After decades of setbacks and neglect, the artillery regiment of the Indian Army, is gearing up for major procurement processes, to address the short fallings in its war making capabilities. India after a decade of negotiations, has finally concluded a $737 million deal with US for acquiring 145 M777 howitzers from America. This is expected to hurl a new dawn for the artillery regiment which is the second largest arm of the army.
India for close to three decades has failed to induct a single piece of artillery ever since the infamous ‘Bofors Scandal’ surfaced in 1987. The Bofors ghost has haunted every single procurement plans of the artillery regiment, effectively leaving it toothless.
The artillery regiment of the Indian Army is responsible for the efficient operation of field guns, rocket launchers, mortars, missile systems, UAVs and surveillance systems. With unmatched fire power and capable of striking at operational levels, the artillery plays an extremely critical role on a fluid battlefield.
The artillery regiment of the Indian Army is left grappling with an aging and dwindling inventory.
The mainstay of the regiment is the 105-mm Indian field gun which was inducted in the late 70’s. About 200 Swedish-origin Bofors and Russian M46 155mm/45-cal howitzers complement these field guns.
The field guns have served with the army for close to three decades and are fast accelerating towards their decommissioning. The Bofors despite the scandalous start, served as decisive hardware during the Kargil episode. The blacklisting of the manufacturer ‘AB’ has left these guns without critical spares and support systems.
Army after years of diligent planning in 1999, came-out with ‘Field Artillery Rationlisation Plan (FARP)’, an ambitious ‘artillery modernization’ program. Army through this planned to revamp the capabilities of the force and to equip them to strike at the operational core of the enemies.
Modernization of the howitzers has taken the centre stage in this futuristic acquisition program. The army using howitzers plan engage enemies effectively in conventional and close contact battles.
Indian Army in an effort to enjoy unquestioned supremacy in the borders has decided to acquire around 2,820 howitzers. Planners at the Army HQ had pegged the program at a whopping $8 Billion or 1 Lakh Crore.
Under FARP, the army plans to acquire 1,580 towed howitzers, 100 tracked self propelled (SP) guns, 180 wheeled SP guns and 814 mounted guns systems.
After close to two decades of FARP being floated, not a single contract has been concluded. Successive tenders have been cancelled on grounds of corruption or the competitors having failed to meet the demanding GSR of the army.
Now with considerable progress being made on the procurement front, tides are changing for the artillery regiment. The NDA-led government since taking reins has cleared three key acquisition programs which were stuck in eternity since decades.
Towed Artillery Guns
The single largest investment planned under FARP was for the procurement of 1,580 pieces of towed 155mm/52-cal howitzers. These towed howitzers are ideal for operating in the Western sector especially in the plains and are expected to cost $2 billion.
Of the required 1,580 guns, 400 pieces will be acquired off-the -shelf from a foreign vendor and the rest 1,180 pieces are to be locally built.
Several international players in fray to win the multi-billion dollar deal. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a RFP in 2011 under the ‘Make and Buy’ category.
Israel based Soltam Systems, a fully owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, in partnership with Bharat Forge is offering its ATHOS 2052, a new generation autonomous towed artillery gun. Bharat Forge, a subsidiary of Kalyani Groups, is a leader in production of forgings and has developed several gun systems for the army.
ATHOS is a 155mm/52-cal howitzer which is capable of striking targets as far as 41 kilometres away. The gun features an autonomous navigation and positioning capability and these are complemented by a smart ballistic computer. ATHOS is equipped with an integral diesel engine and hydraulic driven wheels for independent positioning. The gun can operate at its maximum capacity with a crew of 4 members.
Nexter systems, a leader in artillery systems, is offering its Trajan towed howitzer in partnership with Larsen and Toubro (L&T). Trajan has been in operation with the French Army.
The gun has a range of 52 kilometres and for better accuracy it is integrated with advanced muzzle velocity radar, an inertial navigation unit and a ballistic computer. The gun features a highly automated operating system that takes care of laying and firing process. The gun can fire 45 rounds in less than 30 minutes and can be operated by a skeletal crew of 6 members.
Mounted Gun Systems (MGS)
In 2015, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, chairing his maiden Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meet, cleared the purchase of 814 MGS at an estimated cost of Rs 15,750 crore. Of the planned 814 guns, 100 guns are to be imported from foreign vendors and the rest 714 are to be manufactured locally under an elaborate ToT agreement.
The 155mm X 52-calibre MGS have a shorter turning radius in comparison to the towed guns and this is critical in the mountains, where manoeuvrability is extremely difficult. These systems also have a high-level of autonomy and shoot-and-scout capability.
BAE systems in partnership with Mahindra is contesting with its ‘FH-77BW L52 Archer’, which is a fully automated 155mm X 52-cal howitzer with an M151 protector remote controlled weapon station.
Mahindra will work with BAE systems to mount the gun one of its all-terrain trucks replacing the Volvo A30D. The gun is capable of firing projectiles to a maximum distance of 60 kilometres (Excalibur rounds).
France-based Nexter has formed a consortium with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and Ashok Leyland for offering its Caesar howitzer. The company lists ‘multi-purpose, mobility, ease of implementation, sustained firing and survivability’ as the key features of Caesar.
The gun has seen action with the French forces in Afghanistan, Mali and Lebanon. It can fire six rounds per minute up to a distance of 42 kilometres. Nexter plans to mount the gun on a Leyland 6X6 Super Stallion truck while L&T will provide critical subsystems.
Bharat Forge with Soltam Systems is offering its ATMOS -2000 howitzer. The gun can fire 80 rounds/hour with each traversing up to 41 kilometres. The gun is uniquely capable of firing the first round within 1.5 mins after being laid at designated area.
Highlight in the MGS category is the Tata SED and Denel Land Systems manufactured Condor T5-52 howitzer. The gun is capable of firing 4 rounds/min and the shells can traverse 40 kilometres.
South Africa based Denel Land systems has provided the G5-2000 gun and muzzle velocity radar. Tata has indigenously manufactured digital ballistic and gun management computers, telecommunication and electrical systems and hydraulic power units for the howitzer. Tata claims close to 52% of the critical components have been manufactured indigenously.
Tracked Self Propelled (SP) Howitzers
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in August 2016 green lighted the purchase of 100 ‘K-9 Vajra’ tracked self propelled (SP) guns at a cost of $750 million. The tracked guns with better speeds and rapid mobility are critical for mounting operations in semi-desert terrains.
For the tender, Samsung Tech Win (STW) had pitched in its ‘K-9 Thunder’ in partnership with L&T. The gun outperformed the Russian fielded 2S19 MSTA howitzer during the field trials.
Vajra is a modified version of the Korean operated ‘K-9 Thunder’ and has incorporated several components to meet the Indian operational environment. The gun can fire up to 6-8 rounds/min and to a distance of 42 kilometres. L&T will manufacture the howitzer at its Talegon plant.
Under FARP, the army had also planned to procure 400 – 155mm wheeled SP gun systems. This deal has however met with limited success following the scuttling of successive tenders. MoD has shown little interest in the program, however, L&T with its ‘K-9 Vajra’ stands to gain if the tender is ever refloated.
The addition of apt artillery systems is critical to boost the capabilities of the army. The government in consultation with all the stakeholders should proactively pursue FARP and provide the army with requisite systems.
© Karthik Kakoor