The Indian Army plans to buy 464 advanced T-90 battle tanks from Russia for deployment on its western borders with Pakistan. The Rs13,448-crore contract will include a Make-in-India element for integration at the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi near Chennai.
The 10 new regiments of T-90MS tanks, equipped with thermal imaging night sights to allow the tank commander to hit at enemy locations even during night battles, will strengthen army's fire power along the land border stretch with Pakistan-from Jammu in north till the western flank in Gujarat.
Modalities of the proposal have been cleared by the army at the top level and would be soon placed for approval before Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar-led Defence Acquisition Council, Mönch understands.
India has already inducted 18 regiments of T-90 tanks, which are deployed in Rajasthan and Punjab against on the Pakistan front.
However, the Indian Army's 4000-strong tank fleet has been battling with night blindness in the past and these new tanks would help in doing away with that, the sources said.
In addition, it was found that key systems like the missile-firing mechanism and thermal sights had deteriorated due to prolonged exposure to heat and dust. This was pointed out in a recent comptroller and auditor general report. The Defence Ministry has decided to sort out the issues in addition to the radiators as the locally-produced equipment was creating problems in field operations, sources said.
The T-90 has emerged as the main battle tank of the Indian Army and is replacing the older variants of T-72 and T-55 tanks in the force. India has about 850 T-90 tanks currently and plans to induct 1,657 by the year 2020.
The target of almost doubling the fleet in next three to four years seems a difficult task because the procurements were stuck due to issues related to escalating cost and local production.
The tanks are considered to be most advanced in the Indian inventory as they are equipped with sophisticated state-of-the-art systems being produced in the country but they did not have air conditioners.
The Army initiated the process to buy ACs to be fitted in the tanks. To meet the challenges on the western front, the government also recently cleared acquisition of missiles and ammunition for these tanks under the fast-track acquisition process.
India's defence ties with Russia have been more than 60 years old and New Delhi was heavily dependent on Moscow for military hardware as it provided over 70% supplies to the forces.
In recent years, American and European sources have moved in to replace Russian equipment but the ties were rekindled recently.
India has now been showing an inclination to go back towards Russian defence buys with a deal worth Rs39,000 crore in the pipeline to purchase five S-400 TRIUMF air defence missile systems, which can engage enemy aircraft at 400 kilometres.
During the recent visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, India also signed a yet-to-be-priced agreement for joint manufacturing of 200 Kamov light helicopters, which would be used by the Army at high-altitude areas of Siachen and Ladakh for maintaining forward bases.
The mainstay of Indian Air Force is also the Su-30MKI combat aircraft- 272 of which are being procured from Russia.