks have the desired fire pow­er of a 105 mm / 120 mm gun and the abil­i­ty to fire a mis­sile through the bar­rel of the gun. Sur­viv­abil­i­ty is enhanced with the fit­ment of the Active Defence Suit (ADS) and the Explo­sive Reac­tive Armour (ERA) pan­els. This ver­sa­tile weapon sys­tem would pro­vide the oper­a­tional com­man­der mul­ti­ple options to exe­cute his task.

Glob­al trends

Since the demise of the cold war most coun­tries have con­cen­trat­ed on upgrad­ing their exist­ing tank fleet to meet their oper­a­tional require­ment. Dur­ing the past two decades only Rus­sia (T-90S), France (Leclerc), South Korea (M-2) and India (Arjun) intro­duced new MBT’s. How­ev­er from the lessons learnt from their wars in Iraq, the US embarked on their Future Com­bat Sys­tems (FCS) and the UK on their Future Rapid Effect Sys­tems (FRES) pro­grammes.

The FCS mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme was evolved on the con­cept of homoge­nous brigade com­bat teams. Based on the premise that wars in the future would be expe­di­tionary in nature the inten­tion was to ensure that an inte­grat­ed fam­i­ly of sys­tems were deployed in a massed effect to fight joint­ly on arrival in a mat­ter of 72–96 hours any­where in the world. To ensure strate­gic mobil­i­ty the fam­i­ly of vehi­cles (wheeled and tracked) are lighter, equal­ly lethal, air trans­portable to ini­tial­ly engage the ene­my … before the heav­ier forces were induct­ed. As a start the Stryk­er ICV was devel­oped fol­lowed by M-1128 Mobile Gun Sys­tem (MGS), based on the same wheeled chas­sis with a 105 mm gun. The role of the MGS was not only to engage oth­er AFV’s, but also to neu­tralise bat­tle field tar­gets and sup­port their infantry. The MGS was suc­cess­ful­ly deployed in Iraq in 2003. How­ev­er, in Afghanistan all nations of the ISAF have called up their MBT’s (Abrams 2A, Leop­ard 2A4) as they realised their dev­as­tat­ing effect and moral ascen­dan­cy the tank pro­vid­ed. No doubt these tanks were duly mod­i­fied for urban war­fare rais­ing their weight upto 70 tonnes. Due to bud­getary con­straints the FCS and FRES pro­grammes have been tem­porar­i­ly stalled.

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Fight­ing in built-up areas

Whether it is con­ven­tion­al oper­a­tions or counter insur­gency oper­a­tions (COIN) wars will be fought in and around built-up areas which pose cer­tain spe­cif­ic chal­lenges which need to be addressed. In Iraq dur­ing the sta­bil­i­sa­tion peri­od it was the Abrams tank along with the Stryk­er ICV which ensured suc­cess. Tanks duly mod­i­fied with Tank Urban Sur­vival Kits (TUSK) pre­ced­ed any oper­a­tion to absorb and blunt the ini­tial attack espe­cial­ly from IEDs and short range anti-tank weapons before the infantry sani­tised the area. The Israelis also learnt a bit­ter les­son of ignor­ing the all arms con­cept dur­ing the skir­mish in Lebanon in 2006. Both these recent con­flicts clear­ly brought out that tanks must lead any attack in devel­oped ter­rain and built-up areas but as part of an all arms com­bat team to ensure inher­ent pro­tec­tion. The IDF have gone one step ahead by con­vert­ing the old T- 55 tank chas­sis as a heavy APC and have now mod­i­fied the Merka­va tank chas­sis as a heavy APC (Namer).