Leading Indian private defence major Larsen and Toubro (L&T) Thursday successfully completed delivery of the last and 100th K9 Vajra 155mm/52 calibre Tracked Self-Propelled Howitzer, which was flagged off by Army Chief General M.M. Naravane at Hazira near Surat in Gujarat.
With the company delivering ahead of schedule the massive Armoured Systems Complex (ASC) at Hazira, which has its own track, it is likely to go into hibernation mode with no new contract expected in the immediate future.
The ASC is spread over 40 acres within the L&T’s 755-acre Hazira Manufacturing Complex.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the L&T are in talks with each other to possibly convert the Tracked Self-Propelled Howitzer into a light or medium-weight tank that could be used in mountain regions like Ladakh.
Three of its howitzers have already reached Leh for high-altitude trials, which could eventually pave way for the Vajras to be converted into a tank.
While India currently operates the T-72 and T-90 tanks, it is felt that there is a need for lighter tanks, which can operate more easily in mountainous terrains.
The Army is internally looking at the possibility and the practicality of having a light tank, which could come handy in situations similar to the Ladakh stand-off.
But the Army, sources said, is unlikely to go in for the more formidable K9 Vajras as the plan was to have only five regiments, which are meant for the desert area.
L&T had in 2017 won the Rs 4,500-crore contract to supply 100 units of K9 Vajra under the ‘Make in India’ initiative for which they had signed a transfer of technology contract with South Korean company, Hanwha Corporation.
Talking about the possible ‘Vajra tank’, defence sources said the idea is to replace the heavy 155 mm gun with a 105 mm or 120 mm gun.
“The chassis or the hull remains the same. The massive 155 mm gun can be replaced by a 105 mm or even 120 mm gun, which will reduce its weight drastically as the design of the turret also changes,” a source said.
“More weight reducing technology and material can be used, which will bring down the weight by at least 10 tonnes. This means that the Vajra tank can actually weigh around 30 tonnes or somewhere close, which can be deployed in the mountains,” the source added.
Lt Gen. P.R. Shankar (retd), who is the former Director General of Artillery, had last year pitched for the Vajra to be turned into a light tank, saying the current China-Indian stand-off has highlighted the lack of a suitable tank for high altitudes.
‘Ready to indigenously develop India’s future capabilities’
Meanwhile, J.D. Patil, whole-time director and senior executive vice president (defence and smart technologies), L&T, said in a statement, “We hope and believe that under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat policies of the Government of India, the national asset created in the form of the Armoured Systems Complex to execute this ambitious contract, will provide sustenance to the painstakingly built supply chain of more than 1,000 MSME partners.”
He added that the production of complex platforms like the K9 Vajra contributes to the Indian economy with a large multiplier effect, creates new job opportunities and plays a significant role in enhancing India’s industrial ecosystem.
“With the experience, track-record, skills, capabilities and infrastructure that L&T has built, we are ready to indigenously develop, and build India’s future capabilities,” he said.
The company added that the K9 Vajra systems are delivered with more than 80 per cent indigenous work packages and above 50 per cent indigenisation (by value) at the programme level.
It added that L&T had started indigenisation, right from the inception of the programme by replacing 14 critical systems in the Korean ‘K9 Thunder’ with indigenously developed and produced systems for the trial gun fielded for user evaluation trials.