Fire power is a fundamental ingredient of warfare and Artillery is the prime delivery means in land battles. Technology aside, firepower and maneuver are the two basic elements in a battle. Their comparative preeminence in the battlefield keeps swaying from one to the other in various phases of battle. However, their synchronization is critical to success in operations. More than a decade back, we witnessed the awesome role that firepower plays in the highest battlefield of the world: Kargil.
When India attained independence in 1947 and the assets of the British Indian Army were sub-divided among the two newborn nations – India and Pakistan – the Indian Artillery was composed primarily of the 25pdr guns with a range of approximately 12 km. There were also a few units of 203 mm heavy guns and 5.5-inch howitzers. A sprinkling of other calibers also existed.
105 mm field guns were the first of Artilley guns that we manufactured, followed by its variant the 105mm Light Field Gun for mountains. It served the Artillery for long years. We went on to import Russian 130mm and 122 mm guns. However, globally, and especially in western armies, the artillery employment philosophy evolved and 155mm calibre gained acceptance as the basic caliber for medium guns. We procured our guns ex-imports from Sweden and raised over 20 regiments of 155 mm FH77B Bofors Howitzers.
The Bofors scandal put a stop to any guns being imported for three decades. During this period almost every global manufacturer of guns was
blacklisted, leaving no scope for import of guns. The Indian Army undertook the up-gunning of its 130mm guns with Soltam of Israel undertaking the task. Later, the Ordnance Factory Board took up the modifications. However, no Indian made guns were inducted. The artillery was unable to keep its 155mm equipped regiments at full strength till a big push was given to indegenisation less than a decade back..
The first guns to be ordered ex-imports were the 155mm M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers of US origin. These were a critical requirement for our mountain divisions. A total of 145 light howitzers were ordered via the FMS route.
Meanwhile, L&T, the Indian behemoth, had invested in a state-of-art manufacturing line simultaneous with advanced R&D capabilities. The army dourly needed a self-propelled gun system for its desert formations. This system had to be capable of keeping pace with speed of advance of mechanized formations over desert terrain. Their answer to the army’s requirement was the K9 VAJRA-T: 155 mm / 52 Cal Tracked Self Propelled (SP) Gun
K9 VAJRA-T is an adaptation of the K9 Thunder, which is among the world’s most widely used 155 mm / 52 calibre guns. It has been developed in partnership with Hanwha Defence, Korea. This gun has longer range, and a high rate of fire. Along with L&T, the other major players in the field of indegenised artillery systems are Bharat Forge, and the Tata Group .
In the 155mm guns category Nexter has partnered with Larsen & Toubro to pitch its Trajan 155mm/52 calibre. The Trajan has a total weight of 13,000 kg and can be easily transported by military transport aircraft.
Meanwhile, Bharat Forge has produced a series of guns. These guns cover the entire range of towed, mounted and ultra-light categories. In the mounted segment they have produced guns both in 105mm and 155mm calibres. Initially the calibres were limited to 39, however, they have also produced a 155 mm 52 calibre mounted on an 8×8 vehicle.
The Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd, a subsidiary of Bharat forge fielded the Garuda 105-V2 is a 105mm 37 Caliber Mobile Weapon System. It is an ultra-light gun weighing under 5.5 ton. The gun system is mounted on a 4 x 4 wheeled chassis thus enhancing mobility in both plains and mountainous sectors.
In the ultra-light category, they have produced both 155mm 39 calibre and 155mm 52 calibre. These guns are lighter than most guns available, globally.
In the towed gun category, Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd have produced three variants. The Bharat 52 and Bharat 45 calibre models and finally ATAGS 155mm 52 calibre howitzer. The ATAGS, in its trial firings, has achieved a range of just over 48 km. The gun has a burst rate of fire of five rounds in 65 seconds.
The Advanced Weapon and Equipment India Ltd, previously a part of the Ordnance Factory Board, has designed the Dhanush a 155 mm gun system. When the Bofors 155mm F77B Swedish guns were purchased, the company transferred technology to the OFB. Dhanush design is based on the technology. Over the years, Advanced Weapons and Equipment Ltd has manufactured models in 39, 45 and 52 calibres. The gun was officially inducted in the army in April, 2019, and has gone for series production now.
There has been considerable progress in manufacture of rocket artillery in India. Upgradation of existing muti-barrel rocket artillery has also been undertaken successfully. The DRDO has developed the Pinaca Rocket System with a range of 38 km. An extended range of 75 km is also on the cards. The systems are now being manufactured by the TATA Group and L&T. A total of six regiments have been ordered.
There has been considerable indigenization of ammunition. In an artillery firepower pre-dominant battlefield, ammunition is the critical factor. A gun is of no use if ammunition supplies cannot be maintained. The Ukraine war is a typical example of ammunitions’ critical function in driving an offensive plan or stalling the enemy’s advance. Both sides, Ukrainians and Russians, have had to limit their plans because of lack of ammunition. A major complaint of the Wagner group against the Russians was the dearth of ammunition supplies made available to them.
Artillery remains a decisive element in the battlefield. Should we want to rely on conventional forces that must deter our enemies from resorting to any offensive design, we have to ensure indegenisation of our inventory is pursued in earnest, hereafter. We need to also perceive that 100 per cent indigenization objectives are unviable and imports will always be required keeping in view the scales required to ensure returns on capital inputs called for vis-à-vis imports of certain items.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)