The Tank, Mechanized Makeover: Armored Corps and Mechanized Infantry Undergo Their Greatest Transformation: The Tribune India

Ajay Banerjee

DURING the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army’s 1st Strike Corps – headquartered in Mathura and facing west – was given a mandate along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Hundreds of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles – colloquially known by their Russian brand name “BMP” – were moved from the plains to the LAC.

An armored wheeled armored vehicle manufactured by DRDO used by the Mechanized Infantry.

For years, BMP and tank regiments have been stationed on the plateau of East Ladakh and North Sikkim. The standoff forced fresh enlistments as the Army determined that “threats at the northern borders are likely to persist for the foreseeable future”.

Learning from the confrontation, the Army’s Armored Corps and Mechanized Infantry are undergoing their greatest transformation in decades. Former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia (retd), says: “The Indian Armed Forces have built the necessary capabilities and enhanced capacity to deter China’s aggressive behavior along the LAC.”

A number of changes include equipping regiments with drones that can act as a swarm, the addition of loitering ammunition, missiles guided out of sight, systems for shooting down enemy drones, faster and more powerful tanks, specialized high-altitude tanks, armored vehicles and rocket launchers of the new generation and better anti-tank ammunition (ATGM).

The infusion of more technology and precision strike capability will keep armored and mechanized forces relevant as ‘new’ aerial threats such as drones and loitering munitions have emerged. Former Western Army Commander Lt. Gen. KJ Singh (retd) says that “the focus must be on improving protection against attacks from above (from the air); Tanks must have agility and imaginative, distributed deployment.”

Loitering ammunition

It can stay up for a specified period of time and be programmed and controlled from the ground to hit specific targets at the desired time. It is planned to acquire a canister launch system that will be integrated into the “BMP-2”.

swarm of drones

The army’s two arms are now receiving niche technology – one of which is “swarm drones” sourced from two Indian start-ups. Swarm Drones consist of a series of drones controlled from the ground station and capable of carrying a variety of munitions. You are able to overwhelm enemy defenses. Tests were carried out in Ladakh.

Artificial intelligence (AI) allows a swarm of drones to communicate with each other and with the control center. AI-based “swarm” algorithms allow the drones to automatically distribute tasks among themselves to target enemy equipment on the ground, such as artillery, air defense equipment, command and control centers, and vehicles.

AI-based targeted attack

The army has also launched a case for drones, which can autonomously monitor and, if necessary, also be armed to launch a strike. This includes operations in high-altitude areas such as Siachen, eastern Ladakh and Sikkim.

Known in the army as the Integrated Surveillance and Targeting System (ISAT-S), it allows for out-of-sight attacks. The surveillance drone locks on targets and automatically fires smart munitions at identified targets for precise killing. Artificial intelligence ensures the detection and discrimination of targets such as tanks, gun emplacements, vehicles and people.

These are to be integrated with armored formations.

The ISR stamp

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) will give commanders on the ground a better picture in the event of a conflict. These will use mini-UAVs, special armor-seeing equipment, and autonomous combat vehicles – the latter being a ground-based unmanned vehicle that can be sent ahead to engage the enemy. “Fuel cell and alternative fuel-based technologies are being worked on to ensure a system that allows for silent surveillance,” said a senior army official.

An AI-based surveillance system makes it possible to trigger an alarm in the event of unusual movements, enabling faster decision-making. General Bhatia adds: “War on high now includes light tanks, drones, loitering ammunition, night fighting capability, better surveillance, well-equipped and armed soldiers, and long-range artillery pieces.”

New light tank, Zorawar

Based on recent experience in eastern Ladakh, the army is considering a domestic light tank in the range of 25 tons. Named “Zorawar” after Zorawar Singh, the Dogra general who conquered Ladakh in 1834, the tank is said to be capable of being transported in an Indian Air Force C-17 aircraft for rapid deployment.

Zorawar will feature niche technologies including artificial integration, drone integration, and high levels of situational awareness. “The next generation of tanks will be based on minimizing radar signatures, improving agility and countering drones,” says Gen KJ Singh.

China has introduced a large number of medium and light tanks. In contrast, the Indian Army had to introduce a significant number of T-72 and T-90 tanks (weighing 41 tons and 46 tons, respectively) to theaters of operations. “These helped create tactical surprises. However, these tanks were designed primarily for operations on the ground,” said a serving officer.

tanks of the future

The army has a sizeable fleet of main battle tanks consisting of the T-72, T-90 and Arjun. While the T-72 has been the Armored Corps’ main battle tank for almost 40 years, the time has come for the introduction of modern tanks.

The goal is a state-of-the-art future combat vehicle (FRCV), as future conflicts are estimated to be intense, fast-moving and multi-dimensional.

It will contain niche technologies such as AI, drone integration and a protection system, have a high level of battlefield awareness and be able to operate with unmanned ground vehicles.

“FRCV will be able to integrate with all land and air warfare platforms while being seamlessly connected to each other,” said a senior officer. FRCV will be phased in from 2030 onwards.

The main battle tank, the Arjun MK-1A, is a technological upgrade over the Arjun introduced a decade ago. This version will include 71 new features and is ready to fire missiles from its main gun. Firing missiles from the main gun was successfully tested.

The tank would ensure effortless mobility on any terrain in addition to precise targeting day and night. The Army has ordered 118 Arjun MK-1As.

Changes in Mechanized Forces

For the past four decades, mechanized infantry has been deployed in conventional and unconventional operations and terrains – from the high altitudes of eastern Ladakh and Sikkim to the deserts of Rajasthan and the plains of Punjab.

For Mechanized Infantry, the goal is to replace old gear with futuristic platforms and enhance the capabilities of existing gear with upgrades.

One of the biggest changes is a native engine. It is evaluated experimentally. It is also advancing several projects for better survivability, advanced navigational aids, effective communications and critical operational logistics requirements.

A Futuristic Infantry Fighting Vehicle (FICV) is intended to replace the existing batch of BMP-2. The project is ready for Department of Defense approval.

Mechanized infantry gain deadly beyond visual range (BVR) abilities; These include a 30mm automatic cannon and a coaxially mounted 7.62mm machine gun for combating aerial targets.

Changes in tank formations

  • Niche technologies like AI, drone integration, higher situational awareness and the ability to work with unmanned teams.
  • It will synchronize with technological advances to evade and negate enemy surveillance systems, counter airborne threats and improve your own survivability.
  • The Arjun MK-1A tanks will have 71 new features and will be able to fire missiles from their main gun. 118 Arjun MK-1As were ordered.
  • The indigenous light tank “Zorawar” is designed for use in varied terrain. Niche technologies include AI and drones.
  • The Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) is scheduled to be introduced in 2030. It will be a force multiplier for future conflicts, which are expected to be multidimensional.

About the Mechanized Infantry Modernization Plan

  • Acquisition of contemporary, adaptable and niche technology and interoperability with other weapons.
  • Replacement and repurchase of equipment capacity upgrades include night operations, better lethality, firepower, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance).
  • State-of-the-art missiles and deadly out-of-sight capabilities.
  • Fire and forget about ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles).
  • Futuristic infantry fighting vehicle to replace BMP-2.
  • Nag Missile System (NAMIS): MoD approved 13 such systems and 293 Nag missiles this July.
  • Infantry Fighting Vehicle – Command and Control Platform. 177 such vehicles were approved.
  • Wheeled Armored Combat Vehicle – 105 Approved.
  • Lightly armored multirole vehicle with improved mobility and protection for trains to replace Maruti Gypsy.

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