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Analysis: Indian T-90S main battle tank facing Chinese Type 15 light tank

According to Indian sources, India has deployed its Russian-made T-90S main battle tanks called Bhishma in the mountainous border region of Ladakh. But how can a 47-ton tank move in mountainous regions with narrow and steep roads, and bridges that can’t be crossed by heavy tanks? China has developed Type 15, a light tank especially designed to be used in such mountainous regions, as it weighs only 33 tons.
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Indian T-90S main battle tank facing Chinese Type 15 light tank in the mountainous border region of Ladakh.  (Picture source Army Recognition)

In December 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Defense announced that the Type 15 had officially entered in service with the People's Liberation Army. The tank was unveiled to the public during a military parade held in Beijing in October 2019.

The Type 15, also called ZTQ-15 or VT5 for the export version, is a new generation of light tank developed and manufactured by the Chinese company NORINCO. Type 15 was designed to meet requirements of the Chinese army for a tank that could efficiently operate in highland and plateaus like the Tibetan region, offering as much mobility and firepower as a standard main battle tank.

Type 15 is armed with a 105mm rifled gun with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor that has a maximum range of 3,000 meters. The gun is able to fire new advanced tungsten alloy armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabots (APFSDS) capable of penetrating 500 mm of armored steel at 2,000 meters. This new 105mm ammunition can thus penetrate the armor of most of the main battle tanks currently used by various South and Southwestern Asian countries. The tank is fitted with an automatic loading system with a total of 38 rounds. Its gun can also launch anti-tank guided missiles. These missiles extend the effective range to up to 5 km and have a hit probability of over 90% against stationary targets.

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Chine-made Type 15 light tank at Zhuhai air show defense exhibition (Picture source Army Recognition)

The Type 15 weighs between 33 and 36 tons depending of the armor package. In the light version, the tank can be transported by military aircraft. According to Chinese military sources, Type 15 can be dropped by an aircraft flying at low speed, using large parachutes.

In terms of mobility, Type 15 is powered by a 1,000 hp electronically controlled diesel engine, coupled to a hydro-mechanical fully automatic transmission with a pivot steering capability. It can reach a maximum road speed of 70 km/h, or 40 km/h in off-road conditions.

The Type 15 has a crew of three: driver, commander and gunner. The hull and the turret of Type 15 are made of all-welded steel armor that provides protection against firing of small arms and artillery shell splinters. To increase the protection against anti-tank guided missile and rocket-propelled grenades, the tank can be fitted with advanced composite armor and/or explosive reactive armor, along with slat armor.

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Indian Army T-90S main battle tank (Picture source militarywatchmagazine)

The Indian Main Battle Tank T-90S Bhishma is an enhanced version of the Russian-made T-90 with new features in terms of mobility, firepower and protection. It was designed to meet the operational requirements of some Asian countries. It has a maximum weight of 47 tons. During the last modern wars, main battle tanks were used in combat on flatlands. But on difficult terrains like mountainous regions or urban areas, the tanks became only mobile howitzers and were vulnerable to short-range anti-tank weapons and missiles.

The main armament of the T-90S consists of a 125mm 2A46M smoothbore gun stabilized in two axes. The cannon is able to fire various ammunition including HE-FRAG (high-explosive fragmentation) and APFSDS-T (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot - Tracer). It can also fire a 9M119M laser-guided projectile fitted with a tandem HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead at a maximum range of 5,000 meters. The 2A46M gun is fed by an automatic loading system that can choose among 22 ready-to-fire rounds loaded in its carousel. It can load a round in 5 to 8 seconds.

The T-90S has a crew of three: a driver located at the front of the hull, a gunner and commander in the turret. The hull and turret of the T-90 over the forward arc are fitted with the latest generation of Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor that provides protection against APFSDS and HEAT-type projectiles. In addition to being fitted to the hull and turret, Explosive Reactive Armor panels are also fitted either side of the hull front to provide lateral protection on each side of the driver's compartment.

The T-90S is motorized with a V-92S2 V-12 diesel developing 1,000 hp, coupled to a manual transmission with seven forward and one reverse gears. This gives the vehicle a maximum road speed of 65 km/h and a power-to-weight ratio of 21.50 hp/tonne. In off-road conditions, the tank can reach 40 km/h, with a maximum cruising range of 550 km.

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