- Nov 12, 2022
The Indian Army’s M777 ultra-light howitzers. (HT Photo)
The Indian Army on Sunday put up an imposing firepower display at the sprawling field firing range in Maharashtra’s Devlali, with a raft of indigenous artillery guns, rocket systems and ammunition, including weapons, deployed along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) where the Indian and Chinese armies have been locked in a lingering dispute for over 32 months.
The blockbuster demonstration of the army’s capabilities, code-named ‘Exercise Topchi-2023’, by the elite School of Artillery featured several big guns, including the latest 155mm/45-calibre Dhanush towed artillery gun, 155mm/52-calibre tracked self-propelled K9 Vajra-T guns, the M777 ultra-light howitzers, upgraded Sharang guns, the 105mm/37-caliber Indian field guns and the light field gun, and the Pinaka rocket systems (155mm denotes the diameter of the shell and calibre relates to barrel length). HT was invited to witness the show.
The focus of the exercise was to showcase the indigenous capabilities and strides made in achieving self-reliance in the defence sector, said Lieutenant General S Harimohan Iyer, commandant of the Devlali-based School of Artillery. “Atmanirbharta in defence is scaling new heights. The army is ready for any challenge,” he said.
The two-hour display also included the 155 mm FH 77 BO2 guns (better known as Bofors), the 155mm Soltam guns, the 130mm M46 guns, the Russian-origin Grad BM 21 multi-barrel rocket system, unmanned aerial vehicles, weapon locating radars, mortars, helicopters and several surveillance systems. The drills came at a time when the army is pursuing a major firepower upgrade, and is set to induct more artillery guns, longer range rockets and loitering munition to bolster its capabilities along the China border. India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed a $353.5 million contract with two domestic private-sector companies and a public-sector enterprise for the supply of six regiments’ worth of indigenously developed Pinaka Mk I Enhanced and Guided Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) systems to the Indian Army (IA). The deal includes procuring 114 launchers with automated gun alignment and positioning systems (AGAPSs) and 45 command posts from Tata Power and Larsen & Toubro. Rockets are completely manufactured by a private sector organization named Economic Explosives Ltd, which is 100 percent subsidiary of Solar Group.
The artillery capability upgrade will involve induction of more K9 Vajra-T guns, additional Dhanush guns and the new 155mm/52-calibre advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS), Iyer said. Artillery regiments are also preparing to induct longer range Pinaka rocket systems, precision ammunition, loitering munition, unmanned aerial vehicles, and reconnaissance and observation systems to scale up their capabilities to meet battlefield challenges.
Here’s a low-down on the weapons that were deployed in the exercise:
Dhanush towed artillery guns: The gun made its maiden appearance at the Republic Day parade in 2017. Manufactured by Jabalpur-based Gun Carriage Factory, its costs ₹14.50 crore apiece, and has a range of 38 km. The weapon, also known as the desi Bofors, is the first long-range artillery gun to be manufactured in India and is touted as a ‘Make in India’ success story. 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.
K9 Vajra-T guns: The guns have been manufactured in India by private sector defence major Larsen & Toubro and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin. The army has already inducted 100 of these under a 2017 contract worth $720 million, and some of them have been deployed in the Ladakh sector after winterisation upgrades as the guns were originally bought for a desert role. The army plans to buy 200 more K9 Vajra-T guns.
M777 ultra-light howitzers: India ordered 145 M777 howitzers from the US for $750 million in November 2016. The M777s were the first artillery guns to be ordered after the Bofors scandal unfolded in the late 1980s. The 155 mm/39-calibre howitzers can be sling-loaded to helicopters and swiftly deployed to high-altitude areas. M777 manufacturer BAE Systems delivered 25 ready-built howitzers and the remaining guns have been built locally in collaboration with Mahindra Defence under the Narendra Modi government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Sharang guns: The upgraded Sharang artillery guns are an important element of the ongoing artillery modernisation. The Indian army already has three Sharang regiments, it’s raising a fourth one, and eventually plans to have 15 such regiments. The Sharang project involves upgrading the army’s vintage Soviet-origin 130mm M46 towed artillery pieces to 155 mm/45-calibre standard. The upgraded guns have an enhanced range – up from 27 km to 39 km – and better terminal effectiveness.
What’s next: The army is looking at inducting ATAGS by the year-end. The indigenous howitzer was deployed for the ceremonial 21-gun salute during the 75th Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort last year, along with British guns that have been traditionally used for the event. The Defence Research and Development Organisation 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, to manufacture the gun, which has a range of 50 km.
Indian Army puts up imposing firepower display with indigenous artillery guns
‘Exercise Topchi-2023’ featured several big guns, including the 155mm/45-calibre Dhanush towed artillery gun, 155mm/52-calibre tracked self-propelled K9 Vajra-T guns, the M777 ultra-light howitzers, upgraded Sharang guns, the 105mm/37-caliber Indian field guns and the Pinaka rocket systems
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