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.
Surveillance and Target Acquisition
The purpose of all surveillance is to direct enemy assets for subsequent destruction. Sensors, therefore, must have total synergy with the associate firepower vectors. This is the essence of all firepower employment philosophy. The aim is to shorten the OODA loop so as to overtake the enemy’s OODA cycle. The thought of bifurcating surveillance from firepower assets is indeed misplaced and would place any army at a disadvantage in future wars. In the fields of surveillance and target acquisition, the artillery already has UAVs, BFSR and the LORROS. Additionally, plans exist to acquire sensors for persistent aerial surveillance. The artillery is also looking for upgrades in existing equipment to include the electronic theodolite, inertial navigation system, sound ranging systems and lighter Weapon Locating Radar (WLR) system.
The army’s artillery philosophy includes having a credible capability of various UAV systems to ensure depth of tactical, operational and strategic areas of operations…
The army’s artillery philosophy includes having a credible capability of various UAV systems to ensure battlefield transparency, target acquisition, direction of own artillery fire, target designation and post strike damage assessment across the frontage and depth of the tactical, operational and strategic areas of operations. UAVs have immense potential for operations in conventional as well as counter insurgency/counter terrorist operations, plus in disaster management roles. The stand-off capabilities of UCAVs to undertake surgical strikes in depth are immense. UCAVs are very much on the artillery’s wishlist and should materialise in the near future, depending upon the budget and priorities accorded.
The ACCCS was the first information system to have been introduced into the Indian Army and it has been a landmark achievement for the artillery in its quest for network centricity. The system has greatly enhanced the artillery’s capability to deliver highly accurate and responsive firepower. Fielding of the equipment has brought forth many challenges which are being addressed quite successfully. Some of these challenges relate to the types of communication equipment being used, as also integration of with other networks.
At the moment, innovative methods are being used to address these challenges since their eventual resolution lies in final fielding of the Tactical Communication System (TCS) and other components of army’s Tactical Command, Control and Communication (TAC C3I) system, particularly the BSS, Battlefield Management System (BMS) and the Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS) all of which will take considerable time. Most of the ‘new generation’ guns available worldwide are equipped with integrated fire control and communications systems which enable them to function as autonomous units. All the new generation guns which are under procurement or being developed too are envisaged to have these capabilities. This, however, does not take away the capability to also control them at the battery level, which is required and provides inherent flexibility to the system.
The Indian Army has successfully employed the concept of Artillery Divisions, formations to support Strike Corps operations. In vogue for the past few years, this concept has been highly successful. It has provided a flexible, responsive and effective organisation at theatre level to plan, coordinate, employ and exploit firepower to optimise effectiveness. The concept has been a force multiplier, adding a new dimension to the concept of employment of artillery, rockets, missiles and long range guns with a variety of ammunition including precision guided ammunition grouped in the Artillery Division. It has also provided the capability to concentrate firepower for the conduct of tactical degradation operations as well as fire support to the formations as part of the overall theatre plan.
The artillery in the Indian context needs to support infantry operations plus in counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations.…
Gun versus Rockets
The gun versus rocket debate has been ongoing in all armies including in India albeit there is very little difference between the effectiveness of rockets and conventional artillery. Conventional artillery like the Multiple Rocket Launching System (MLRS) too has acquired a fair amount of mobility. Both are capable of finding a suitable firing point, setting up quickly, releasing an accurate and concentrated payload over a period of time and then dispersing from the area before being detected and hit with counter-fire.
At the same time, armies are considering the two systems side-by-side looking at the advantages and disadvantages of both. Advantages of artillery guns are cheap ammunition, the ability to use GPS rounds for accuracy, faster reloads, high rate of fire, ability to sustain fire over long periods, Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) capability and a large variety of ammunition and calibre available. At the same time, issues with the artillery guns are long barrel needed restricting movement, heavy weight of barrel and breach given the need for pressure containment, high recoil that must be absorbed and the tone of blast can easily be detected by counter bombardment devices.
In case of the MLRS, the plus points are high first hit probability, large projectile with large explosive force than an artillery shell, quick initial deployment; quick getaway, potential to ‘fire’ rockets as UAVs fitted with camera to locate and then destroy target – as being developed in advanced armies, MRSI impact capability, potential for larger rockets to have greater range and payload (more than that of conventional artillery) and the potential to engage air targets. On the other hand, what can be considered as negatives in the case of MLRS are easily detectable contour trails once rockets are fired, expensive munitions, time consuming reloads, back blasts, high technology involved has more chances of system failure and relatively limited range of munitions are compared to artillery.
The artillery and rocket systems have two very different purposes on the contemporary battlefield. The MLRS is slightly more versatile since it has the future potential for engaging air targets, even incoming munitions and a larger rocket can have more range and impact than a shell as there is a limit to the effective area of an artillery shell. The rocket is, therefore, a useful multi-role platform, capable not only of ground bombardment but also hitting aerial targets and incoming munitions. At the same time, artillery is far better in providing sustained fire on a ground target, and particularly when used in larger numbers field guns can have a devastating impact with their fire deflating the enemy’s resources. Given the recent technological leaps with regards to aiming devices and self-propelled artillery vehicles, the accuracy of artillery does not really require very expensive rounds. Both systems clearly have advantages and disadvantages. Like any weapons system they must be deployed for the tasks most suited to them.
Much of the developments in artillery technology the world over are related to munitions and allied equipment…
Much of the developments in artillery technology the world over are related to munitions and allied equipment. We are in the process of procuring and developing gun systems, ammunition including propellant and fuzes, support systems and networking resources in terms of software and hardware which incorporate state-of-the-art technology. Indigenous efforts should be able to provide modern surveillance equipment, UAVs and communication equipment. There has been 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.
At present, laser designated precision ammunition is held by our artillery. There are plans to induct more precision ammunition like sensor fuzzed munitions, terminally guided munitions and trajectory correctable munitions – acquisition of which will depend upon the pace of procurement. However, in the pursuit of self-reliance it would be prudent not to rely solely on the OFB. Simultaneously, we must speedily form Joint Ventures (JVs) between India and foreign firms that have been dealing with gun systems development or have the potential to do so.
Artillery modernisation is a major programme in the Indian Army and needs to be given as much importance if not more in comparison 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.