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Countering Chinese Tank Threat

Discussion in 'Indian Army' started by Agent_47, Sep 28, 2017.

  1. Agent_47

    Agent_47 Admin - Blog Staff Member MODERATOR

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    The issue of inducting adequate tanks in certain sectors in high altitude areas to counter the Chinese threat has been debated for long. A few such areas already have tanks available to meet a critical eventuality with the enemy inducting armour that might come up. The issue was centre stage when we were coping with the Chinese at Doklam. The General, in his article debates the pros and cons of using armour in high altitude areas, in our context. He also evaluates Chinese tanks likely to be used in mountains, including the latest variants that they have produced.

    COUNTERING CHINESE TANK THREAT

    The recent standoff at Doklam had an interesting side show with considerable media hype on scary scenarios of Chinese war games in Tibet accompanied by reports of fielding of Chinese light tank optimised for high altitude and touted as a silver bullet for Himalayas. This naturally lead to considerable panic in ill informed media conjuring images of hordes of Chinese armour rolling down Chumbi Valley over Jompheri Ridge, all the way into Siliguri corridor. The narrative fitted in with lingering images of ruthless employment of tanks against helpless protestors in Tiananmein square. Earlier, Chinese had experimented with heavy drop and contingency of capture of mountain passes with tanks and have leveraged even such manoeuvres as part of psychological warfare to amplify the threat of tanks.

    Issues and Challenges

    While India reacted with maturity yet reactive deployment of armour had to be resorted to in critical areas thereby drawing on resources committed to other sectors, on the lines of pooling in of Bofors guns for Kargil operations, albeit at a much reduced scale. This has obviously thrown up a number of issues and dilemmas and it will be in order if instead of panic reaction, well considered response strategy is drafted in a time bound manner. Some of the important issues meriting examination are as follows:-

    – What is the actual efficacy of tanks in high altitude areas?

    – Which is the best tank for Himalayas – medium or light or a combination of these?

    – Is the new Chinese light tank, Xinquingtan also referred to as ZTQ, indeed the

    silver bullet for Himalayas?

    – What is the recommended deployment and force level?

    Efficacy of Tanks in High Altitude

    Despite historical instances of tanks making their mark in mountains, Zozila and Chushul in our context, it will be pragmatic to surmise that unlike plains, where tanks are the ultimate arbiters, their effectiveness in mountains is limited to few gaps, narrow valleys and corridors. Relating it to Doklam crisis, it will be prudent to conclude that while tanks can be inducted into Chumbi valley and there have even been reports of Chinese tank trials in area of Yatung and Phari Dzong, yet considering the terrain, they just can’t traverse their way to Siliguri Corridor. The only possible way tanks can be inducted into corridor is by air, which in itself is a herculean task with no commensurate gains. Physical, electronic and thermal signatures of these mighty beasts are difficult to conceal and can be picked up by well coordinated surveillance devices including satellite imagery specially if there are used in large numbers.

    Terrain in these areas dictates use of small combined arms integrated teams with a mix of tanks, infantry combat vehicles, missile launchers and combat support elements backed up by tailored logistics. It is also relevant to factor degradation in performance of various systems due to de-rating of engines, negative effect of external ballistics on armaments and weather on optronics.

    Constraints of terrain and limited efficacy of tracked systems give rise to the dilemma of deciding between investing in enhancing tank fleet or relying on anti tank grid. The recommended way to counter mechanised threat in these areas is by laying out potent and effective anti-tank grid to block limited avenues backed up by optimum number of tanks.

    A typical anti-tank grid includes layers of early warning and surveillance; mines and ditches; artillery fire both indirect as well as direct; accurate anti-tank missiles anchored by vectored tank manoeuvres and fire assaults.

    In our context, there are very few such places and most of these so called gaps or funnels in Northern Sikkim and Ladakh can be converted into traps and killing grounds. Chinese forays may get bogged into Khemkaran type of reverses teaching them a bitter lesson like ‘Asaal Uttar’. While we have some concerns and challenges in Ladakh yet these are manageable. Our domination over Kerang plateau in Sikkim is real and effective, in fact the plateau combined with terrain across provides an opportunity for execution of effective quid-pro-quo option leading to possibility of blocking Chumbi valley at its head.

    Recommended Tank for High Altitude

    China has tried to build a hype around its latest offering from North Industries Group corporation (NORINCO) in the form of light tank ZTQ yet elite units deployed in high altitude areas continue to be equipped with front line medium tanks,Type 96 or ZTZ-96. This tank, in keeping with Chinese philosophy of over designating their tanks is an attempt to match up to T-90 though some experts rate earlier versions of this tank equivalent to T-72, especially improved version. Our existing fleet of T-72 tanks needs to be further optimised with a 1000 HP engine as the current 780 HP power pack suffers upto 25% de-rating due to rarified ambient conditions.

    [​IMG]
    Image Courtesy: Tank Encyclopedia

    An objective analysis reveals that Type 96 is a 45 tonne Main Battle Tank (MBT) equipped with 125 mm gun supplemented by missile and depleted Uranium round and is powered by 780 HP Diesel power pack, Most importantly, Chinese have not disclosed any plan for replacement of medium tanks of units in high altitude with new light tanks. In fact a large number of Chinese tank battalions are holding Type 80/85/88 tanks and will continue to be equipped with improved and retrofitted versions of these tanks. These tanks have 105 mm guns and lack missile firing capability.

    Chinese are also engaged in development of an improved Type 99 or ZTZ-99 tank, which is an evolutionary design with major improvements likely to manifest in a 1000 HP power pack, improved optronics, better ammunition and enhanced protection; but in incremental proportions rather than a revolutionary quantum jump. Our improved T-90 is likely to match up to even Type 99 tank. Chinese opacity in weapon development, organisation and employment is well known and but it will be logical to presume that in near and midterm, Chinese are going to rely on medium tanks and only some specialised Rapid Reaction Forces or specialised elite units may be equipped with the latest light tanks.

    In our context, while we may be tempted to opt for a simplistic solution of pure light tank regiment but it may be better to think out of box and attempt a mini RMA. The ideal mix should be a composite unit with two medium tank squadrons combined with a light tank squadron as they can complement each other. Light tanks can reach areas otherwise inaccessible and medium tanks can deliver the requisite punch. This model should be adopted for regiments in high altitude and also reconnaissance regiments. Thus a Regiment can have 28 medium tanks in two squadrons augmented by 23 light tanks-14 in third squadron, six in reconnaissance troop and three in regimental HQ.

    Appraisal of Chinese Light Tank

    Chinese light tank, ZTQ or w Xinquingtan weighs 33 to 36 tonnes, which is just two tonnes less than medium tank, T-54/55 and Chinese T-59. While characteristics and features of tank continue to be shrouded in mystery, yet most informed analysts estimate this tank to have 105 mm (probably rifled) gun and 1000 HP engine. It is certainly a non-amphibian tracked vehicle but probably with extra wide tracks to reduce nominal ground pressure to improve traffic-ability and wading capability through wet obstacles.

    There is a question mark on missile firing capability but it is likely to be included as an upgrade. Though air transportable yet very limited numbers can be lifted even from air fields in hinter land and almost none from Tibet due to payload restrictions in rarefied atmosphere. It violates governing criteria for light tanks of weight ceiling of 28 tonnes and amphibian capability. Chinese seem to be laying down the new norm of 36 tonnes for light tanks, which militates against the well established norm of 24-28 tonnes.

    The new Chinese tank is yet to be validated and essentially is still a work in progress. We need not re-define our criteria for light tank to ape Chinese parameters but on the contrary should opt for a real light tank with 800-1000 HP power pack, 125 mm low pressure gun, anti tank missile backed up by first rate optronics and protection system. EXtra wide tracks is a feature worth replicating to improve cross country capability. We have a ‘Jugaad’ type of prototype developed by TATA and DRDO on a wheeled configuration. It also opens up a concurrent dilemma of tracked versus wheeled as most advanced light tanks like Russian Sprut are tracked. Ideally, we should opt for for tracked variant and develop rubberised track shoes to enhance their mobility and limit damage to roads.

    Recommended Force Level

    [​IMG]
    Image Courtesy: Indian Defence News

    A comparative evaluation reveals that there are glaring chinks in Chinese organisation with 35 tanks in a battalion and 10 tanks in a company against 45 tanks in our units and 14 in squadrons. Their mechanised infantry units are largely equipped with battle taxis unlike our BMPs, which are classified as genuine fighting vehicles. While they have 40 odd regiments arrayed against us yet large proportion of mechanised fleet is equipped with antique T-59/ Type 80/85/88 tanks, their application at chosen point of application is restricted by terrain and is likely to be sequential. While detailed force levels and deployments can be worked out, it is recommended that as a concept both in Ladakh and Sikkim, holding or pivot divisions should have an integral tank and mechanised battalion backed up by an Independent Brigade with three tank regiments and mechanised unit.

    In Sikkim, an additional independent squadron would be required for East Sikkim for deterrence against Doklam type of situation and likely threat of Chinese tanks to capture passes like Nathu La and Cho La. Students of military history would recall about deployment of light tank troop in this area in 70s. Independent brigade for Sikkim could be located in plateau and position a mechanised battalion in Siliguri Corridor with another independent squadron. Both holding Divisions should be provided with additional staff to handle mechanised operations.

    Considering that we may have five to six regiments in high altitude, three recce regiments in Strike Corps in plains and five recce/independent squadrons, we need about 15 squadrons or five regiment worth of light tanks. This recommendation is premised on a composite grouping of one light tank squadron for regiments in high altitude as also in recce regiments backed up by two medium tank squadrons.

    It is also felt that independent squadrons should not be amalgamated but retained in their current configuration as they give flexibility, rapid reaction and augmentation capability in areas like Rann, Siliguri corridor, Mago-Chuna valley, East Sikkim and Ladakh. Considering terrain, these squadrons should be equipped with light tanks and get deployed for rapid reaction and as reserves. The profile suggested may result in marginal enhancement of over all armour profile but that may become inescapable if we are to build credible deterrent against Chinese and punitive deterrent to tackle Pakistanis.

    In the end it is the man behind the machine who makes the difference as was proved by well-trained Centurion tank crews in the 1965 war, who put the message across technologically superior Pakistani Patton tanks; many of which are displayed as war trophies in our military stations. It will only be right if we develop a self-contained eco system of simulators, ranges, repairs and training facilities in these areas to hone our crews to exploit the capabilities of our equipment.

    Lt Gen KJ Singh (Retired)

    http://bharatshakti.in/countering-chinese-tank-threat/

    @Hellfire @Gessler @Abingdonboy @randomradio @MilSpec @GuardianRED
     
  2. Sancho

    Sancho Lt. Colonel Technical Analyst

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  3. GuardianRED

    GuardianRED Captain FULL MEMBER

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    From the article , one can see that the use of tank - be it light or medium, is quite cumbersome and could be a decisive or a failure with added lost of equipment and support (aftermath)

    What abt "thinking out of box" weapon systems? such as the Shoot and scoot vehicles 4x4 scout/ recce armed with RCL or ATGM? (do we still have RCL mounted jeeps? + Is there an exact military Name for such vehicles?)

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Hellfire

    Hellfire Devil's Advocate Staff Member MODERATOR

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    The author was former Western Army Commander who impressed upon the GoI to NOT refer to cross border fire in Jammu-Kathua-Sambha as ceasefire violations as they were doing.

    Excellent piece.

    @PARIKRAMA correlate the armour thrust to block Chumbi Valley as depicted in maps put up earlier on likely Indian responses on Dokalam issue.
     
  5. Hellfire

    Hellfire Devil's Advocate Staff Member MODERATOR

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    That is something which is already implemented on ground. Concept known as Recce Warriors.
     
  6. GuardianRED

    GuardianRED Captain FULL MEMBER

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    Alright - Still there is a technical name for these type of vehicles ??? or they are simply called RCL or ATGM Recce jeeps?

    The First time i read about these vehicles is from Tom's Clacy 'Red Storm Rising' - where the Soviet COs were complaining about how NATO were using them ie launching fire and forget missile and simply disappearing before they are targeting back. There is a technical name the author has given them - i just can't remember :)
     
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  7. Hellfire

    Hellfire Devil's Advocate Staff Member MODERATOR

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    There is no technical name being used. Just modified gypsy and 2.5 tons ... heavily armed. We also have innovative use of Tatra 6 x 6 as a mobile mortar firing vehicle
     
  8. Sancho

    Sancho Lt. Colonel Technical Analyst

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    What you think about this sugestion of him:

    With a 125mm gun, there bis no way to remain below 30ts, which is visible for nearly all modern light tank concepts.
    The news about MoD/IA seeking for light tanks however, were hinting on vehicles around 22ts only.

    So who is right here, is a 125mm gun necessary, or would a 105mm be enough besides T72s and T90s?

    Also what about 120mm mortar vehicles, how effective could they be in the situations and areas he mentioned?
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2017
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  9. GuardianRED

    GuardianRED Captain FULL MEMBER

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    Tatra 6 x 6 as a mobile mortar firing vehicle??? Really??? Can you post such pics?
     
  10. Hellfire

    Hellfire Devil's Advocate Staff Member MODERATOR

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    On the whole, the General is right in the assessment as elucidated by him. Personally, I would prefer greater number of independent ATGM teams to negate any potential armour thrusts followed by our own limited usage of armour, if at all. A 125 mm or 105 mm gun will suffice (latter of Vijayant) as a mix of HESH and HEAT will be devastating to fortified positions in a direct fire role. As for mortar vehicles, they are a good concept for mobile war, but in mountain, vehicles can only go along fixed axes, hence, I would still prefer the 'knee' mortar and upgrading the number of ATGMs held by an infantry unit in Modification 'M' of 'Mountain' in Indian Army.
     
  11. Hellfire

    Hellfire Devil's Advocate Staff Member MODERATOR

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    Don't have any pics .. but used in 2015 in Deserts by 21 Corps units in some locations.

    Also, firing of 81 mm mortars from LCUs of IN has also been done, along with the Carl Gustav. Impressive. Aim was to 'bomb isolated atolls'.
     
  12. Sancho

    Sancho Lt. Colonel Technical Analyst

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    Or copying ISIS tactics?
    [​IMG]

    Cost-effective, deployable in numbers, very mobile.
    The Israelis also have developed this:
    [​IMG]
    Fitting our own LAHAT version on a Tata / Mahindra armored vehicle, might be useful too.
     
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  13. GuardianRED

    GuardianRED Captain FULL MEMBER

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    Actually ISIS copied everyone else

    Still , Prefer A Desi Make :)

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    BUT Yes - we need to upgrade to Better Mobility 4X4s :)
     
  14. Sancho

    Sancho Lt. Colonel Technical Analyst

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    Sure, but I actually meant the efficiency of their simple tactics. If you think about it, against China we are in a similar situation. An enemy with overwhelming force and capabilities, while we have to use our limited resources, the terrain and tactics to our favour. So instead of countering their light tanks with own light tanks, IS tactics could work for us too.
     
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  15. ranadd

    ranadd 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    And sad with such an excellent auto industry, we are not able to.
     
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