Artillery types

Field Artillery Rationalization and India’s Indigenous Artillery Gun Ecosystem

The preferred caliber was 155/52 depending on desired ranges and other desired operational performance parameters.

By Col Ashwani Sharma,

Recently the Corps of Indian Artillery commemorated its Levy Day, now is a good time to review its ambitious rationalization plan and its progress so far. The Indian Army’s Field Artillery Rationalization Program, devised in the 1990s, envisaged the upgrading and standardization of artillery guns to 155mm, similar to the Bofors guns acquired in 1986. The preferred caliber was 155/52 depending on desired ranges and other desired operational performance parameters. The modernization plan revised in 2007 called for the induction of approximately 2,800 gun systems by 2017 in a number of configurations to meet operational requirements. These guns were to be purchased in different configurations like self-propelled tracked (on tank chassis) and wheeled (wheeled vehicle), towed, ultralight, and mounted (mounted on 6×6 vehicles) systems. These guns were to equip the nearly 280 operational regiments of the Artillery (including a dozen equipped with rockets). Ultra-light howitzers have been acquired from BAE and tracked guns from South Korea, but the bulk of the artillery still needs to be modernized.

According to a detailed study by SIDM in 2020, one of the remarkable developments in the defense industry over the past decade has been the tremendous advancements made in indigenous artillery. There are a number of gun production centers and MSMEs in the country that have created a self-sufficient ecosystem in the country. DRDO’s ARDE has adequate capacity in terms of the data and knowledge required, even though it is an ever-evolving field. Major Indian defense equipment manufacturers like L&T, TATA Advanced Systems and Bharat Forge have set up gun production lines in the country to compete with former state-owned ammunition factories. The SIDM study report further indicates that there is the capacity not only to build firearms in the country, but also an ecosystem to retrofit, upgrade and export them. Orders, of course, have been a little slow in coming. The army’s DG Artillery, Lt. Gen. TK Chawla, recently told the media that the army is “holding hands” with domestic industry to ensure that indigenous projects such as the advanced towed gun and the OFB-produced Dhanush howitzer meet their needs.

ATAGS deserves a special compliment being a Greenfield project, designed and developed through a successful partnership between DRDO and the Indian private sector. Despite some criticism and a few hiccups, the gun system has many “firsts” to its credit – 25 liter chamber, long ranges and a fast and sustained rate of fire, to name a few. Integrated security using multiple sensors (IoT) is new. Its mobility at high altitudes and in deserts also surprised its detractors.

As part of its defense indigenization campaign, the MoD has banned imports of 155mm howitzers after December 2021. The military will have no choice but to turn to industry indigenous firearms. Another important aspect highlighted by the SIDM report is that Indian R&D and industry has more than enough capacity to design and develop any type of firearms system in the country. All it takes is a system to harness the potential.

FARP, however, needs to be modified. In fact, given the rapid changes in the nature of warfare brought about by rapidly emerging technologies, it is absolutely necessary to modify the proposed profile. The slow acquisition process inadvertently provides a double opportunity; (i) harness native capabilities to meet all requirements, whether for new firearms systems or upgrades; (ii) balance cannon artillery units with more self-propelled rockets and self-contained ammo units. Equip more artillery regiments with rockets, missiles and guided munitions and reduce the number of units with cannon tubes. External ballistics and precision greatly improve the effect at the end goal and save a lot of cost and logistics.

(The author is Editor-in-Chief, South Asia Defense & Strategic Review. Opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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