New Delhi: Confirmatory desert trials of the indigenous Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), developed by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) with private companies Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED, will begin in June.
Sources from the ATAGS development program told ThePrint that after this year’s summer trials, orders can be placed in industry, after which the system will become operational in the armed forces.
They added that validation testing in high altitude areas, including mobility testing in hilly and mountainous terrain, has been completed.
ATAGS is part of the Army Field Artillery Rationalization Plan, which was drawn up in 1999. According to this plan, the Army is supposed to have different types of artillery, including the towed system, which is supposed to be a 155mm x 52 caliber.
With global procurement plans for a towed gun faltering despite multiple attempts, the ATAGS project was rolled out by the DRDO circa 2010.
ATAGS, which is being developed by DRDO with the two private companies, was first launched in a fully integrated model in 2016.
This development came even as the military pursued a separate process of procuring towed weapons from overseas under the “Make In India” initiative.
The weapon that finally emerged as the lowest priced for this process was the ATHOS from the Israeli firm Elbit, in 2019.
The deal was for the supply of 400 guns and the indigenous production of another 1,180 guns by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), under a comprehensive technology transfer (TOT) process.
However, the army changed their plans and now plans to procure only 400 ATHOS, but the DRDO even opposes this and says that ATAGS is better and is the weapon of the future.
A final decision on ATHOS is still pending, as reported on May 28.
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Army concern and comparison
Defense sources said the development of the ATAGS has been completed and is currently undergoing PSQR (weapons procurement and quality requirements) trials to finalize the final configuration of the gun system.
However, the army has “a few areas of concern”.
Sources have indicated that the first of these is the aspect of extra weightwhich can impact the operational performance of the gun system in mountainous terrain and at high altitudes.
The ATAGS would weigh about 18 tons. In comparison, the ATHOS weighs less than 15 tons.
ATAGS advocates say that if weight is indeed an issue, other systems like the Dhanush cannon can be used for mountains in addition to light howitzers with the native towed system.
“Not all firearms should work the same in all terrains. In the tanks we have the T-90 and T-72 which can operate easily in the mountains and can also be transported there by air. But we also have the Arjun, which cannot operate in the same way as it would in desert areas,” said a defense expert, who did not wish to be identified.
Sources from the ATAGS program said that the self-propelled mobility of this system is high and it is able to cross all Indian bridges and terrains.
They also said the weight class was comparable to other comparable gun systems around the world.
Industry sources said that the most significant achievement during the second phase of the PSQR winter trials was moving the guns to the northernmost point of the operational area (Lukrep) in the regions. of the plateau of North Sikkim.
The movement was undertaken primarily during the hours of darkness to facilitate the undisturbed movement of tourists and civilian vehicles and at the same time maintain the confidentiality of the gun system with our adversaries.
They said the ATAGS (Bharat Forge) demonstrated effective towed movement in treacherous terrain climbing altitudes up to 15,500 feet.
“Moving to Lukrep meant traveling 341 kilometers and was tested over 10 days. ATAGS could easily negotiate the otherwise inaccessible mountainous terrain with a steep incline and tight hairpin bends, without the need to unhook the tower gun. In similar terrain, other systems must be unhooked and moved in self-propelled mode, increasing overall travel time,” a source said.
He added that the total distance covered by the ATAGS in the mountains and at high altitude was 526 km compared to 23 km for the mobility test carried out for foreign guns.
“There is therefore no doubt about the mobility component of ATAGS. The foreign weapon should also be tested in the same location if anyone thinks it is better,” the source added.
He added that the ease with which the Bharat Forge Gun could navigate the entire stretch is a testament to the guns’ ability to move into the most remote locations, on any type of terrain.
However, defense sources also expressed other concerns about the ATAGS. A second concern, they say, is “the inability of the gun system to meet critical performance parameters, particularly with regards to rates of fire.
ATAGS program sources said the rate of fire includes firing a burst of five rounds in one minute, an intense firing of 10 rounds in two and a half minutes, and a sustained rate of 60 rounds in sixty minutes.
By comparison, Elbit Systems claims ATHOS can fire three rounds in 30 seconds, 12 rounds in three minutes, and 42 rounds in sixty minutes.
The third concern expressed is the accident of September 2020 during the internal validation tests of the ATAGS in a shooting range. The barrel of the weapon burst during a shot.
Incidentally, cost is also a factor. While the ATHOS will cost less than Rs 11 crore per piece, the ATAGS would cost between Rs 16 and 18 crore.
One area where ATAGS outperforms other systems is range. The range of the ATAGS with Extended Range Sub-Bore Boat Tail (ERFB BT) ammunition is 35 km and with ERFB BB (Base Bleed) ammunition is 45 km. The ATAGS actually fired at a distance of 47 KMS in 2017.
It is said that when the ATAGS is finally ordered, both private companies will get orders, but the lowest bidder will get the biggest share – 60% or more.
Both guns – Bharat Forge and TATA – have the same performance parameters and the final contract will be awarded based on the quoted cost.
(Editing by Poulomi Banerjee)
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