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India's Artillery Modernisation Programme

As part of its modernisation programme, the Army is acquiring artillery guns in large numbers. This has been necessitated by the fact that since 1980’s there has been limited or rather near zero procurement of new guns. Accordingly, in 2012, the defence ministry floated tenders for the armed forces for 1,580 towed guns of 155mm/52 calibre, 100 tracked guns of 155mm/52 calibre, 180 wheeled and self-propelled guns of 155mm/52 calibre, and 145 ultra-light howitzers of 155mm/39 calibre to fulfil the demands of the Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan.

India’s stock of operational 155mm FH77 howitzers has dwindled down to around 200. Even in the Kargil conflict, concentration of artillery in this sector rendered other critical border areas vulnerable, both on the Eastern and Western Sectors. The extreme steps taken to ensure probity in the acquisition process and the tendency to re-tender when the competition boils down to a single vendor has not helped matters. The main problem with re-tendering is that it takes too much time and by the time new tender is floated the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) become outdated. The only silver lining in the dismal gun acquisition process is the upgrade of 180 pieces of 130mm/39 calibre M-46 Russian guns to 155mm/45 calibre, with the ordnance and kits supplied by Soltam of Israel. Though not the ideal solution this has been a successful venture giving an enhanced range of 39 km from the original 26 km. technologically, artillery guns have stabilised at 155mm. This is believed to be the optimum barrel bore for the best mix of range, lethality and platform mobility. The barrel length is in range of 45-52 calibre. The main highlight of artillery transformation is the advent of the mounted gun system and wheeled self propelled artillery platforms. The mounted gun systems has a high level of autonomy, shoot and scoot capability and has a distinct advantage in the mountains due to its shorter turning radius compared to the towed gun.

Towed Howitzers

The biggest requirement is of towed howitzers. As of now, 400 guns of 155/52 calibre are to be procured through direct sale and a further 1,180 guns are to be domestically produced with $1.8 billion allocated for procurement only. A matter of concern is that earlier when India procured the Bofors gun in 1980s, the Swedish company had also given the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) the design blue prints as part of Transfer of Technology (ToT) arrangement for the guns. Till date, OFB has not been able to produce a single piece worthy of withstanding field trials. The MoD’s procurement procedures have a “Make” category, which has been envisioned just for such projects. Although the OFB has been directed by MoD to produce two prototypes of 155/39 calibre guns for winter field trial in December 2012 and summer trials in 2013, the pace of indigenous production is not enough given the fact that OFB had the technology for nearly 25 years. It is worth considering the participation of private players such as Bharat Forge, Tata etc in the manufacturing process, either singly or in collaboration with the OFB. The Managing Director of Bharat Forge, Mr. BN Kalyani has enthusiastically stated that “There are the DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation), the OFB and other excellent organisations that have design talent and capability. What India lacks is the ability to convert designs into manufactured products. This is where the Kalyani Group comes in. Building an artillery gun system is largely about materials, forgings and manufacturing. Bharat Forge has the capacity to deliver.”

Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH)

India does not have a single state of art ULH in its armoury. The ULH is indispensable in inhospitable terrain, particularly the mountains. The proposal for two new mountain divisions would require arming them with these modern artillery guns to have a meaningful impact. In January 2008, the MoD had floated a RFP for 145 pieces of ULH 155/39 mm towed howitzers. These howitzers will equip seven medium artillery regiments and will cost approximately Rs 3,000 crore. As the wait for modern ULH gets longer, the Army has apparently decided to arm its two new mountain divisions with the old generation 105 mm light field guns (LFGs), which have half the range of modern ULHs as a stop gap measure. The M-777 ULHs will be procured through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme as the standard procedure of issuing RFPs and field trials has yielded no results for nearly four years. One of the factors that has led to long delays is the blacklisting of vendors during a tender competition for one reason or the other. This strategy is not working and the application of financial penalties for defaulting firms should be studied and implemented, in order to save both time and public money.

Self Propelled Tracked Howitzers (SPTH)

The requirement of nearly 100 SPTHs has hit a roadblock after the indigenous DRDO BHIM program (Denel G-6 gun on Arjun tank chassis) was scrapped in 2006 after Denel, South Africa was blacklisted for corruption charges. Even the critics of BHIM had accepted the fact that it was a sturdy and capable machine with lethal firepower. The blacklisting of Denel is another case in point against the punitive practice, as the loser in the end was the Indian Army. Pakistan on the other hand had begun its programme in 2005, and bought 115 tracked M109A5 155mm SPTHs from USA at a very cheap price. The last one was delivered to Pakistan in 2010. Although there are reports of reviving the BHIM project, it is of utmost importance that DRDO be given sufficient support to deliver technology demonstrators, and then let public-private partnerships take over the reins of mass production. 

Self Propelled Wheeled Howitzers (SPWH)

The Indian Army needs nearly 200 of 155/52 mm SPWHs guns, which is ideally suited for the plains and semi desert terrain vis-a-vis the tracked version, because of better speed and mobility. No progress whatsoever has been made so far. The proposal of modifying Denel guns to fit onto TATRA trucks was never pursued unlike the BHIM project. All the tenders have been scrapped, the last one in November 2011. The MoD can look at the 155/52 mm howitzer mounted on an eight-wheeled Tata truck for enhanced mobility. The gun was developed by its defence subsidiary Tata Power Strategic Electronics Division (SED). The ‘mounted gun system’ can fire a six-round salvo on a target 40 km away in less than three minutes, which is pretty good keeping in mind that it has been produced by a domestic private player with more than 50 percent indigenous components.

Other Factors

Apart from guns, the following force multipliers are also crucial:

  • Precision guided and extended range munitions.
  • Forward Observer, ISTAR and C4I capability to accurately direct artillery fire.
  •  Involve and support domestic private companies.
  • Improving artillery command and control systems under the “Shakti” project.
  • Develop more in house rocket artillery and cruise missiles.
  • Enhance capacity of workshops.

As future conflict will take place in a nuclear backdrop, the space for manoeuvre has become limited, leading to primacy of firepower. Artillery being one of the principal constituents of firepower will be crucial in deciding the outcome of future engagements.


The author  is an Associate Fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)




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Raveen Janu
Associate Fellow
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