Countering China’s Himalayan Advantage: India’s Zorawar Tank Adds Zing To Its Army’s Mountain Warfare – Analysis


On Saturday (July 6), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully tested its light battle tank, Zorawar, in Hazira, a suburb and transshipment port in Surat City of Gujarat. The Zorawar tank, developed collaboratively by the DRDO and Larsen & Toubro, is being designed for the Indian Army. Dr Samir V Kamat, DRDO chief, had recently reviewed the project’s progress.

A Significant Day: DRDO Chief

Kamat lauded the performance of the light tank in action and said it was a testament to the hard work that had gone behind this feat. In just two to two and a half years, we’ve not only designed this tank, but also built the first prototype. Now, this prototype will go through development trials over the next six months. After that, we’ll be ready for user trials. We expect Zorawar to join the Indian Army by 2027, once all trials are completed.”

According to The Print, the tanks underwent initial track trials, after which some upgrades were recommended and implemented. The tank will next be tested in desert conditions alongside the army and will, eventually, undergo trials in the high-altitude regions of Ladakh. These tests will evaluate its performance in challenging terrains and harsh winter conditions. If everything goes as planned, the tanks could be added to the Indian Army by 2027.

Project Zorawar: Equal Firepower

The tank was named after the famous military general, Zorawar Singh. He had served under Jammu’s Dogra Rajput ruler, Raja Gulab Singh. It has been developed as part of the army’s Project Zorawar, which aims to introduce indigenous light tanks for faster deployment and movement in high-altitude areas and will feature tanks with firepower equal to the current ones in its armoury.

The army plans to acquire around 350 light tanks, each weighing up to 25 tons, with a 10 per cent margin. These tanks will have the same firepower as regular tanks, but will include advanced features. The ultimate objective is to integrate artificial intelligence (AI), tactical surveillance drones for extreme situational awareness, loitering munitions and an active protection system with these tanks.

These amphibious tanks have been created to counter the large number of similar armoured units deployed by China along the line-of-actual control (LAC). Sources mentioned that L&T was already working on a light tank concept and had proposed a joint development with the DRDO in 2021 to meet the Indian Army’s needs. According to sources, this development phase has been the quickest for such a product in India.

Current Deployment and Challenges

During the current standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies, the former deployed its T-90 and T-72 tanks, with infantry combat vehicles reinforcements, in eastern Ladakh. The Russian-made tanks weigh from 40-50 tons, while the latest Arjun tank model weighs 68.5 tons. However, these heavy tanks are not suitable for operations in high-altitude areas averaging more than 15,000 feet. The engines of these heavy tanks lose horsepower in the thin air found at high altitudes. And this is precisely where such light tanks as the Zorawar have a distinct edge over others.

Technical Specifications of Zorawar

The army’s technical specifications for the tank require that its size not hinder transportation by air, road, or water. The army wants the tank to be capable of operating in all-weather conditions and be able to target tanks, armoured vehicles, UAVs and precision-guided munitions. There are plans to fit the Zorawar tank with weapons that have both anti-aircraft and ground role capabilities, besides state-of-the-art multipurpose smart munitions and gun-launched anti-tank guided missiles.

Additionally, the army has specified that the light tank must have long-range target identification, thermal night fighting capability and stealth features to suppress visual, audio, thermal and electromagnetic signatures. The tank shown in the released pictures is equipped with a 105mm turret from John Cockerill, a manufacturer based in Belgium.

It’s An Answer to China’s Light Tanks

China already has 500 Type-15 light tanks and continues to produce more, unlike India. These light tanks perform especially well in the border areas between the two countries, especially in the Ladakh, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand regions. The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) 30-33 ton ZTQ105/Type 15 light tanks are currently deployed along the LAC. Fitted with a 105mm rifled gun with a range of 3,000 metres, the Chinese light tanks can not only be airlifted, but, unbelievably, even para-dropped by the Y-20 military transport planes of the country’s air force.

Light tanks offer significant firepower and performance in high-altitude areas. This capability might drive New Delhi to consider increasing the number of Zorawar light tanks it plans to acquire. Given the strategic advantage provided by light tanks in mountainous terrains, there is urgency for India to accelerate the development and deployment of the Zorawar tank. This will help ensure that the Indian Army can effectively counter potential threats and maintain a robust defence along its high-altitude borders.

Girish Linganna

Girish Linganna is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach him at: [email protected]

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