China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently conducted combat training with T-15 lightweight tanks near Rutog, 107 km southeast of Finger 4 at Pangong Tso in the Ladakh region.
The development assumes significance given that both the PLA and the Indian Army have been holding corps commander-level talks to defuse the current border tensions.
PLA #China Tank training drills near Rutog, 107 km East South East of finger four #PangongTso pic.twitter.com/5J2NDUPXyP
— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) February 1, 2021
China’s state-owned Global Times has reported that Type 15 lightweight tanks of the PLA were deployed in the “recent exercises” in the plateau.
The tanks and infantry trained together “to maximize the combat capabilities of both”, it said. China has also deployed Type 99 tanks, which are much heavier than Type 15, in the difficult terrain of the Himalayas.
Chinese analysts, quoted in the report, have indicated that the PLA’s exercise is connected with the nine-month-long India-China border tension. Towards the end of August, last year, the Indian Army had occupied the heights overlooking the Chinese Army positions at Finger 4 along the Pangong Tso.
There have been multiple rounds of military-level talks to find a solution to the stalemate. In the last week of January, the two sides met for the ninth time at the Chushul-Moldo Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) point on the Chinese side, but no consensus was reached.
Both sides reiterated their commitment to ensuring disengagement as they continue to maintain regular contact through the hotline and other mechanisms to prevent any untoward incident.
Type 15 Tanks
The Type 15 tanks spotted at the recent exercises have significant advantages in such regions compared to other types of armored vehicles, Chinese experts say. The lightweight tanks had made their public debut at the National Day military parade in Beijing on October 1, 2019.
While heavy tanks struggle at high altitudes due to the lack of oxygen to support the engine, the Type 15 lightweight tank boasts high mobility even on plateaus. Chinese experts believe that Type 15 is unrivaled because it is easy and flexible to operate.
It uses new armor materials and stealth technologies, which reduces its weight significantly besides making it hard to detect, Zhang Hongjun, a master sergeant class one at the regiment, was quoted as saying in a China Central TV (CCTV) report.
He says the tanks have fire control and weapons systems as well as extra battlefield situational awareness capabilities that help the troops identify friends or foes on the battlefield.
China’s Type 15 tanks have been deployed during the border stand-off with India.