Plugging the gap in India’s artillery firepower

January 22, 2021 2:34 PM

Having gone thus far on self-reliance, further dependence on foreign industry will go against the spirit of Aatmanirbhar Bharat and at the same time delay making up our artillery capabilities at a critical time.

Expensive and specific to Qualitative Requirements, as they are, Artillery Gun Systems are produced on demand.

By Col Ashwani Sharma

Firepower and fire support assumes added significance in modern-day battles as warfare rapidly moves towards non-contact orientation. Armies are relying more and more upon weapons and munitions which can deliver accurate and lethal fire at the target end from a standoff distance. Artillery, hitherto known as ‘God of War’ helps in shaping the battlefield by delivering fire support and effect which can disorient, demoralize and destroy the enemy.

India’s FARP (Field Army Reorganization Plan) devised at the turn of the century took into account such a formidable capability and aims at equipping Indian Artillery with a variety of guns which can devastate its adversaries during armed conflicts. There have been inevitable delays in realizing the FARP, even though some weapon systems have been inducted and some are in the pipeline. Some experts apportion the blame for slow progress on lack of funds and complicated DPPs as also point fingers towards India’s aspirations to become Aatamnirbhar in defence. Ironically it is the latter which may come to India’s rescue in making up the deficiencies in quick time for the simple reason that no country or manufacturer keeps a stock of weapon platforms ready for sale. Expensive and specific to Qualitative Requirements, as they are, Artillery Gun Systems are produced on demand.

This is thus the time to propel our artillery modernisation plans by realizing the potential of our defence industry to fulfil the twin objectives of Artillery modernisation and Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

To achieve this objective, however, we need to shed the incremental approach and take a few bold steps. The arduous time taking processes and procedures, stringent parameters once applicable to prevent wrongdoings and scams should now be a thing of the past due to the transparent and robust procedures which have evolved. With indigenous industry capable of matching the global players, especially in Artillery gun systems, opportunities to speedily transform our artillery into a modern one can no longer be lost out. A detailed research report produced recently by my outfit for CII clearly points towards the formidable capability that exists in the country in this field.

Way Ahead

Key capability gap, as mentioned above, unfortunately, cannot be bridged by imports as a one-time measure as Artillery systems are never kept ready for delivery and are made to order. This is even more difficult for OEMs whose supply chains will need to be reactivated because only one odd prototype has been assembled for Indian NCNC trials. Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that even first few guns can arrive earlier than 2023 thus missing the very objective of filling the capability void in the very near future.

A multi-pronged and mix and match approach can give the right answer to this situation. The multi-pronged approach would enable exploiting both the indigenous industry and foreign OEMs on whom orders have been placed in recent years. As mentioned earlier, our research clearly points towards the fact that indigenous private and public sector companies can join hands and produce modern Artillery gun systems of all types and specs. DRDO and OFB can chip in with required technology and design features. The MoD should be empowered to make up the immediate requirements by adopting the suggested modus operandi in the spirit of Aatmanirbhar Bharat: –

Firstly, BAE and the US government should be urged to complete the supply of the existing contract of the FH 777, Ultra-Light Howitzer (ULH) for mountains within the next 12 months. The US government can even be urged to provide these guns from their existing inventory which could be replaced by new guns in due course of time.

Secondly, the private industry having proved their mettle in putting together the ULH, K-9 Vajra, ATAGS etc, is well poised to join hands with the Public Sector to overcome the glitches and enable the realisation of Dhanush and ATAGS gun systems in a realistic time frame. Thus, a practical number of 100 guns in the first year and approx 150 to 200 per year thereafter is well possible by harnessing the potential of the private indigenous industry. Secretary Defence Production must lead this initiative and set a good example of ‘public-private partnership’ in support of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

Thirdly, ATAGS has been under trials and has fired close to 2000 rounds so far. The system has shown tremendous potential and can become the backbone of Indian Artillery in the years to come. First two regiments (40 Guns) on the FOPM basis can be ready by mid-2021 for exploitation by the user. During the next phase, by which time all validations and trials should have been over, the two DAs; namely TATAs and Bharat Forge, can supply a large number of towed gun systems.

Thus, a serious attempt now to synergise the private and public sectors partnership could well garner up to 100 to 200 guns in the first year and another 300 to 400 hundred guns in the next two-three years.

With changing doctrines and ammunition types, the inducted Guns need to evolve and infuse newer technologies during its life and hence an indigenous Gun will be the right choice. Also, Secure Networking is imperative as the future weapon systems for an Integrated Battlefield Management System is no more a choice. This can be realized only with indigenous solutions wherein we have the total know-how and IP including that of the embedded software.

Import of new gun systems at this juncture will deliver a body blow to the indigenous industry. Having gone thus far on self-reliance, further dependence on foreign industry will go against the spirit of Aatmanirbhar Bharat and at the same time delay making up our artillery capabilities at a critical time.

(The author is Indian Army Veteran and Editor, South Asia Defence & Strategic Review. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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