The modernization plan of the Indian Army to procure indigenous 3,000-3,600 howitzers by 2025-27 have run into problems. Indian Army was planning to acquire Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), and Dhanush, known as the ‘Desi Bofors’, under the Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP), which was approved after more than two decades. Talking to the media on the eve of the Gunners’ Day, which marks the anniversary of the raising of the oldest Indian Mountain Battery (5th Bombay Mountain Battery), Lt Gen TK Chawla, Director General Artillery, emphasized the importance of indigenous manufacturing in the defence sector. He also talked about the challenges being faced by ATAGS and Dhanush.
ATAGS, which has been marked as the most important programmes developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and two private companies Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED. And it is considered to be one of the most advanced and the first gun in the world which has the capability to fire BMCS zone 7. And as a record of sorts in the 155 mm family, this gun has achieved a firing range of 48 km.
Responding to media queries, Lt Gen Chawla, “The Indian Army wants both programmes – ATAGS & Dhanush to succeed. And has done a lot of handholding. Recently, we have had discussions with OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) and ARDE (Armament Research and Development Establishment of DRDO).”
The requirements have been identified and have been agreed on, he said. According to the DG Artillery, there are major advantages when these guns are being made in India and the technology is being developed here.
Problem with ATAGS
The ATAGS has several issues, and this starts with the design and development.
Its failure in the recent summer fire trials. It could not achieve certain parameters, this means the ATAGS will have to go through further modifications.
According to Lt Gen Chawla, “Some parameters related to firing and non firing need improvement.”
Trials were carried out in the extreme summer temperatures of Pokhran and the ATAGS could not achieve the parameters as set out b the Indian Army. And these issues and reading have been shared with DRDO which is the nodal agency involved in the development of ATAGS.
Indian Army is looking for a gun which is reliable and can fire accurately, and issues related to the weight of these guns too need to be addressed. The ATAGs project had started in 2012, and has been getting delayed due to its failure to meet the critical parameters set out by the end user – Indian Army.
Problems with Dhanush
There are problems related to the production quality. The Indian army ordered 114 in 2019 and the production had started in that year itself. However, so far, between April 2019 – June 2021 only 12 long range artillery guns have been delivered to the Indian Army. The induction of Dhanush started in April 2019. Between 2019-2021, only 12 of the long-range artillery guns had been delivered. According to officers to make a full regiment, 18 guns are required.
Explaining more about the problems related to the production, Lt Gen Chawla said that there are teething problems and the end user Army and the manufacturer — Gun Carriage Factory (CGF), will soon undertake some “confidence firing” .
Modernisation of the Army’s Artillery
So far K9 Vajra Howitzers which were made under a joint venture between L&T and the South Korean Company has been the most successful one. There are plans to buy more of these tracked guns by the Indian Army.
The M-777 guns from the US based BAE Systems has been assembled in India by Mahindra Defence. However due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the deliveries have gotten a bit delayed.
The Indian Army has already deployed three regiments of these howitzers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and there are no plans to order more of these guns from the US.
What is the Army now looking for?
Request for Information has been issued for mounted gun systems. These mounted guns will give more maneuverability than the towed systems.
More about FARP
The plan was procure around 3000-3600 155 howitzers between 2025-27 of different calibers and mix of towed, self propelled (tracked and wheeled) as well as mounted. And this was to be achieved thorough licensed manufacturing, direct imports and indigenous production.