November 27, 2022

Armoured thrust on Himalayas – A look into Chinese metal beasts and India’s response

India, understanding the potential lethality and importance of man portable anti-tank guided missiles has geared up for the quick development of indigenous one while advanced Spike has been procured in limited numbers

By Sankalan Chattopadhyay

A bullet has a name on it.

A grenade is addressed to whom it may concern.

But a tank is a general announcement.

At the beginning of Sino-Indian standoff, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed its armoured forces on the high altitude of the Himalayas. Supported by artilleries and highly mobile armoured platforms, Chinese soldiers were concentrating their positions aiming to usurp swathe of Indian land. All of these deployments came under disguise of months long military exercise in the Tibetan plateau. Though later they disengaged but the threat still remains high as their ulterior motives remain unchanged.

During the Cold War era, the indigenous armoured technology development by China was influenced by close involvement of the Soviet Union. After the Sino-Soviet split, China started developing new platforms based on the Soviet equipment in services with the People’s Liberation Army. For a long time, China faced difficulties to develop a quality product and often faced set back. But in the last three decades as financial capability has boomed, China witnesses rapid progress in quality as well. Although it can not match the Western counterpart but the latest equipment still holds their own might in certain cases against adversaries. Let’s look into armoured platforms China can use against Indian Army during a confrontation:

Type-99A

According to Chinese media itself, this has been inducted into 76th Group deployed in the Tibetan Plateau. ZTZ 99 is the most advanced main battle tank presently in services with the PLA. Equipped with a 125 mm smoothbore gun, it can fire several ammunition including cannon launched guided missiles. Its composite armour is protected by Explosive Reactive Armour plates, and further protection is achieved by GL-5 active protection system. It protects it from incoming enemy anti-tank missiles. Along with the new fire control system, navigation system, data-link and a battlefield management system, the ZTZ 99A has hunter killer capability as well. 

Type-96A

ZTZ 96A is the backbone of PLA and as a part of China’s 72th Group has been deployed in Tibet along the Sino-Indian border. It is also quipped with a 125 mm smoothbore gun, though the firepower is not as capable as Type-99. Powered by a 780 hp engine it can achieve the necessary mobility in rough terrain. Like Type-99 it is also protected by a layer of explosive reactive armour. But yet no active protection system has been observed onboard the platform. It still lacks the hunter-killer capability. A better version, Type-96B yet hasn’t been spotted at the Sino-Indian border. Type-96 has been exported as well and in South Sudan has seen combat against T-72.

ZTQ 15

The Type 99 can be the best MBT developed by China, Type 96 may be the backbone of their armoured forces but it is the Type 15 light tank which can be a trump card at the high altitude! It is developed specifically for operations in the environment and terrain where other Chinese tanks cannot be deployed. It weighs just 33 tonnes. Equipped with a 105 mm rifled gun and a 1000 hp engine it can gain the necessary mobility in the high altitude as well as enough firepower in narrow valleys where it is impossible to deploy main battle tanks.

Type 15 is one of the two modern light tanks developed by China. The other one VT-5 is an export model.  Being much lighter than a MBT it doesn’t have similar protection but one thing should not be forgotten that in a situation, where an adversary can’t deploy a main battle tank and best can trust on only an infantry fighting vehicle, without any doubt this beast holds the higher ground. It is also equipped with ERA and for additional protection APS has been installed as well. So, in this weight category adequate measures have been taken for the protection.

Type-63A

This is an amphibious armoured fighting vehicle, an upgraded version of the legacy Type-63. It is now equipped with a 105 mm rifled gun thus holds similar firepower like a light tank. Besides, it has a new fire control system, digital fire control computer, integrated commander sight with laser rangefinder input and new optics for a range of operations.

ZBD-04A

The infantry fighting vehicle is armed with a 100 mm rifled gun with a co-axial 30 mm cannon. This has also been identified in high altitude regions of Tibet. With considerable firepower it holds its ground enoughly with other platforms.

ZBD 03

An interesting entry into the list will be ZBD 03. Being just 8T platform will be an obvious choice of airborne troops for quick offensive aggression. The air transportable platform is equipped with a 30 mm auto-cannon and its 210 hp engine provided an excellent mobility.

ZBD 05/ZTD 05

Though this belongs to PLA Navy Marine Corps but it also was spotted in exercise at high altitude. ZTD 05 has a 105 mm rifled gun for higher punch. Thus, an amphibious platform can complement Type-15 as well. In near future it will completely replace Type-63A currently in services.

ZBL-08/ZTL-11

ZBL-08 is the latest wheeled 8×8 IFV platform from China. It is equipped with a 30 mm auto-cannon but can fire mounted HJ 73 ATGM as well. Whereas ZTL 11 is the wheeled light tank version of it. Equipped with 105 mm rifled gun and powered by 440 hp can be a concern once deployed.

PTL 02

It is a 6×6 wheeled tank destroyer equipped with 100 mm rifled gun. This platform is lighter than 8×8 platform and designed to engage lightly armoured vehicles, fortifications and bunkers.

Along with these heavier platforms lighter armoured vehicles like EQ2050, EQ2091FXB and CSK 131 also were spotted or reported to be present in the area. Besides, PLA has a choice to deploy three different types of self propelled howitzers and ATGM carrying platforms for operations.

Indian response – in short term and long term

Indian Army responded accordingly. T-72M1 Ajeya and T-90S Bhisma were deployed to thwart any Chinese misadventure. BMP-2 provided the IFV support. Currently there are several projects running in full gear to modernise the T-90 fleet enhancing their firepower and protection. India, understanding the potential lethality and importance of man portable anti-tank guided missiles has geared up for the quick development of indigenous one while advanced Spike has been procured in limited numbers. India recently has inducted 8×8 Infantry Protected Mobility Vehicle (a variant of TATA-DRDO WhAP) and 4×4 Quick Reaction Fighting Vehicle (QRFV). It is expected more variants of 8×8 WhAP will be inducted.

India recently has floated RFI for the procurement of 1,200 Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMVs) and 1,500 light vehicles. Besides several others 4×4 medium and light armoured platforms are being procured. Eyeing the necessity to meet future requirements India has initiated FRCV and FICV to replace old Soviet origin T-72 and BMP-2 respectively. Meanwhile, the process to procure light tanks to counter Type-15 also has been initiated. There is a requirement of 198 recce platforms as well.

Lessons from 2022 Russia-Ukraine conflict

The conflict has witnessed the massacre of armoured platforms. The videos of jack-in-the-box effect and photos of turret less tanks in rubble have flooded the social media. But it will be erroneous to assume days of tanks are over! There might be several reasons behind the devastation but this article is not the right place to discuss them in details, especially when the fog of war likely to lead towards propaganda. But yes, the war has definitely showcased the significance of drones, loitering munitions and most importantly the MPATGM.

With adequate situational awareness, surveillance and intelligence, one can exploit fatal mistakes of the adversary. The air assets or artilleries are definitely hold a significant part in achieving success and absolute victory in any war but here let’s concentrate only on armour. Almost the entire fleet of Indian armoured strength is of Russian origin. So, they carry the same weakness leading catastrophe of Russian tanks in the conflict. But so do carry the Chinese origin one! And India knows it well. India has taken measures to boost up surveillance at the border. Artilleries and UAV are finding importance. And indigenously developed Nag ATGM and its variants are witnessing extensive trials. Thus, India is trying the best to confront the threat as efficiently as possible.

The dragon has showcased its Paws and Jaws. It’s time to see how rapidly Indian Army modernise in face of imminent threat and break the dragon’s fangs.

Sankalan Chattopadhyay is a defence and strategic affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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