The preferred caliber was 155/52 based on desired ranges and other desired operational performance parameters.
By Col Ashwani Sharma,
Recently, the Corps of Indian Artillery commemorated its raising day, this is the right time to revisit its ambitious rationalization plan and its progress so far. Indian Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme, conceived in the 1990s, envisaged upgrading and standardization of Artillery guns to 155 mm, similar to Bofors guns acquired in 1986. The preferred caliber was 155/52 based on desired ranges and other desired operational performance parameters. The revised modernization plan in 2007 projected the induction of approximately 2800 gun systems by 2017 in a number of configurations to suit op requirements. These guns were to be procured in different configurations like self-propelled tracked (on tank chassis) and wheeled (wheeled vehicle), towed, ultra-light and Mounted Gun Systems (fitted on 6×6 vehicles). These guns were to equip the Artillery’s almost 280 operational regiments (with 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 upgrading.
As per a detailed study carried out by SIDM in 2020, one of the remarkable defence industrial developments over the last decade has been the huge strides made in indigenous artillery. There are a number of gun production hubs and MSMEs in the country which have created a self-sufficient ecosystem in the country. DRDO’s ARDE possesses adequate capability in terms of required data and knowledge, even though it is a constantly evolving field. Large Indian defence OEMs like L&T, TATA Advanced Systems and Bharat Forge have set up gun production lines within the country to compete with the erstwhile state-owned ordnance factories. SIDM’s study report further states that there exists the capability to not just build guns within the country but also an ecosystem to refit, upgrade and export them. Orders, of course, have been somewhat slow to come. The army’s DG Artillery, Lt General T.K. Chawla, recently told the media that the army was ‘hand holding’ the domestic industry to ensure indigenous projects like the Advanced Towed Array Gun System and the OFB-produced Dhanush howitzer to meet their requirements.
ATAGS deserves a special compliment being a Greenfield project, designed and developed through successful partnership between DRDO and the Indian Private sector. Despite a few critics, and a few hiccups, the gun system has many ‘firsts’ to its credit – 25L chamber, long ranges and rapid and sustained rate of fire, to name a few. Built in safety using multiple sensors (IoT) is novel. Its mobility in high altitude and deserts too has taken its critics by surprise.
As part of its defence indigenization drive, the MoD banned the imports of 155 mm howitzers after December 2021. The army will have no choice but to turn to indigenous gun industry. Another important aspect brought out by the SIDM report is that Indian R&D and industry have more than adequate capability to design and develop any type of gun system within the country. All that is needed is a system to harness the potential.
FARP, however, needs to be modified. In fact, considering the rapid changes in the nature of warfare brought about by the fast-emerging technologies, there is a definite need to change the proposed profile. Slow acquisition process inadvertently provides a twofold opportunity; (i) exploit indigenous capability to fulfill all the requirements, be it new gun systems or upgrades; (ii) balance out gun tube artillery units with more Self-propelled Rockets and Autonomous Munition Units. Equip more number of Artillery regiments with rockets, missiles and guided munitions and reduce the number of units with gun tubes. External ballistics and precision greatly enhance effect at the terminal objective and save enormously on costs and logistics.
(The author is Editor, South Asia Defence & Strategic Review. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. )