Since the creation of the main battle tank during World War I, there has been a constant arms race between the development of anti-armor weapons and vehicle protection systems, however “Weapons’ ability to penetrate armor, however, has advanced faster than armor’s ability to withstand penetration”. The traditional protection technique depends on the amount of armor, has reached a practical limit for today’s threat environments, as main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have reached weights approaching 70 tons.
The trend of increasingly heavy less mobile and more expensive combat platforms has limited Soldiers’ ability to rapidly deploy and maneuver in theater and accomplish their missions in varied and evolving threat environments. Moreover, larger vehicles are limited to roads and bridges they are able to travel on, require more logistical support and are more expensive to design, develop, field and replace. Militaries are now looking for light tanks which trade less armor for more mobility on the battlefield.
A light tank is a tank variant initially designed for rapid movements in and out of combat, to harass and outmaneuver heavier tanks. It is smaller in size with thinner armor and less powerful main gun, tailored for better tactical mobility and ease of transport and logistics. They are primarily employed in the screening, armoured reconnaissance, skirmishing, artillery observation, and supplementing landing operations in a fire support role of expeditionary forces where larger, heavier tanks are unavailable or have difficulties operating safely or efficiently.
The modern light tank supplements the main battle tank in expeditionary roles and situations where all major threats have been neutralized and excessive weight in armor and armament would only hinder mobility and cost more money to operate. They have also been used for reconnaissance and in some cases, infantry support.
They have important advantages over heavier tanks in Southeast Asia and other nations in the Equatorial region. Their compact dimensions and short to nonexistent barrel overhang lets them maneuver through thick rain forests, and their weight reduces the risk of getting stuck in mud, and simplifies recovery of stuck or damaged tanks. This makes the light tank the preferred choice for infantry support in Equatorial nations.
Some light tanks such as the PT-76 are amphibious, typically being propelled in the water by hydrojets or by their tracks. Most amphibious light tanks weigh little and often utilize aluminum armor. Some light tanks require no modifications for river crossings. Crews simply raise the easily accessible cloth sides around the hull, cover the hatches, turn on the bilge pump and shift the transmission to water operations. Often, a fold down trim vane is erected to stop water from flooding into the hatch.
Some light tanks, such as the M551 Sheridan armored reconnaissance vehicle, could be rigged for low-velocity airdrops from cargo aircraft.With this method the tank is pulled out of the aircraft by brake chutes and skids to a stop. The crew does not ride in the tank during extraction, but parachutes from another plane. Upon landing, they go to their tank, release the lines, and drive it away.
Light tanks has also been considered useful in High altitudes for Mountaneous warfare. In June 2020, Chinese run state media, including the government’s mouthpiece Global Times highlighted new weapons optimised by the People’s Liberation Army for high-altitude warfare including two types of helicopters and a light tank. On June 2, the Global Times reported that the People’s Liberation Army in Tibet “sent troops to a high-altitude region at an elevation of 4,700 meters at night for infiltration exercises behind enemy lines…” China’s new-generation lightweight battle tank has already into service, as the military seeks to boost combat ability in high-altitude areas. The Type 15 light tank has better mobility than other tanks used by the People’s Liberation Army and will strengthen combat readiness in plateau regions such as Tibet, military analysts said.
However, Light tanks are limited by line of sight limitations in mountains and will depend on drones or satellites for getting target coordinates.
India is developing light tanks for Mountain Warfare
The Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a bitter standoff in multiple locations in eastern Ladakh since may 2020. The tension escalated manifold after a violent clash in Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35. China’s rise and assertive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific Region—as demonstrated most recently by the June 15 clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in the Galwan Valley region —has contributed to a strategic convergence between the United States and India.
India’s Ministry of Defense has initiated the process of acquiring light battle tanks which can be easily air-lifted to the mountainous ranges near the border with China. Currently, the only operators of the 2S25 are the Russian airborne troops with 24 of these vehicles in service. The Indian Army has been asked to formulate requirements for a light tank weighing up to 25 ton. This development can be viewed in the light of the recent trial of 35-ton Xinqingtan light tank by China in the Tibetan Plateau. It is also an addition to the preparation being made by the Indian Army for acquiring fourth-generation warfare capability.
Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, India has given in-principle approval for indigenous design and development of light tanks for mountain warfare, a need for which was felt during the current stand-off with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Russians had earlier offered its Sprut light tanks to the Indian Army — a proposal that is being considered — even as private firm Larsen and Toubro was working with the DRDO to convert the tracked 155 mm howitzer Vajra into a light tank,
The Russian Sprut-SD is light tank designed to defeat tanks, hard-skinned material and enemy manpower by airborne and amphibious landing forces, as well as by specially designated units of ground forces. Currently, the only operators of the 2S25 are the Russian airborne troops with 24 of these vehicles in service. The Republic of Korea and has expressed interest in acquiring the 2S25 Sprut-SD.
Indian Army are likely to be purchased from Russia as India has already exhibited interest in Russia’s 2S25M Sprut-SDM that is based on a chassis using the technology of BMD-4M and has fire control elements of the T-90MS main battle tank.
In 2023, Indian Army will soon have Light Weight Tanks which have been made in India in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The making of the Light Weight Tank comes under Make-I, or “government-funded” project category. In an exclusive conversation with Financial Express Online in New Delhi, Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman DRDO Dr G Satheesh Reddy said, “Work on the Light Weight Tank is going on in full swing. By 2023 the tank will be fully ready for production.
US Soldiers to evaluate new light tank MPF prototypes of BAE Systems and GD
US Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower program seeks a fast and air-transportable light tank for Urban warfare. The US Army is currently looking for a new tracked armored vehicle able to protect and support infantrymen as they “destroy the enemy in some of the worst places in the world,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, the director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, said in Dec 2018. “This capability is much needed in our infantry forces,” he told reporters at a media roundtable. The infantry has artillery, but “there’s no precision munition to remove bunkers from the battlefield, to shoot into buildings in dense urban terrain,” Coffman explained. That is where Mobile Protected Firepower comes into play.
US Army has planned for a Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle to provide infantry brigade combat teams a protected, long-range, cyber-resilient, precision, direct-fire capability for early or forcible entry operations was first laid out in the Army’s combat vehicle modernization strategy released in October 2015.
The MPF programme is designed to provide a mobile, protected, direct, offensive fire capability across the spectrum of terrains and operations for the army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT). In addition, the MPF combat vehicle is expected to enable IBCT to destroy enemy prepared positions and bunkers and defeat heavy machine guns and armoured vehicle threats
The Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle is essentially a 30-ton light tank to accompany airborne troops and other light infantry where the 70-ton M1 Abrams heavy tank can’t go. It is small enough to fit two on a C-17 jet transport for landing on a dirt airstrip — or to drive over rickety bridges and down narrow streets where a M1 might not fit. Being lighter also reduces fuel consumption and thus strain on supply lines, a major problem with the turbine-driven M1.
BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems were chosen in December 2018 to build 12 prototypes each of the Army’s future Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle identified in the Army’s ground combat vehicle strategy, released in 2015, as much needed capability the service lacked. Each contract is worth $376 million, and each company will provide a total of 12 prototypes. Under the contracts, each company will deliver 12 pre-production vehicles that will be put through developmental and operational testing and a soldier vehicle assessment (SVA).
GDLS will build a vehicle that takes the United Kingdom’s AJAX chassis and combines it with an Abrams turret. BAE Systems will bring an M8 Buford Armored Gun System with new capabilities and components. Army says whichever contender wins the contract will get an Active Protection System installed to shoot down incoming anti-tank missiles.
BAE will provide a rapidly deployable light solution that will feature a compact design, integrated scalable armour, innovative survivability subsystems and situational awareness systems. GD will develop a medium-weight, large-calibre prototype vehicle for the MPF programme, which will be similar to its Griffin II prototype vehicle.
The U.S. Army is preparing a soldier vehicle assessment of two different light tank prototypes for infantry brigade combat teams that will start in January 2021 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Army is expected to choose a winner in 2022. The first units will get MPF in fiscal 2025. The Army plans to initially build 26 vehicles, with an option to build 28 more and retrofit eight prototypes.
During the edition 2019 of Modern Day Marine expo in Quantico, Virginia, American Company General Dynamics has unveiled the Griffin II, a new concept of light tank that can be airlifted. A scale model was shown for the first time during the Modern Day Expo event. US Army Futures Command commanding general John M Murray said: “Today’s announcement sets in motion a critical modernisation effort for the army, and really shows how Futures Command and the Army Acquisition Community will work hand in hand to provide our soldiers with the capabilities they need and deserve.
“By accepting some short-term risk in schedule, our Infantry Brigade Combat Teams will soon receive a mobile, protected, long-range, precision direct fire capability that will assist in sustaining combat overmatch against near-peer competitors in a significantly reduced period of time.” A total of 504 vehicles are targeted for acquisition by the army and each IBCT will be equipped with 14 MPFs. The MPF platform is expected to be fielded with the first IBCT in 2025.
Elbit Systems to supply light tanks to undisclosed Asia Pacific Army reported in Jan 2021
Elbit Systems has secured a contract from an undisclosed Asia-Pacific Army customer for the delivery of light tanks.
Sabrah is based on General Dynamics’ tracked ASCOD platform and wheeled Pandur II 8X8 platform. ASCOD is produced by Spain-headquartered General Dynamics European Land Systems Santa Bárbara (GDELS). Pandur II 8X8 platform is manufactured by Czech Republic’s Excalibur Army. According to Elbit Systems, Sabrah offers both superior fire capacity and high manoeuvrability. The company noted that a 105mm turret and various Elbit subsystems will be incorporated on ASCOD and Pandur II 8X8 platforms.
Russia Testing New Tank That Lands From the Sky and also amphibious
The 2S25 Sprut-SD is a self-propelled tank destroyer or light tank developed and manufactured by the Russian defence company, Volgograd tractor factory joint stock company to meet the requirements of the VDV. The Sprut-SD is designed to defeat tanks, hard-skinned material and enemy manpower by airborne and amphibious landing forces, as well as by specially designated units of ground forces.
The Sprut-SDM1`s armament suite incorporates a 2A75 125 mm smoothbore main gun, a coaxial PKTM 7.62 mm medium machine gun and a PKTM machine gun integrated with a roof-mounted remotely controlled weapon station. The 2A75 is coupled to an autoloader that drastically increases its firing rate. The gun can fire anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM). The self-propelled gun is also fitted with six Tucha-type smoke dischargers mounted on the turret.
Its main armament, the Sprut anti-tank gun, is capable of firing APFSDS, HE-Frag, HEAT and ATGM ammunition. The SPATG is based on the chassis of the newest BMD-4M airborne infantry fighting vehicle (AIFV).”
This grants the 2S25 to be as powerful as a main battle tank and as maneuverable and amphibious as airborne infantry combat vehicles. The 2S25 can be used by units of ground forces and naval infantry as a light amphibious tank. But nothing comes for free in tank design. The price of light weight and heavy firepower is a thin skin. The Sprut’s armor is only proof against weapons up to 12.7 millimeter (.50-inch caliber) heavy machine guns.
The Sprut punches above its weight, with a 125-millimeter cannon similar to those found on Russian main battle tanks, and a sophisticated fire control system.
Like other tank destroyers, the Sprut-SD is designed to fight and destroy modern main battle tanks such as the Type 99 or the Al-Khalid. The large caliber can be used to destroy armored personnel carriers and other mobile armored targets as well; giving fire support to paratroopers at any time. The 2S25 can be used to destroy strongholds and defensive structures using its Sprut anti-tank gun. While amphibious, it can climb onto ships under its own power during a combat mission.
“The Sprut-SDM1 is a reliable vehicle that can be operated in mountainous terrain and hot climates,” TASS notes. “The vehicle also features a high power-to-weight ratio.” While driving, the 2S25 can reach a top speed of 71 kilometres per hour (44 mph) on an even road; the average speed being 45−50 km/h when driving off-road. Like many other Russian armored fighting vehicles, the Sprut-SD is completely amphibious and moves with the help of two water jets that allow it to reach a speed of 8–10 km/h depending on the state of the currents. The vehicle is sea worthy and can cross water obstacles without preparation in a sea state of up to 3.
China’s Light Tank
China is China’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) announced on 27 December 2018 that the Type 15 lightweight tank had officially entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF). China’s new-generation lightweight battle tank is expected to boost combat ability of PLA in high-altitude areas. The Type 15 light tank has better mobility than other tanks used by the People’s Liberation Army and will strengthen combat readiness in plateau regions such as Tibet, military analysts said.
China has also developed a new light tank to replace old Type 62 light tanks that had been deployed to many units in the southern mountain regions. With a combat weight of 33 t, the VT-5 is designed to operate in areas unsuitable for heavy MBTs, such as highlands, hilly areas, water networks, paddy fields, etc. Its lightweight also makes the tank suitable for rapid deployment to the theatre by airlift or railway.
China’s new-generation lightweight battle tank has gone into service, as the military seeks to boost combat ability in high-altitude areas. The Xinqingtan was tested in July 2017 in the Tibet region bordering India. and guided missiles.
The tank is armed with an indigenous 105 mm rifled gun with autoloader that can fire armour-piercing rounds and gun-launched missiles, and advanced digital fire control comparable to that of the ZTZ-99A and MBT-3000/VT-4. The 105-mm gun is also capable of firing the Chinese gun-launched, laser beam-riding anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), which was derived from the Russian 9K116 Bastion (NATO codename: AT-10 ‘Stabber’). The missile has a maximum range of 5,200 m and an armour penetration capability of 700 mm. As well as ground targets, the missile is said to be also capable of engaging slow-flying helicopters.
Auxiliary weapons include one 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun, and a 12.7-mm/50-calibre anti-aircraft machine gun (AAMG) mounted on the commander’s hatch cupola.
The commander’s station is equipped with six periscopes to provide all round 360° view. A commander panoramic viewer is mounted on the turret roof in front of the commander’s hatch copula, providing an independent, dual-axis stabilised, day/night vision with a 360° view, incorporated with a laser rangefinder. This arrangement allows the commander to search and engage targets directly, enabling the ‘hunter-killer’ capability.
The Type 15 has an engine capable of 1,000 horsepower and is significantly lighter than the PLA’s other main battle tanks in service, weighing about 32 to 35 tonnes. That compares to the Type 99, which weighs 54 to 58 tonnes, and the Type 96 at 42.8 tonnes. To improve its mobility performance, the tank is also fitted with a hydro pneumatic active suspension, which can be adjusted while travelling to deal with uneven terrain in mountainous regions. The tank can attain a maximum speed of 70 km/h on road.
Beijing-based military affairs commentator Song Zhongping said the PLA Marine Corps needed to upgrade some of its key equipment. He said they were using the Type 62 tank, which only has about 500 horsepower and an 85mm main gun. “The Type 62 tank is lagging behind,” he said. “The Type 15 has much better protection capability and manoeuvrability.”
India interested in Russian Light Tank: Russian Media
There are two problems for transportation and operation of tanks on the China border. Firstly the road classification, that is load bearing capacity of the road infrastructure, is poor thus preventing deployment of heavier tanks (T-72, Arjun and T-90); secondly, the space available for exploitation is also limited to certain pockets,” Rahul Bhonsle, a retired brigadier, and Delhi-based defense analyst told to Sputnik.During the 73-day Doklam stand-offwith India where more than 12000 PLA troops, 150 tanks, and artillery guns were reportedly involved, Beijing had displayed its capability to move tanks quickly near the Indian border.
This has forced Indian military to revive its eight-year-old plan which was shelved in 2009 after detailed deliberation on technical requirement. The proposed light tanks will be capable of operating at heights of more than 3000 meters of Himalayan terrain, according to an official of Indian defense ministry.
A light tank preferably should be 20-25 tons but also have the necessary armored protection and firepower capability to be of operational utility,” Bhonsle explained.
The Sprut-SD is designed to defeat tanks, hard-skinned material and enemy manpower by airborne and amphibious landing forces, as well as by specially designated units of ground forces. Its main armament, the Sprut anti-tank gun, is capable of firing APFSDS, HE-Frag, HEAT and ATGM ammunition. This grants the 2S25 to be as powerful as a main battle tank and as maneuverable and amphibious as airborne infantry combat vehicles. The 2S25 can be used by units of ground forces and naval infantry as a light amphibious tank.