By Lt Gen Anil Ahuja,
The greatest challenge of modernisation and capability development for our armed forces is the conflicting demands of being `ever ready for operations’ while concurrently, `working with patience and persistence to develop indigenous systems’. While the former requires procurements, “as of yesterday”, the latter necessitates allowing ample time to our development and production agencies to design, develop and manufacture indigenous systems, making allowances for (near) inevitable failures and slippages.
Amongst all branches of the Army, Artillery has been the most meticulous in its perspective planning. Under successive Directors General, realistic Artillery profiling was visualised and modernisation plans were implemented to meet the requirements of the future battlefield. It is to the credit of the maturity of successive incumbents that continuity of vision, planning and execution has been maintained. This assertion is sans the rhetoric because the results are there for us to see.
Under the visualised modernisation, Arty is progressively advancing from having 105mm field guns/Howitzers as its mainstay to upgrading the calibre to 155 mm. Even within this calibre, there is a judicious mix of vintage 130mm guns having been up-gunned to 155mm, existing, 1980s vintage, 155mm (Bofors), under development Dhanush, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), each with incremental ranges (denoted by the factor of `calibre barrel length’ – with Bofors being 155/39 and ATAGSbeing 155/52). Complementing these are the heli portable, M 777 Ultra-light howitzer for the inaccessible mountain gun positions and the self-propelled Vajra for cross country mobility in the deserts. Also in the pipeline is the `mounted gun system (MGS)’ where the guns are mounted on an appropriate wheeled chassis, rather than being towed behind a vehicle, enhancing mobility in mountainous terrain. Besides the guns, Artillery has appropriately included the multi-barrel rocket launchers, graduating from BM-21 Grad to the indigenous Pinakas and the Russian origin Smerch and missiles.
Complementing the guns, mortars, rockets and missiles, Artillery is acquiring a family of munitions, ranging from conventional high explosive shells and rockets to precision and cargo munitions,for illuminating and screening the battlefield to long-range pinpoint strikes on a wide array of targets.
While the planning has been meticulous, there are issues of concern in the implementation of the modernisation plans. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), satisfied with the assurances given by the OFB and the DRDO accorded the `Acceptance of Necessity (AON)’ for procuring adequate quantities of indigenous Dhanush and the ATAGS, during the last three to five years. This was to assure the development and production agencies of the commitment of the users to procure these and to enable them to set up appropriate production lines. It is based on this very assurance that most of these guns have been placed on the `Negative Import List” promulgated by the MOD in August 2020. The current slippages and the failure of the concerned agencies to deliver these guns to the user, as per the committed schedule, call for accountability; particularly so since it comes at such an advanced stage. Such developments erode the faith of the user in the process of indigenisation and dilute operational readiness.
Another area in which the Army needs to look at diligently is the synergised employment of firepower of Artillery and Air in incremental depths. As we speak of integration between the services, this is one operational aspect that needs to be looked at on priority.
The accuracy of the ‘unobserved fire’ delivered at long ranges by Artillery has considerably improved, over the years. However, for the conduct of a dynamic depth battle, there is a requirement of intimate integration between the sensor (the eyes)’ and the shooter. Till the 80s, the Army Aviation functioned primarily as the `Air Observation Post’ of Artillery, directing the fire by looking at the `other side of the hill’. With its bifurcation from Artillery in 1986, observation and direction of fire have become its secondary role. It is learnt that the UAVs held hitherto by the Surveillance and Target Acquisition Units of the Artillery are now being regrouped with the Army Aviation. It merits serious consideration that the grouping of resources be done on the visualised concept of employment for depth and non-contact battles, rather than the rationale of grouping together the flying machines’. This is considered detrimental to the effectiveness of the employment of Artillery in the long run.
The best tribute to the Regiment of Artillery on the 195thGunners Day (which was on September 28, 2021) would be to review the concept of employment of Artillery on the future battlefields and strive towards incorporating advancements in modernisation and restructuring plans of the Army.
(The author is a veteran Artillery officer, who has commanded a Corps in the Eastern Theatre and has been the Secretary of the Defence Acquisition Council for two years. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)