With changes in policy clearly stating that in all future acquisitions of defence equipment, the first priority would be given to Indian companies both private and public, a number of private companies such as L&T, Bharat Forge, Mahindra Defence Systems, Tata Powers and Punj Lloyd have taken the plunge and are forging JVs with renowned global defence equipment manufacturing companies especially those related to manufacture of 155mm/52 caliber artillery Howitzers of all types. There is also an urgent need to quickly revise the present blacklisting policy of the government which is retrograde in its application and is doing more harm than good to the procurement process. Imposing of severe financial penalties on the company rather than banning, would yield better results and ensure that the acquisition of major/critical weapon systems does not suffer – an existing practice in many countries. The Naresh Chandra Committee on defence reforms has addressed this issue and the Government must act on it.
Presently, the artillery inventory is grossly inadequate both in quantity and quality…
Both Napoleon and Stalin, in their respective time in history, have extolled the decisive role of artillery in war fighting. This fact remains relevant even today as firepower especially artillery continues to play a significant battle winning role in modern warfare. In the Indian context, this fact was amply demonstrated during the Kargil conflict. But despite the lessons of history and the imperatives to transform well recognised, the Regiment of Artillery’s modernisation plans continue to stagnate.
In the last 26 years, India has not bought even a single gun after the then Government of Rajiv Gandhi was hit by a pay-off scandal over the procurement of Bofors guns. The major reason has been the numerous defence related scams, leading the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to display an extreme risk-averse behavior, resulting in the blacklisting of some of the major players in the world market, producing state-of-the-art modern artillery gun systems. The latest in this sordid saga is the uncertainty in the acquisition of the 145 BAE Systems M777 Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH), being acquired through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route with the United States. While the trials were completed almost a year and a half ago, the process for finalisation of the project seems totally stagnant with the MOD maintaining a stoic silence. This despite the fact that the Maintainability Evaluation trials were carried out at its behest in January 2013 – this in actuality constitutes the final round of trials in the procurement process of any military equipment.
In the absence of any communication from the MOD and with no other orders in the pipeline, the BAE Systems has been forced to shut down its M777 facility located in England in October last year. This facility catered to 30 per cent of the gun’s manufacture mechanism. As per reports, BAE Systems is also seriously looking at the option of closing down its main facility in the US by March 2014, in case no further progress is made. This is a major setback to the artillery modernisation process as this was the Army’s priority project, keeping in mind the raising of the new Mountain Strike Corps and the long outstanding inadequacy of artillery on our Eastern and Northern borders. This development has followed closely on the heels of the scrapping of another important project involving the acquisition of 180x155mm/52 caliber wheeled Self Propelled (SP) guns after completion of trials.
The wheeled Self-Propelled gun is ideally suited for the plains and the semi-desert terrain…
The cancellation has been attributed to the guns not meeting certain technical parameters, but more importantly, due to infirmities noticed in the trial process itself. In the fray were German – Rheinmetall Defence’s Wheeled Gun and Slovakia – Konstrukta’s Zuzana. Rheinmetal Defence was subsequently blacklisted by the MOD for its dealings related to acquisition of some air defence equipment. The result is that the second largest arm of the army after the Infantry continues to be a victim of repeated setbacks causing it to remain the most obsolescent wing of the army with serious operational implications.
Presently, the artillery inventory is grossly inadequate both in quantity and quality. It has in its inventory six different caliber guns, most of which are either obsolescent or reaching obsolescence. While the Russian origin 122mm D30 towed Howitzer mainly deployed in the plains is already obsolete, the 105mm Indian Field Gun (IFG), the mainstay of the artillery and in service for the last three decades, is nearing obsolescence. Furthermore, its limited range of 17 km is almost irrelevant in the present and future battlefield environment where guns with 40 to 50 km range would be the need of the day. Most of the armies in the world are today even looking at Mortars with enhanced ranges of 12 to 14 km. The strength in terms of numbers of the 400xFH 77B (Bofors) guns bought in 1986, is down to approximately half owing to non-availability of spares.
There has been some progress in the acquisition and indigenous production of surveillance and target acquisition equipment, rocket artillery and missiles…
The above facts clearly highlight the current inadequacies of the artillery, with its modernisation and acquisition process in total disarray. The state of ammunition of the main weapon of the artillery continues to be a cause of serious concern. This aspect was amply highlighted by the erstwhile COAS General V.K Singh in his letter to the Prime Minister during his tenure, expressing serious security concerns regarding the shortage of ammunition. The situation has not changed since then. The only silver lining in this dismal gun acquisition stalemate has been the upgrade of 180 pieces of 130 mm/39 caliber M46 Russian guns to 155mm/45-caliber by the firm Soltam of Israel.
The plan was to upgrade a total of 480 guns but with Soltam getting blacklisted by the MOD during this period, the process to upgrade the remaining 300 guns came to naught. Despite the initial teething problems, this has been a fruitful venture giving the upgraded gun an enhanced range of 39 km from its original 26 and providing commonality of ammunition with the 155mm Howitzers planned for acquisition. There has been some progress with regards to the acquisition and indigenous production of surveillance and target acquisition equipment (UAVs and gun locating radars), rocket artillery (Smerch & Pinaka) and missiles (Brahmos) but these are only in limited numbers and nowhere near the envisaged requirement.
Developments in technology in the last couple of decades have made firepower more devastating in its application and has led to the most dramatic enhancements in the capability of the artillery. This has extended the effective reach (range and lethality) of the land forces to almost limitless levels. Sophisticated surveillance systems now permit the exploitation of extended reach of artillery platforms and advanced communications allow the application over the widest possible envelop almost instantaneously.
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. In terms of barrel length, 45 to 52 caliber is the trend though it appears that the 52 caliber is what most gun manufacturers will eventually offer. This gun is becoming the mainstay of most modern armies and hence the decision of the Indian Army to acquire these is appropriate. A few variants to the standard towed and Self-Propelled – tracked have also emerged in the last decade and a half, in the form of the mounted gun system and Self-Propelled – wheeled which offer specific terrain related advantages.
Rocket artillery in the last three decades has also evolved into a spectacular weapon platform. The caliber has increased to 300mm and range close to 120 km and with advanced smart ammunition, its accuracy and lethality has multiplied manifold. Rocket artillery has become highly lethal as also extremely versatile with capability to fire both rockets and missiles. The weapon of the artillery is ammunition; enormous advancements have taken place in the accuracy and lethality of artillery ammunition. The need for ammunition now is to attain higher range, greater variety and a higher degree of precision (smart ammunition).
The main highlight is the inclusion of the mounted gun system and wheeled Self-Propelled artillery platforms…
The Indian Army’s decision in favour the 155mm gun was taken in this background while also keeping in mind the threat perceptions and the terrain obtaining on the borders, especially at high altitudes. The aim was to achieve enhanced ranges, equipment standardisation and most importantly, the commonality of ammunition thereby reducing the colossal logistics problem of maintenance, spares and ammunition handling. The artillery’s modernisation programme includes purchase and manufacture of towed, mounted and ultra-light Howitzers as well as Self-Propelled artillery both tracked and wheeled, Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers, missiles, surveillance and counter bombardment equipment and most important of all, the ammunition and communication equipment.
The main highlight is the inclusion of the mounted gun system and wheeled Self-Propelled artillery platforms. The mounted gun system provides a high level of autonomy and shoot-and-scoot capability and has a distinct advantage in the mountains due to its shorter turning radius compared to the towed gun. The wheeled Self-Propelled gun is ideally suited for the plains and the semi-desert terrain vis-a-vis the tracked version providing better speed and mobility at lesser costs. While modernisation related to rocket artillery (Smerch & Pinaka), missiles (Prithvi, Agni and Brahmos) and surveillance equipment (UAVs and Weapon Locating Radar) is progressing satisfactorily, the main concern and problem area remains the stagnation in the induction of roughly 2820 guns/Howitzers of all types.
The Indian artillery modernisation process is a long story of tenders/re-tenders and trials/re-trials. The principal project to buy 400x155mm/52 caliber towed guns followed by the indigenous manufacture of another 1,180 guns had been mired in controversy for a long period of time. However, finally there is some light at the end of the tunnel. As per reports, the MOD has revised its procurement policy to give priority to Indian companies both private and public in defence acquisition, with emphasis on indigenous production. In view of this a number of private players are taking a calculated plunge into this arena. Major private companies such as Bharat Forge, Tata Powers and Larsen & Toubro, have shown an interest in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery gun systems and are reportedly entering into Joint Ventures with foreign companies such as French Nexter, Korean Samsung Teckwin Israeli Elbit and South African Denel (even though presently blacklisted), who already have the expertise and technology in the manufacturing of such gun systems. Trials are already in progress with Elbit Systems (earlier Soltam) ATHOS 155/52 caliber and Nexters TRAJAN 155/52 caliber Towed Gun Systems.
The Indian artillery modernisation process is a long story of tenders/re-tenders and trials/re-trials…
As per reports, the trials are expected to be completed early next year. The outstanding feature of these trials is the involvement of Indian private sector defence companies who have tied up with the foreign vendors making this project in the category of ‘Buy and Make-Indian’. In the above case, Bharat Forge has tied up with Elbit and Larson & Toubro with Nexter. This is a positive development and with the Indian Companies playing a key role in these ventures, there should be no scope for a rollback.
The Mounted Gun System is another important project involving off-the-shelf purchase of 200x155mm/52 caliber guns, followed by the indigenous manufacture of another 614 mounted gun systems. Available in the world market are Sweden’s Archer, French Caeser, Bosnia’s Nora Gun System and the latest Indian entry, the Tata Power SED gun system. This system has its inherent advantages over the towed guns in mountainous terrain and today is the mainstay equipment of many western nations. Both Caeser and Archer are combat proven gun systems having seen service in Afghanistan. Other private players are also likely to stake their claim in this project. There has been no progress on this project so far.
With regard to the tracked systems, the earlier trials of the 155m/52 caliber SP guns came to naught due to the blacklisting of Denel (South Africa). Fresh tenders were issued and the good news is that the trials have commenced. In the fray are the Korean Samsung Teckwin ‘K-9 Thunder’ and Russian Rosoboron Export’s tracked gun – an upgraded version of the MSTA-S SP Gun. In this case, Larsen & Toubro has tied up with Samsung Techwin in fielding the K-9 Thunder SP Gun. The guns are presently undergoing winter trials with the summer trials already completed. There is a requirement of 100x155mm/52 caliber tracked SP guns. The wheeled SP guns project is already a dead case as brought out earlier and there is likely to be no further progress on the issue for the time being.
The induction of Smerch MBRL (two regiments) with a range of 90 km and Pinaka MBRL (indigenous production) with 40 km range as well as the Brahmos tactical cruise missile will certainly provide a major boost to artillery’s capability for depth battle but they can, in no way, replace the requirement of guns/Howitzers which are essential for fighting close and contact battle.
Some very significant developments have taken place in recent years in order to meet the immediate inescapable operational requirements of artillery deployment on our Northern and Eastern borders. First, the defence ministry has given the approval for upgunning of 300 additional 130mm/39 caliber guns to 155mm/45 caliber with the participation of the private sector in the tender process. The private industry has been approached to undertake this project in collaboration with a foreign vendor right from providing the required ordnance and accessories to the upgunning. Companies such as Tata, Larson & Toubro (L&T) and Bharat Forge are some of the private venders likely to be involved in this venture. While a suitable step to tide over the current criticality, it is an interim solution and must be seen in that context.
The defence ministry has given the approval for upgunning of 300 additional 130mm/39 caliber guns to 155mm/45 caliber…
The second development is the manufacture of an indigenous version of the 155mm Bofors Howitzer by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Though the blueprints of the Bofors gun design have been available with the OFB under the original Bofors contract, the ghost of Bofors had precluded any effort towards using the same, being a political bomb, despite the exceptional performance of these guns in the Kargil war. However, keeping in mind the criticality of the situation the MOD finally relented and asked the OFB to develop the indigenous version of the Bofors gun. Basically this is an upgunned version (45 caliber) of the existing Bofors gun and has a range of approximately 38 km. The OFB has developed two such guns which have undergone extensive test firing at Pokhran and Balasore ranges.
The Army is conducting user trials on a fast track basis so that manufacturing can commence at the earliest. However, ; there was a minor setback due to a barrel burst during trials, but the same has been resolved. As per reports, indent has been placed on the OFB by the MOD for 200 Howitzers to ensure it can start bulk production after completion of user trials. Follow on orders could be placed based on the performance of the gun. While this is a welcome development, it is not the ideal solution as technology in the development of guns/ Howitzers has moved to an altogether different level, way beyond the technology of the 1980s and the modernisation focus must remain on the 155mm/ 52 caliber guns.
Till recently, the manufacturing of weapon systems was the sole preserve of the DRDO and Defence Public Sector Undertakings such as the OFB, who had the technological infrastructure and related facilities. However, with the Government’s decision to involve the private sector in defence production and the focus on indigenisation, this exclusive preserve is now been threatened. Case in point is the development of 155mm/52 caliber truck mounted gun Howitzer by Tata Power SED in collaboration with a foreign company Denel Land Systems of South Africa. Tata Power claims this Gun System has an indigenous content of 53 per cent and has gone through firing trails in a third country where it attained a range of 40 kms. The weapon system is mounted on a customised 8×8 truck from Tata Motors providing excellent mobility in all types of terrain. As per reports, Tata Power has approached the MOD for being given a chance for proving their gun in India.
The manufacturing of weapon systems was the sole preserve of the DRDO and Defence Public Sector Undertakings…
With changes in policy clearly stating that in all future acquisitions of defence equipment, first priority would be given to Indian companies both private and public, a number of private companies such as L&T, Bharat Forge, Mahindra Defence Systems, Tata Powers and Punj Lloyd have taken the plunge and are forging JVs with renowned global defence equipment manufacturing companies, especially those related to manufacture of 155mm/52 caliber artillery Howitzers of all types.
There is also an urgent need to review the present blacklisting policy of the government which is retrograde in its application and is doing more harm than good to the procurement process. Imposing of severe financial penalties on the company rather than banning, would yield better results and ensure that the acquisition of major/critical weapon systems does not suffer – an existing practice in many countries. The Naresh Chandra Committee on defence reforms has addressed this issue and the Government must act on it.
The present situation is showing some signs of improvement with the trials of the Towed and Tracked 155/52 caliber Howitzers in progress. However, keeping in mind the outcome of earlier trials, it is a process of ‘wait and watch’. A number of tenders have been scrapped in the final stages of the acquisition process. There is an urgent need to upgrade/modernise the artillery and ensure accelerated acquisitions to effectively redress the balance especially with the adversary in the North. The MOD needs to guard against the game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ being played frequently in the procurement process where there are plenty of snakes but no ladders.