China announces induction of new light battle tank meant for Tibet border

Chinese army tibet Vehicles of China's People's Liberation Army being deployed on an exercise in the Tibet Autonomous Region | China's Ministry of National Defense

China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Thursday revealed that its forces are being equipped with a new lightweight tank, the Type-15. The Type-15 tank, which was first unveiled to the public at an airshow in 2016, is meant for deployment in high-altitude regions like Tibet, on the disputed border with India.

The information was provided by Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the MND, in response to a question on the Type-15 tank.

The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based daily, reported that Type-15 tank weighs less than 35 tonnes and has a 105mm main gun. While its firepower is inferior to the Indian Army's fleet of Russian-made T-72 and T-90 and indigenous Arjun tanks, the Type-15's lighter weight makes it more suitable for combat at higher altitudes than the heavier Indian tanks. The T-72 and T-90 tanks weigh approximately 44-50 tonnes, depending on their armour, while the Arjun tank weighs close to 60 tonnes.

The heavier and larger tanks would struggle to manoeuvre in mountainous regions. Moreover, the higher altitudes, and thinner air, in Tibet and regions like Doklam, also hamper the performance of the engines of tanks. The Type-15 is reported to be equipped with a newer diesel engine that is able to function in environments with thinner air levels.

Shortly after the Doklam standoff with China in 2017, The Indian Army started framing requirements for a new lightweight tank optimised for mountainous areas. The Indian Army had previously expressed interest in having lightweight tanks in the past decade, but there was little forward movement. The Indian Army has previously deployed T-72 units in areas near the China border.