Indian Army targets AI-powered battle tanks with eye on China

 | Updated: Jun 04, 2021, 08:23 PM IST

The Indian Army is eyeing the "Future Tank" platform which it intends to induct by 2030.

India's AI-enabled battle tanks

Nearly a year after India's Bhishma tanks were deployed in the Himalayas amid tensions between India and China along the Line of Control(LAC), according to the Request for Information(RFI) floated by the defence ministry, the Indian Army is looking to procure new generation "Future Tank" platform for "Future Ready Combat Vehicle" (FRCV) in a phased manner.

The Army intends to induct the "Future Tanks" by 2030.

The Indian Army has sought foreign takers for the tender and plans to procure the tanks under the "strategic partnership" route.

The RFI says that "in conformity with the emerging future threat spectrum and the technological advancements, the Indian Army intends to induct a new "state-of-the-art" "technology-enabled" tank to operate in varied terrain profile (High Altitude Areas, Plains/Riverine, Deserts/Semi-Deserts) across the current and future spectrum of conflict, which will remain in service for the next 40-50 years as the ‘Main Battle Tank’ of the Indian Army."


India's AI-enabled battle tanks

As far as the induction of the tanks are concerned, the RFI says due to the rapid pace of technological advancements taking place every three or four years bringing about new systems and concepts, the phased induction will thus cater for this aspect and facilitate product improvement and upgradation.

The RFI clearly states that the government has invited "responses only from foreign OEMs" with the end-user of the equipment being the Indian Army.

The last date of "acceptance of receipt of response" has been set for September 15.

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India's AI-enabled battle tanks

The Army is looking for a "modern" battle tank platform that is not only superior but also "incorporates niche technologies" i.e Artificial Intelligence, see-through armour along with the ability to operate in a "network-centric environment."

The new tanks are also required to be in continuous operations by day and night in real-time awareness, all-terrain agility and high mobility, precision lethal firepower, multi-layered protection with the use of niche technologies.

Not just this, along with the tank the company should also be able to provide a family of combat vehicles for example recovery vehicle, bridge layer tank based on modularity and standardisation of platform.



India's AI-enabled battle tanks

The medium-weight class tank would incorporate a 2- 3 crew pod concept with ammunition able to operate in a minimum temperature as in high altitude area and maximum range as existing in deserts terrain with corresponding humidity conditions.

The firepower would include a large calibre, lethal, modular and upgradable weapon system with capability to destroy and offer countermeasures to varied threats. The new tanks would also have multipurpose "smart munitions" both for main and secondary armaments with a gun tube-launched anti-tank guided missile.

It would also be required to have a digital fire control system to incorporate, AI-enabled target acquisition and multiple-auto target tracker with hunter-killer capability and eye-safe laser range finder.


India's AI-enabled battle tanks

The Army needs the next generation battle tank to have high detection recognition and identification ranges with thermal night fighting and "lock on target" capability with smoke dischargers with anti-thermal and laser capability.

The Army wants the battle tank to have a loading system to provide auto-loading with minimum intervention and engagement time.

The army has insisted on the tank should be lightweight in order to achieve higher operational advantage, with "soft kill systems" and other countermeasures meaning laser warning system and RF sensors.


India's AI-enabled battle tanks

The tanks are also required to have Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA), Hard and Soft Kill Measures, Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) Protection & Instant Fire Detection and Suppression System (IFDSS) along with "high trafficability" in marginal and boggy terrain and operational ranges in cross country and on the road.

During the India-China standoff in eastern Ladakh last year, the Army had moved its premier T-90 battle tanks to eastern Ladakh in late June in the aftermath of the Galwan clash between Indian soldiers and Chinese troops even as India and Chinese commanders began their long-drawn talks to disengage along the LAC.

The Russian-built T-90 Bhishma  tanks were acquired by India in 2001. India has already been boosting its T-90 tank capacity for several years keeping in mind the growing security risk along the LAC.

Last July the Indian army had moved the tanks to the Line of Actual Control putting its best military firepower at the head of its defensive and offensive capabilities to take on the PLA.



Bhishma tanks

India had earlier reportedly made an assessment for up to eight T-90 tank regiments for the LAC with the total number of T90 and its variants going up to at least 4,500.

The tanks have been further boosted by thermal imaging technology giving it an edge during night-time operations which is considered crucial in the era of 24x7 planning and execution and since the Indian army occupies dominant positions along the LAC at the present moment, the sophisticated battle tanks allow the Indian Army to maintain its edge over the PLA.

India has moved rapidly to beef up the T90s with India's defence ministry signing a deal with Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) for mine ploughs (MP).

India's first T-90s Bhishma tank was rolled out of the assembly line from the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory (HFV) on 7 January 2004. The T-90 tanks played a crucial role during the confrontation on August 29 last year against the PLA tanks as the Bishma's were set out to guard the strategic Spanggur pass at Chuasal.


India's AI-enabled battle tanks

India has been quite openly reinforcing the T90s in its arsenal.

In 2019, the defence ministry moved to induct more upgraded Russian built- Bishma's at the cost of $2 billion. According to reports, the T-90s will be upgraded between 2022-26 enhancing India's capability in the high Himalayas.

China had deployed its Type-15 lightweight tanks which has been conducting military drills in the plateau region. The tank has 105-millimetre shells and is reportedly meant for mountainous terrain.

The Type-15 is equipped with chemical and nuclear protection and is reportedly easy to airlifted due to its light weight. India rapidly moved its T90 tanks divisions after China fortified its presence in Galwan area during the clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

The Indian Army used its T90 divisions strategically and placed them in vulnerable points and along with its infantry has pushed back the PLA as witnessed on August 29 when China made aggressive moves in the Himalayas.