Defence Industry

Zorawar Good. Sprut Better?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 May , 2024

The Russian 2S25 Sprut-SD Tank Destroyer

So, the Zorawar Light Tank seems to be the toast of defence circles nowadays – both in military and industrial spheres.

Larsen & Toubro developed the design and had a prototype up and running in an amazingly short time, particularly when contrasted with the snail-pace progress of so many DRDO projects. Very commendable. And a shining example of the need to involve the agile Indian private sector in defence procurement.

But is it the best option for India? Let me play devil’s advocate, and the particular devil I’m backing is the 2S25 Sprut-SD. Yes, yes, it’s technically a self-propelled anti-tank gun for Russian airborne forces. A tank destroyer, if you will. But it’s completely enclosed in armour, it has a revolving turret and it packs a mighty punch with its 125 mm gun. What more do you want?

Let’s back up a minute and examine the requirements that led to the Indian Light Tank concept. Main battle tanks and many other armoured vehicles don’t perform well in high altitude terrain, particularly in the icy heights of beyond Leh, in the Galwan Valley, Chushul and Demchok. The Indian Army is facing Chinese Type 15 tanks on this confrontational border and a suitable match was needed. Hence the specs were drawn up for a light tank, not exceeding 25 tons and armed with a 105 mm gun. L&T’s Zorawar was first off the mark, and Bharat Forge is also working on a design. 

Larsen & Toubro swiftly developed a prototype of the Zorawar Light tank.

Outgunning Zorawar

The Sprut was conceived as an anti-tank platform and built around the existing 2A75 125 mm gun, the same weapon that arms our T-72s and T-90s.  It can fire APFSDS, HEAT, HE-Frag and anti-tank guided missiles as well.  The raison d’etre for the Light Tank is to operate in high altitude areas and tackle the Chinese Type 15 tank. Aside from completely outclassing the 105 mm Cockerill gun planned for the Zorawar, the 125 mm and its ammunition are already in the supply chain and will be logistically much simpler for the armoured corps.

While the Zorawar would be capable of destroying light tanks of the Chinese Type 15 class, its armament would be marginally effective against a modern main battle tank. Not so with the Sprut’s more powerful gun. And with laser-guided missiles like the Svir in its autoloader, it can destroy MBTs out to 4 km.  Advantage Sprut.

Lighter than Zorawar

The Sprut was created to accompany Russian airborne forces and can be parachuted (with the crew inside) from cargo aircraft like the Il-76 – which the IAF also operates. That’s an added dimension for fast deployment of armour, one that India does not currently possess.

To be an airborne asset, the Sprut weighs just 18 tons.  More than 25% less than the Zorawar.

It’s light and it’s fast, with a 70 kmph road speed. Off-road it still does 45-50 kmph.  And, of course, all Russian tracked vehicles perform well on snow and ice – that’s a standard requirement. Based on the chassis of a BMP 3 infantry fighting vehicle, the Sprut is lightly armoured, with the ability to resist 23 mm shells in the frontal arc. Details of protection on the Zorawar are not known, but in any case, neither vehicle would survive a 105 mm hit delivered by a Chinese light tank, let alone an ATGW.  All the more reason to be light and agile for necessary mobility. Advantage Sprut.

Sprut: Amphibious capabilities demonstration.

And it’s amphibious

In keeping with the Russian doctrine of flexibility in its armoured fighting vehicles, the Sprut is completely amphibious. Water jets propel it through the water at 10 kmph, and built-in airtight chambers add buoyancy. There’s even a pump to remove water from the chassis is necessary. This makes it seaworthy in up to 4-foot waves, and the Sprut has the agility to climb back onto an assault ship after an operation.

This may not be a hugely beneficial feature in the mountains, but it makes the vehicle so much more versatile as a weapons system. It could accompany troops onto a beachhead in a seaborne assault, or operate effectively in a marshland or a delta region – as the PT 76 light tanks did in the ’71 war.  Advantage Sprut.

Crew 3 3
Weight 25 Tons 18 Tons
Engine 750 hp in prototype 510 hp
Power/Weight Ratio 30 hp/ton 28.3 hp/ton
Gun 105 mm with autoloader 125 mm with autoloader
Amphibious No Yes
Air Droppable No Yes

The Sprut with parachute packs on the glacis and turret for air dropping.

Best of Both Worlds

The Sprut could be built at the ordnance factory at Medak, which is already manufacturing the BMP 2 fighting vehicle; this is a BMP 3 chassis, remember? Import some Spruts ready-made, more in a knocked down condition and then raise the indigenous content as we go along. The guns are already being built in Avadi for the T-90, just make more of them.

Even more interesting would be to let L&T or some other private player set up the production line. They would gain valuable experience and benefit from the technology transfer. And probably use all they learn more efficiently.

We could also do what Indians do best – mix and match with the best of both worlds. Bring in that French infra-red imaging and fire control system. Install that Israeli active protection system to fend off missile and drone attacks (learn the lessons from Ukraine). Get a more powerful engine, if need be, to boost the power/weight ratio. Add a drone to look over the horizon.

The point is that the Zorawar is still many years from appearing on the border in any number. The Sprut, on the other hand, could be imported and deployed almost immediately, with domestic production then taking over.

Why, you ask, are we not seeing the Sprut in action in Ukraine? There were only a limited number built and these are reserved for air-dropping along with Russian paratroopers. If a major airborne operation is mounted, they will appear. The Russians are sold on the concept, though. The successor to the Sprut is being designed on the BMP 4 chassis and will carry the next generation 125 mm gun.

Zorawar is named after a Dogra general. Sprut is the Russian word for ‘octopus’ and it can embrace so many roles: it can tackle Chinese tanks on the Himalayan heights, be air-dropped along with paratroopers, conduct recce missions in the Rajasthan desert, swim ashore from assault ships to support commandos, patrol the rivers and swamps of the Eastern border…and more.

Clearly advantage Sprut.

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