Artillery modernisation in India implies the largest modernisation of this arm and needs to be given as much, if not more, importance commensurate with the manoeuvre arms it supports. The relevance is more in the Indian context because of the mountainous terrain where it needs to support infantry operations plus in counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations. Unquestionably, artillery units will continue to be used to support the infantry to the benefit of all. It is precisely in these sorts of operation that the new precision of artillery will become more telling and relevant. India has a long way to go in modernising its artillery. Presently, the artillery modernisation plan appears to be stymied. There is an urgent need to provide it an impetus considering the enhanced threat posed to us along a two and a half front.
In Kargil conflict where 100 Bofors guns broke the back of well-entrenched Pakistani forces on high mountain peaks.
The importance of artillery in battle needs no emphasis. What the artillery can achieve in contact battle has been highlighted in the two world wars and more recently, nearer home during the Kargil conflict where 100 Bofors guns broke the back of well-entrenched Pakistani forces on high mountain peaks. But the latter also highlighted woes of the crying need for modernisation of our artillery. Fortunately, India had imported 400 pieces of this excellent gun before the firm was banned. Despite the Rs 60 crore Bofors scam and the freeze on spare parts, India’s holdings could be cannibalised to give the enemy a bloody nose.
No worthwhile modernisation has taken place since then though the artillery is in the process of procuring and developing gun systems, ammunition (including propellants and fuzes), support systems and networking systems in terms of software and hardware which incorporate state-of-the-art technology. Ironically, though Transfer of Technology (ToT) for the Bofors gun had taken place right at the beginning, the indigenous version is being developed now after a gap of two decades.
Concept of Firepower
Although artillery was reportedly used in the Battle of Plassey (1757) and the Regiment traces its origins to the Bombay Artillery formed in 1827, artillery has actually traversed through two centuries of evolution. In recent times, a distinct shift in concept of application from neutralisation to degradation and destruction has taken place. This shift has come about with the enhanced capability of the artillery in terms of reach, delivery of larger calibre and more lethal munitions, enhanced precision system as also greater battlefield transparency. With these enhancements, the artillery is able to strike deep with precision and thus has the capability to degrade and destroy targets effectively. The reach of the artillery is now clearly beyond the tactical battlefield, well into the operational depth with enhanced precision and lethality.
The reach of the artillery is now clearly beyond the tactical battlefield…
The vision for transformation of the artillery includes modernisation of all guns for contact battle, rockets and missiles for degradation and engagement of targets in operational depth, enhanced target acquisition and battlefield transparency through introduction of cutting edge ground, aerial and space-based sensors and integrated and synergised utilisation of firepower and Surveillance And Target Acquisition (SATA) through automated systems – Artillery Command, Control and Communication System (ACCCS), Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) and Battlefield Management System (BMS).
Hardly any artillery guns have been procured since 1980s. The stock of Bofors guns has also dwindled from the 400 imported to below 200. Presently, the artillery inventory is grossly inadequate, both in terms of quantity and quality. The Russian 122mm D30 towed Howitzer has gone obsolete already. The 105mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) of 17-km range has been operational for the past 30 years and there are some 200 cannibalised Bofors guns in the kitty. The modernisation plan has factored in the latest technological developments and is aligned towards the acquisition of modern equipment. To say that there have been slippages in procurement would actually be an understatement but efforts are on to meet the revised timelines. Besides modernisation through procurement of state-of-the-art weapon systems, the army is also working on bolstering its inventory control through indigenous development of gun systems and munitions, aimed at opening up multiple avenues for intake of modern equipment.
One hundred and eighty pieces of 130mm/39-calibre M-46 Russian guns have been upgraded to 155mm/45-calibre by Soltam of Israel. The Army had successfully tried and selected BAE Systems M-777 ultra light artillery guns from the US more than a year ago, including the ‘maintainability evaluation trial’ on behest of the MoD but procurement has been delayed over an anonymous letter alleging bribes. This is a malady that time and again has set back procurements by not only months and years. Many a time it has resulted in the cancellation of a deal with the present Defence Minister’s penchant to cancel deals at the drop of a hat rather than permit the much-needed modernisation and punish those against whom the charge of bribery has been levelled and proved. The practice in foreign countries is not blacklisting but punishing individuals involved and imposing severe financial penalties on the company so that acquisitions and modernisation of the armed forces does not suffer.
Incidentally, with the planned shutdown of the M777 facility of BAE Systems in the near future and the stalemate in India, the deal may be off altogether. This may have been at the behest of OFB-DRDO in light of development of the indigenous 155mm gun but cancellation of the M777 deal would imply setting back modernisation plans of the artillery by yet another few years.
Presently, the artillery inventory is grossly inadequate, both in terms of quantity and quality…
Additionally during 2012, tenders had been floated for 1,580 towed guns of 155mm/52-calibre, 100 tracked guns of 155mm/52-calibre and 180 wheeled and Self Propelled guns of 155mm/52-calibre but the deal for procurement of 180x155mm/52-calibre wheeled Self Propelled (SP) guns was also cancelled after completion of trials though the wheeled Self-Propelled gun is ideally suited for the plains and the semi-desert terrain. The only significant advancement in gun acquisition has been the upgrade of 180 pieces of 130mm/39-calibre M46 Russian guns to 155mm/45-calibre (enhancing the range from 26 to 39 kms) by Soltam of Israel.
The plan to upgrade 480 of these guns again was halted with Soltam getting blacklisted after upgrading 180 pieces. The Mountain Strike Corps, approved and to be raised over the next seven years, would need fielding of requisite artillery coinciding with the progress of its raising.
The Indigenous 155mm Gun
As mentioned above, the Transfer of Technology of the Bofors was available with the OFB. However, the Bofors was not indigenised with the OFB blaming the army for not forwarding such a demand, which by itself does not stand to logic as numerous developments have been done in the past by the DRDO and OFB without prior reference to the armed forces. However, reportedly the technology was being utilised for the production of spare barrels, breech block and certain other critical parts of the gun. The technology was also utilised for production of ammunition.
With a view to open an alternative avenue for procurement of the 155mm gun system, OFB has, in recent times, been given the opportunity to develop the gun indigenously in keeping with the long term aim of achieving self-reliance. The private sector is being extensively urged to source components and sub-systems for this. The initial trials had caused barrel bursts during firing but improved metallurgy should help get over the problem. In the long term, it should be possible to meet the 155mm gun requirements indigenously.