India has significantly upped its firepower along its borders in the last two years with the Army inducting a range of modern guns, rocket systems, loitering munitions for its artillery units.
India and China have been locked in a stand-off along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh since May 2020.
The army’s overarching artillery capability boost will involve the induction of more 155mm/52-calibre tracked self-propelled K9 Vajra-T guns, additional 155mm/45-calibre Dhanush towed guns, the new 155mm/52-calibre advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS) and upgraded guns named Sharang, said one of persons cited above on the eve of Gunners’ Day. (Here, 155 mm denotes the diameter of the shell and calibre relates to barrel length.)
Artillery regiments are also on course to induct longer range Pinaka rocket systems, precision ammunition, loitering munition, unmanned aerial vehicles and reconnaissance and observation systems to scale up their capabilities, said a second person monitoring the army’s artillery modernisation.
“The focus is on modernisation through indigenisation. All gun systems procured in the last five years or being procured, are indigenous, except the M777 ultra-light howitzers imported from the US. Some important capability upgrade is planned in the coming years,” he said.
The army is set to initiate the process of buying 100 more K9 Vajra-T guns, manufactured by private sector defence major Larsen & Toubro with technology transfer from South Korean firm Hanwha Techwin (HTW), HT has learnt.
It has already inducted 100 such guns under a 2017 contract worth $720 million, and some of them have been deployed in the Ladakh sector after some upgrades to operate in mountains as the guns were originally meant for deserts.
“The defence acquisition council approval for the additional K9 guns is already there. The acquisition will be faster as the guns are already in service and no trials are needed. The tender for the additional order will be out any day,” said the first person. The new guns will come with winterisation kits, he said, indicating that the army plans to use the weapon system in mountains.
The army has already operationalised its first Dhanush regiment along the China border, and is now looking at raising a second regiment with 18 guns by March 2023, the people said.
“The Dhanush gun system has been inducted and operationalised in high altitude along the northern borders (with China). The gun is an electronically and mechanically upgraded version of the Bofors gun. It represents a huge step towards self-reliance in defence manufacturing,” the first person added.
The ATAGS is undergoing final trials and inching closer towards its eventual induction in the army, the people said. In a first, the indigenous howitzer was deployed for the ceremonial 21-gun salute at the 75th Independence Day ceremony at Red Fort along with British guns that have been traditionally used for the event.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) began the ATAGS project in 2013 to replace older army guns with a modern 155 mm artillery gun. It partnered with two private firms, Bharat Forge Limited and Tata Advanced Systems Limited, for manufacturing the gun, which has a firing range of 48 km. The army order for 150 ATAGS will be split between the lowest and the second lowest bidders in 70:30 ratio, said a second person.
“User trials of ATAGS have been satisfactorily conducted. A few procedural issues are being taken care of. It a good system and worthy and induction,” he said.
The modernisation is taking place under the army’s field artillery rationalisation plan (FARP), cleared in 1999. The ₹50,000-crore FARP lays down the road map for inducting new 155mm weaponry, including tracked self-propelled guns, truck-mounted gun systems, towed artillery pieces and wheeled self-propelled guns.
“The FARP has gone through some reviews. Towed guns are the army’s biggest requirement. These guns will replace the 105 mm Indian field guns and 130 mm guns. The artillery will get mediumised fully (with 155 mm guns) by 2040. The private sector should develop a consortium model to meet the army’s gun requirements,” said the second person. The original FARP sought to equip around 170 artillery regiments with a mix of nearly 3,000 guns.
The upgraded Sharang artillery guns are also an important element of the ongoing modernisation. The army already has three Sharang regiments, it’s raising a fourth one, and eventually plans to have 15 such regiments, said a third person. The Sharang project involves upgrading the army’s vintage Soviet-origin 130mm M-46 towed artillery pieces to 155 mm/45-calibre standard. The upgraded guns have an enhanced range — up from 27 km to 37 km — and better terminal effectiveness.
Rocket systems with better range are also in the works.
“We are raising six more Pinaka regiments with longer range rockets, up from 36 km to 48 km. Then there are guided extended range rockets that can hit targets 75 km away. This is all indigenous. These new regiments will be equipped electronically and mechanically improved weapon systems capable of firing variety of ammunition over longer ranges,” said the third person, adding that the rocket system will enhance the army’s long-range firepower along the northern borders.
Artillery regiments will also soon begin inducting loitering ammunition ordered through the emergency procurement route last year, and the focus will now be indigenising aerial targeting systems, the people said.
The M777 light howitzer has emerged as the centrepiece of the army’s weapon deployment in the northern and eastern sectors to counter the Chinese military build-up, with the gun’s tactical mobility - it can be transported by Chinook helicopters - giving the army multiple options for a firepower boost in remote areas.
Artillery is a battle-winning factor but the army has lagged behind in modernising the crucial combat arm, said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).
“The measures being taken now will significantly enhance our combat effectiveness, especially along the northern borders with China,” Bhatia said.
The army has already operationalised its first Dhanush regiment along the China border, and is now looking at raising a second regiment with 18 guns by March 2023.
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