Friday 29 May 2020, 06:42 PM
Artillery Modernisation is Gradually Picking up Steam
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 10/12/2016 12:00:00 AM

Firepower Capabilities must be Upgraded

After a decade of neglect under the two UPA regimes, military modernisation is gradually picking up pace under the NDA government.The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has accorded AON (acceptance of necessity) approval to modernisation projects worth over Rs 150,000 crore. In keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy to ‘make in India’, most of the newly approved weapons systems will be procured with transfer of technology (ToT) and manufactured in India or, where feasible, completely indigenously designed, developed and manufactured.

Firepower and manoeuvre are generally considered the two complementary sides of the coin that represents basic battlefield tactics. During future conventional conflict on the Indian Sub-continent, large-scale manoeuvre that can achieve a military decision will not possible in the mountains due to the restrictions imposed by the difficult terrain and in the plains against Pakistan due to the need to avoid escalation to nuclear levels. Hence, if the laid down military aim is to be achieved in a future conflict, India’s firepower capabilities must be enhanced by an order of magnitude, especially in terms of precision guided munitions (PGMs) that can destroy hard targets accurately. 

Ground-based firepower resources comprising artillery guns, rocket and missile launchers and aerially-delivered firepower consisting of fighter-ground attack (FGA) aircraft and attack helicopters, must be qualitatively as well as quantitatively augmented to achieve asymmetries of firepower. Similarly, sea-to-land attack capabilities must also be enhanced. The firepower assets available to a field commander must cover the full spectrum of the battlefield from the enemy troops in contact with own troops in the forward zone, the enemy’s reserves and logistics echelons such as ammunition dumps in the intermediate zone, to his strategic reserves, marshalling yards, communications centres, logistics installations and headquarters in depth.

Modernisation of the artillery has been neglected for over two decades despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, in which sustained artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory. Approximately 400 pieces of the 155 mm/39-calibre FH-77B Bofors howitzer were acquired over 25 years ago. Though India paid for the designs, the guns were never manufactured locally as commissions were alleged to have been paid and the Bofors scam had brought down a government.

Since then, no new guns or howitzers have been introduced into service. The artillery is now equipped with obsolescent weapons and equipment like the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) and the 122 mm Howitzer, both of which need immediate replacement. The 130 mm Catapult self-propelled (SP) gun is too old to keep pace with modern armour. The 120 mm mortars have also reached obsolescence. The artillery also requires large quantities of PGMs for the destruction of hard targets such as tanks and bunkers and a potent real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) capability. And, in view of their performance in Afghanistan and Iraq, the time has come to add UCAVs armed with PGMs to the artillery’s arsenal. Only then will it be possible to achieve future military aims and objectives, including the large-scale destruction of the adversary’s war machinery.

Large-scale Overhaul

Under the army's Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) formulated in 1999, the Regiment of Artillery had decided to standardise the calibre of its guns at 155 mm so as to be able to engage targets deep inside enemy lines and to reduce the logistics trail through commonality of ammunition. The artillery plans to acquire a total of 2,820 guns of all types to replace obsolescent guns and to equip the new regiments that will form part of 17 Corps, the Mountain Strike Corps now under raising. The modernisation plan had been stymied by the blacklisting of some firms in the fray. One example is that of the project for the acquisition of 180 pieces of 155 mm/52-caliber wheeled self-propelled (SP) guns. The tender was cancelled after the trials had already been completed. The contenders included Rheinmetal Defence of Germany and Konstrukta of the Slovak Republic. Fresh tenders were then issued. The primary contenders were the Teckwin ‘K-9 Thunder’ of Samsung, South Korea, that has now formed a joint venture (JV) with Larsen and Toubro (L&T), and the Russian Rosoboronexport’s tracked gun, which is an upgraded 155 mm version of the 152 mm MSTA-S SP Gun. 

Key artillery issues

Approximately 400 pieces of the 155 mm/39-calibre FH-77B Bofors howitzers were acquired over 25 years ago. Though India had paid for the designs, the guns were never manufactured locally.

The artillery is now equipped with obsolescent weapons and equipment like the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) that needs immediate replacement. 

The artillery also requires large quantities of PGMs for the destruction of hard targets such as tanks and bunkers and a potent real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) capability.

Under the army's Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) formulated in 1999, the Regiment of Artillery had decided to standardise the calibre of its guns at 155 mm. 

However, acquisitions are now moving forward. The DAC has accorded approval for the acquisition of 145 pieces of 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzer, which has a range of 24 km and weighs 4,000 kg. The weapon system manufactured by the US-based MNC BAE Systems will equip seven regiments in the mountains. The proposed acquisition will be through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route in a government-to-government deal. The deal was reportedly stuck for want of agreement on the offsets obligations and upward revision in the price intimated to Congress by the US government from USD 647 million to USD 885 million.  Also, as India was taking too long to decide, some of the factories involved in the manufacture of the M777 had begun to close down. Hence, it will take a few years before all the guns are delivered. This gun will get inter-sector mobility when the C-47 Chinook medium lift helicopter is also acquired – an acquisition that is at an advanced stage of negotiation.

Several Indian companies are known to be interested in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery systems in conjunction with overseas partners. Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155 mm howitzers include that by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) to produce a 45-calibre 155 mm howitzer called Dhanush. This was initially based on the designs for which ToT was obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, but has matured into an indigenous design during development. The gun has a maximum range of 38 km. The DAC has approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture a total of 416 pieces of 155 mm/45-calibre Dhanush howitzers provided the prototypes successfully meet the army’s GSQR in user trials. The gun is reported to have successfully undergone technical and user trials and 18 pieces are expected to be handed over to the army by February 2017 for the exploitation phase. 

The acquisition of 814 truck-mounted self-propelled (SP) guns has also been approved by the DAC and will be undertaken under the ‘buy and make in India’ category with ToT. While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining 714 will be manufactured in India. The total project cost is estimated to be around Rs 16,000 crore. Bharat Forge (partner Elbit of Israel), Tata Power SED (Denel, South Africa) and L&T (Nexter, France) are likely to bid for this contract when the RfP is issued by the MoD. Trials for 180 pieces of 155 mm/52-calibre tracked SP guns for desert terrain have been completed successfully and negotiations are in progress to award the contract to K-9 Thunder, a JV between L&T and Samsung of South Korea. Also, 180 pieces of 130 mm M-46 Russian guns have been upgraded to 155 mm/45-caliber with kits supplied by Soltam of Israel. The maximum range of the gun has gone up from 27.5 to 39 km. India can exercise an option to upgrade another 250 to 300 guns in future as a ‘buy and make Indian’ project.

The single largest artillery acquisition will be of 1,580 pieces of towed 155 mm/52-calibre guns over a period of 12 to 15 years. Of these, 400 guns are to be imported and the remaining 1,180 produced in India with transfer of technology (ToT). Over the last eight to 10 years, several RfPs that were floated for this project were cancelled allegedly due to the corrupt practices reported to have been followed by some companies. New tenders were floated for these 155 mm/52-calibre long-range guns for the plains and trials are reported to have been completed. The two contenders are joint ventures (JVs) between Bharat Forge and Elbit and L&T and Nexter of France.  

The DRDO has embarked on its own venture to design and develop a 155 mm/52-calibre Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) in partnership with Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED, both private sector companies. While Bharat Forge will manufacture the gun, Tata Power SED will provide the electronics. Efforts are also underway to mount a 130 mm gun on an Arjun tank chassis as a replacement for the Catapult, which had a 130 mm gun on a Vijayant tank chassis. 155 mm ammunition is now being manufactured indigenously, but some fuses are still being acquired from abroad.  

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had observed in Report No PA 19 of 2015 that the deficiency in “the percentage of critical ammunition in high calibre ranged up to 84 per cent during the five years period of audit. The critical shortages impacted the operational preparedness and training regimen of the Army.” For over two decades large-scale ammunition shortages have persisted in the army’s war wastage reserves (WWR). These deficiencies need to be made up expeditiously. Also, the holding of PGMs is extremely low. Only 50,000 rounds of 155 mm Krasnopol ammunition are reported to have been acquired around 2000-01. From 30 per cent in Gulf War I, the ratio of PGMs went up to 70 per cent in Gulf War II. In Libya it was almost 90 per cent. In future conflicts on land on India’s borders, the requirement of PGMs will be at least 30 to 40 per cent if the desired military objectives are to be achieved. The acquisition of the required number of PGMs must begin early.

MBRLs and Counter-bombardment

Progress on the multi-barrel rocket launcher front has been better than that in the acquisition of tube artillery. A contract for the acquisition of three regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range was signed with Russia’s Rosoboronexport in early-2006. Each artillery division now has a regiment of this potent weapon system. Three regiments of the indigenously designed 214 mm Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system, manufactured jointly by the Tatas and L&T, have also been inducted into service. While the Pinaka has a range of 37 km at present, the Mark 2 version of the rocket will have a range of 60 km. However, both these weapon systems are not suitable for employment in mountainous terrain. 

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), jointly developed with Russia, has precision strike capability, very high kill energy and maximum range of 290 km. It was first inducted into the army in July 2007. The number of BrahMos regiments has since gone up to three. The fourth regiment to be inducted will have ‘steep dive’ capability for the mountains. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures due to their high speed and very low radar cross section. India should consider exporting the BrahMos missile system to achieve foreign policy objectives; for example to Vietnam.

The Grad BM-21 MBRL regiments, which have been in service for almost three decades, are being given extended range rockets that have a maximum range of 40 km. These four missile and rocket launcher weapon systems will together provide a major boost to the artillery’s ability to destroy key targets at long ranges. However, a surface-to-surface missile (SSM) with a range of 500-600 km, which can be fired from the plains to destroy targets in Tibet, is a crucial missing link in planning for a future war in the mountains.

Counter-bombardment (US term counter-fire) capability is also being upgraded, but at a slow pace. At least about 40 to 50 weapon locating radars (WLRs) are required for effective counter-bombardment, especially in the plains, but only a dozen have been procured so far. In addition to the 12 AN-TPQ 37 Firefinder WLRs acquired from Raytheon, USA, under a 2002 contract worth US $200 million, Bharat Electronics Limited is reported to be assembling 28 WLRs. These radars, called Swathi, are based primarily on indigenous components with very little import content. 20 radars have been introduced into service after extensive trials. The radar is expected to match the capabilities of the Firefinder system and is reported to have a detection range of about 40 km. Two additional troops of Heron UAVs are also in the acquisition pipeline.

Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA)

The Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) regiments are equipped with a large variety of RSTA devices. These regiments hold four types of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), including the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Heron UAV and the short range UAVs Searcher MK I and Searcher Mk II. They are also equipped with the indigenously built Nishant UAV and the DRDO is in the process of developing a MALE UAV Rustam. The SATA regiments also hold ELM 2140 Medium Range Battlefield Surveillance Radars (MBFSR) for locating tanks, vehicles and personnel on the battlefield. In addition, they hold the Long Range Reconnaissance and Observation System (LORROS). While these are functionally efficient systems, the numbers in service are small; this leads to gaps in the surveillance. The requirement is to be able to detect anything that moves, as also permanent emplacements even though they might have been camouflaged well. 

Shakti, the Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS) for tactical and technical fire control is being gradually introduced into service. It has state of the art communications between the observation post and the gun positions and the fire control centres (FDCs) and, together with modern RSTA systems, it will enable the real-time engagement of targets and provide network centricity to the application of all available firepower resources in a sector. Overall, the Regiment of Artillery, the firepower arm of the army, is proceeding gradually but surely towards achieving first salvo effectiveness (FSE) that will revolutionise the engagement of enemy targets in contact with own troops, the enemy’s tactical-level reserves and strategic targets in depth.

Artillery modernisation must be given a major boost so that the army gets the firepower that it needs for future conflict. In conjunction with aerially delivered firepower, the artillery is the only combat arm that can cause large-scale degradation and destruction and ultimately break the enemy’s will to fight. Any further delay in the implementation of artillery modernisation plans will be extremely detrimental to national security interests. With the new projects now proposed, artillery modernisation will once again gather steam. It is important that the combat potential of the firepower provider of the army be enhanced quickly to the levels required to ensure victory on future battlefields. 

Finally, it must be noted that while many modernisation projects have been given AON approval by the DAC, these ‘acceptance of necessity’ approvals merely amount to the first step in the acquisition process. It can take anything from three to five years before a contract is signed after a request for proposal (RfP) is issued, the responses evaluated, JVs formed and technical and user trials of the prototypes are carried out. Hence, it will be many years before the first few regiments are equipped with newly acquired or indigenously manufactured guns and howitzers.

Brg. Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd.)

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, and former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)




Artillery Modernisation is Gradually Picking up Steam


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