An ode to the Gunners
The Regiment of Artillery, also termed as the ‘Gunners’ would celebrate their 190th Raising day on 28th Sept. It was on this day in 1827, when the first Indian Artillery unit, 5 Bombay (Mountain Battery) was raised, though Babur was the first to employ artillery in India, in the first battle of Panipat. It has come a long way since its initial raising in 1827. It is termed as the ‘Queen of the battlefield’ and has always been a battle winning arm, in every war that India has fought.
It proved its mettle in recent times, when it was instrumental in destruction of Pak army positions during the Kargil war. Its firepower, mainly by additional inducted Bofors was such that it created panic in enemy ranks. It adapted to its conventional method shortcomings of steel on target by firing directly onto the targets, destroying bunkers and making the task of infantry easier. As per data available, the artillery fired a total of over 2,50,000 shells, bombs and rockets during the Kargil conflict, implying over 5000 rounds being fired daily, with 9000 solely on the day Tiger hill was recaptured. It lost three officers and thirty-two soldiers in the conflict.
Despite being under continuous enemy shelling, the artillery responded to the call of duty. Gun barrels were made unserviceable with the quantum of ammunition fired; soldiers barely got rest nor cared for meals, but ensured that the guns never stopped firing, till victory was achieved. The artillery has always lived upto its motto of ‘Sarvatra Izzat-o-Iqbal’ (Everywhere With Honour and Glory) and the expectations of those it supports, irrespective of its own equipment shortcomings.
Its initial philosophy was provision of fire support to Infantry and Armour when they launched their assaults. With passage of time and development of gun systems, this philosophy changed to ‘destruction and degradation’ of enemy’s combat potential. This implied modernization and upgradation. The artillery required higher calibre guns, delivering greater quantum of TNT with a high degree of precision and at rapid rate, on targets.
However, post the induction of the Bofors, the rise of the scandal over kickbacks, it was ignored. The fear within the UPA on the simple mention of guns was so palpable that artillery modernization was taboo. It did issue a tender for fresh guns in 2012, but soon cancelled them, as rumours of kickbacks again arose.
The outstanding performance of the Bofors during the Kargil war should have set at rest any controversy of its induction, as it remained the mainstay in the battle, being inducted from other theatres, solely to increase firepower and enhance destruction. But it did not. Even after thirty years Bofors remain the mainstay of the artillery. While induction of fresh guns was ignored for decades, other weapon systems began seeing the light of day.
The Pinaka and Smerch missile systems were introduced to enhance artillery firepower, as also the SWATI weapon locating radars. These missiles have longer ranges and would be effective in future conflicts, while SWATI has already begun proving its mettle along the Line of Control (LoC), accurately locating enemy guns and mortars, which are subsequently engaged with accuracy. UAVs for better observation from the air are also now part and parcel of the artillery.
Its lack of modernization over the years worried defence planners. The artillery had limitations in the mountains, where indigenous 105 mm guns whose ranges were limited were deployed. There were no Self-Propelled (SP) guns to support mechanized formations in the plains and the 130 mm guns, some modified with Israeli assistance as SOLTAMS, had outlived their utility. Artillery modernization was behind schedule by over two decades.
The last three years has witnessed the beginning of a change in artillery profile. A number of contracts have been inked in recent times. A contract for supply of one hundred and forty-five M 777 US manufactured Ultra-Light Howitzers has been signed, of which two have already arrived for technical data firing. These guns are light and can be transported by helicopters, hence ideal for the mountains. Seven artillery regiments would be equipped with these guns. Of these twenty-five guns would be delivered in ready to fire configuration and the balance would be manufactured in India by Mahindra Defence. One of the gun’s barrel burst when it was firing Indian manufactured ammunition. Initial reports indicate faulty ammunition.
The Government has also inked a contract for supply of 100 K9 SP guns, being manufactured in collaboration between L& T and a South Korean company Hanwha Techwin, in the L&T plant near Pune. Trials of this equipment have been successfully concluded. While ten would be imported, the rest would be Indian manufactured. These two guns would be ‘make in India’.
Trials are in progress of the Dhanush, a gun based on the original Bofors drawings, being developed by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).It had an incident of a round hitting the muzzle in its final test firing. It was discovered that the gun had a Chinese manufactured muzzle, which was of poor quality. This would be rectified and the gun would undergo more tests before final induction. The artillery is planning to initially induct 114 guns, with a larger order of 300 later, all being manufactured by the OFB.
The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAG) is under development by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) in collaboration with a variety of local private sector units. This gun is presently undergoing trials. In its trial firing, it has already set a world record of firing a shell to a range of 48 Kms. Both Dhanush and ATAG are ‘Made in India’. All gun systems being inducted are of the 155mm calibre, hence would fire similar nature of ammunition. The government now needs to invest in modern technology driven ammunition manufacturing units, to avoid accidents as have been happening with poor quality ordnance factory produced ammunition. These should preferably be given to the private sector with insistence on quality control and time bound delivery. The government should no longer face criticism of the CAG on not ensuring adequate ammunition quantities. Complete induction of the equipment would take a few years, but the artillery is moving towards becoming a formidable firepower provider. Its additional firepower resources include the Agni and Prithvi class of missiles alongside the Brahmos missile system, thus being a major deterrent for any nation with an evil intent on Indian territory. It has also begun contributing in every measure to the ‘make in India and made in India’ concept of the government.
A nations voice in the international arena is dependent of the strength of its economy and its military power. Military power flows from the barrel of the gun and Indian guns are finally moving towards the twenty first century. The artillery must encourage the ‘Made in India’ guns and support their endeavour.
On Gunners day, we wish the artillery, “Good shooting and may you always have the firepower to drill fear into our adversaries”.