India is in advanced talks with Russia to acquire a newly developed light tank that could be useful in high altitude areas like the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
Talks to buy the Sprut SDM1 light tanks were initiated late in July under a fast-track, government-to-government process, sources told ET. The need for such tanks was felt after increased Indian deployments at the LAC following border hostilities with China, which has also fielded a range of equipment, including its Type 15 light tanks.
The new tanks are under trial in Russia, but sources said they could be inducted in India as well for a series of rigorous field tests before the deal is finalised.
India could acquire almost two dozen such tanks in the first tranche. The procurement is likely to cost less than ?500 crore, which falls within the emergency financial powers given to service chiefs after the Galwan clash. The expenditure is expected to be within the emergency financial powers given to the Army following the clash with Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan valley in June.
ET was the first to report in July that the government had given approvals for emergency procurement of lightweight tanks for deployment in high-altitude conditions, amid the ongoing border standoff with China. Final discussions on the contract are expected to conclude this year.
The Sprut SDM1 light tank, transportable by air, has commonalities with the T72 and T90s operated by India and would require minimal crew training to become operational. It is armed with a 125 mm gun, similar to the one on the T90, and fires all types of ammunition with the T72/90 fleet available with the Army.
India has a robust tank force, but all of them are heavy main battle tanks — T72s, T90s and the indigenously developed Arjun — considered more suitable for operations in the plains. While these tanks have been sent to the Himalayan border as well, navigating them on difficult border terrain has been an issue.
The Sprut SDM1 is designed to be airdropped from an aircraft with its crew of three sitting inside the tank. India has operated light tanks in the past and it has come in handy during the 1947-48 Kashmir operations as well as the 1962 war with China, but these have been slowly phased out.