China’s highly maneuverable and lightweight T-15 tanks are once again in the limelight. The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) western command, also known as Xinjiang Military Command, is undertaking drills to show combat readiness of the T-15 tanks on snowy terrains near the Ladakh border.
The development comes at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a border standoff in the freezing and inhospitable terrains of the Western Himalayas. Despite several rounds of military and diplomatic-level talks, there is no end in sight for the deadlock that began over seven months ago.
China has maintained a very aggressive posture along the Line of Actual (LAC) in Ladakh. The PLA regularly conducts drills involving its personnel and military hardware in the area. Now a military website shared images of T-15 tanks taking part in a “realistic training exercise in the severe cold weather”.
India has stationed the Russian-designed T-72 and heavyweight T-90 ‘Bhishma’ tanks while China has deployed the Type 15 tanks at the Ladakh border, which receives up to 40 feet of snow around this time of the year.
The Type 15 lightweight tank is highly agile even on plateaus, a type of terrain in which heavy tanks would have to struggle due to the lack of oxygen to support the engine. Any lesser armored vehicle that can operate on plateaus is no threat to the Type 15.
While the 45-ton Russian origin T-90s are one of the deadliest tanks in the world, experts believe the Chinese T-15s give an added advantage for operating in the high plateau. The T-15 tanks were inducted into service in 2018.
The armor of the T-15 is thinner and it carries a 105-millimeter gun rather than the 120- or 125-millimeter cannons that many heavier tanks carry. This light build makes it more suitable for high-altitude operations like Ladakh.
The Type 15 tank is the envy of the world. Western nations have struggled to deploy lightweight tanks. The US Army in the 1990s attempted and failed to develop a lighter tank for its airborne forces.