Gunners March Ahead on a New Path of Resurgence: A Perspective
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF
The Jinx of Bofors

It was not very long ago when the mere mention of Artillery summoned the unsavoury thought of 'the infamous Bofors'. A gun howitzer which in its aftermath of procurement dried up further acquisitions; for over three decades (1987-2019) there was no induction of any gun platform in the Indian Army. The state of things went by the coinage 'the jinx of Bofors'. Several rounds of Artillery Modernisation Plans attempted at various points in time during the above period drew a blank each time.

(https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&biw=1366&bih=610&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=NwzYXJngOIO-9QPN3JyoDw&q=Bofors+FH+77+&oq=Bofors+ FH+77)

Without going into the multiple reasons as to why each Modernisation Plan came to a naught, this article looks at the present and the foreseeable state of things and attempts to flag the point that Gunners today are marching ahead on a resurgent note with their requirement of multi-platform weapon systems being met both on the indigenous as well as international procurement routes. That said, the article also presents a brief view point on how the Artillery should be seen as a package rather than a cumulation of individual weapons.

To better comprehend multiple-platform gun procurement along several routes, a brief overview is necessary. Very basically, procurement of artillery gun platforms proceed along three different types. These include the towed artillery gun systems for plains and desert sectors, self-propelled (SP) gun systems for providing fire support to mobile and mechanised elements, and howitzers for use in mountainous and high altitude terrain.

Howitzers could be towed or self propelled. Also, for deployability in the high altitude areas, howitzers need to be air transportable. Over the years, the standard calibre for towed and self propelled artillery guns has converged to 155 mm. The barrel length measured as multiples of the gun calibre is also mentioned alongside the calibre while mentioning the weapon platform (e.g. 155 mm 52 calibre). Normally 52 calibre for towed guns and 39 and 45 calibres for howitzers has been the norm world over.

Modernisation Plan Picks Pace

As stated, while a number of attempts were made over the years to break the jinx of Bofors by progressing several plans and packages for the procurement of weapon systems under the generic head 'Artillery Modernisation', none of these could reach the fructification stage for nearly three decades after the Bofors was inducted in the period 1987-1991. Though the requirement for new and modern artillery platforms was felt acutely during the Kargil War, the dry spell of zero induction continued till the procurement drive finally picked up some pace in 2010-2011 when a Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued for 100 numbers of 155mm, 52 calibre SP howitzers.

Four Years of competitive bidding followed involving several Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). By 2015, the competition narrowed down to just two competitors. These were M/s Hanwha Techwin (formally Samsung Techwin) who along with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) fielded K-9 Vajra 155mm 52 calibre SP Howitzers and the Russian Uraltransmash who fielded the 2S19 Msta SP Howitzer. Based on comparative merit K-9 Vajra got selected1.

(https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=610&ei=7BPYXMG_IdKWwgO3x7zACQ&q=k+9+vajra; https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&biw=1366&bih=610&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=YYfeXJHYCNbLrQGQ2p4Y&q=2S19Msta&oq=)

Vajra K-9 Contract and Aftermath


(https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=610&ei=nBXYXMytDcfSvwSyn5bABQ&q=K+9+vajra+SP+howitzer+9)

The Vajra contract was signed in May 2017. Post the contract, there was quick follow up and in Nov 2018, the first batch of Vajra was received by the Indian Army2. When this procurement case was running up its paces, US gifted 115 x M -109 SP Howitzers to Pakistan3. Besides a befitting reply to M-109, K-9 Vajra marked the first major weapon induction, breaking the jinx of 30 years without new weapon platform. More than this, the induction of K-9 Vajra was special in several other ways.

It marked the first ever deal between India and South Korea. It was the first time that a bid under Buy Global led by an Indian defence major (L & T) won a global military tender all on its own. Vajra also marked a huge boost to the Make-in-India initiative. In that, out of the 100 Howitzers under this high value tender of 4366 cr (USD 800 mn) only 10 guns were received in the semi-knocked down (SKD) condition from South Korea which were assembled by L &T, the balance 90 are to be wholly made in India with Indian content in excess of 50 percent. 50 of these Howitzers are scheduled to be provided by Nov 2019 and balance 40 are deliverable by Nov 2020. With this scale of manufacturing in Indian hands, one can imagine the boost it will provide to the private manufacturing capability besides permitting forays into niche technologies, economic boost and more.

Combat Virtues of K-9 and Impact of Induction

As to the weapon system, K-9 is a state-of-the art howitzer with many cutting edge features. One of its unique capabilities is called Multiple Rounds with Simultaneous Impact (MRSI). In that, the weapon is capable of firing three rounds in less than 15 sec. All three will follow different trajectories but will land at the target at the same time. This increases the effect at the target end immensely. Besides a range of 28-38 km, the weapon has good mobility with a power to weight ratio of 21 HP/Ton providing it a capability to move at 67 km/hr with an operational range of 480 km. Other features worthy of note are the modular azimuth positioning system and an automatic fire control system, providing it the capability to deliver accurate fire at a sustained rate of 60 rounds in 60 minutes.

The impact of induction of this weapon system will be huge. The weapon is eminently suited to provide artillery fire support in mobile tank warfare. It will therefore find its rightful place in mechanised strike formations along our Western borders. As per open source information, three Vajra regiments could be allocated one each to the armoured divisions and one regiment each to the independent armoured brigades of the Strike Corps. Talking of the recently evolved concept of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), some regiments could also be allotted to the IBGs. All the above allocations put together indicate a rough total of about 250 guns. While the actual operational allocation is a classified matter, it is for certain that induction of 100 gun platforms by Nov 2020 as per the contract will provide a significant boost in the fire power associated with mobile tank warfare along the Western front.

The M-777 Success Story

Almost around the same time frame as the K-9 Vajra, another weapon system that fructified and coincided in its induction time frame of Nov 2018 is the M-777 Ultra Light Howitzer (ULH) from M/s BAE Systems of USA. Except for its time convergence with K-9 as to the time of first induction, the dynamics of induction of M-777 actually followed a totally different induction trajectory. In that, while the K-9 came in through the formal route of competitive multiple bids as defined in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), the M-777 followed the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route of procurement from the US.

Not very long ago, the FMS route of procurement used to be a NO-GO, as this procedure lacked convergence with the DPP Procedure. Credit must go to the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) to bring about the said convergence. DTTI is an institutional arrangement between USA and India that is aimed to transform bilateral defence relationship into one that is limited only by independent strategic decisions, strengthen India's defence industrial base, explore new areas of technological collaboration and expand US India bilateral ties4. DTTI was meant to be no treaty or a law, it was to be a flexible mechanism to ensure that senior leaders from both the countries were persistently focussed on the opportunities and challenges associated with growing the defence partnership. Later in the day President Barack Obama and Prime Minister (PM) Modi would express their total support to DTTI in their meeting in Jan 20155.

DTTI brought about a thaw and a sort of easing out of the previous NO-GO stance of the US. They seemed to be more forthcoming as regards the willingness to sell and the willingness to part with technologies (of course with due clearances by the authorities that be) by taking part up-front in the procurement procedures. This resulted in making various procurements possible under the FMS route. Induction of US platforms like the C-130, Chinooks, MH-60 R are cases in point besides the major procurement success of M-777 ULH.

Impact of Induction of M-777 ULH

While weapons like K-9 etc are more suited for the plains and the desert sectors obtaining on our Western borders, the void of artillery fire power support was also being acutely felt in the mountainous and high altitude areas obtaining on our Northern and North Eastern borders. It is to address this void that M-777 is an ideal fit.

(https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=610&ei=pZfaXP31I9KSwgOC-7rwBg&q=M777+ultra+light +howitzers +for+india)

With a weight less than 10,000 lbs achieved through the extensive use of titanium components (M-777 - 4281 kg, K-9 47000 kg)6, M-777 is capable of rapid deployment of fire power in distant battle fields. It can be carried by CH-47 E Chinook class helicopters or C-130 aircraft or any other aerial platform capable of a payload carriage of the requisite weight as mentioned above. Battle-tested in Afghanistan, this 39 calibre 155mm howitzer is a highly accurate weapon capable of achieving a range of 30-40 km and a rate of fire of 5 rounds per min.

Much like K-9, there are many special aspects to the M-777 procurement. For instance, it is for the first time that the Indian private sector major (Mahindra Defence) will be producing the complete weapon system end-to-end in India. It is planned that out of a total of 145 guns on contract, while the first 25 are to be received in fully assembled condition from the OEM (M/s BAE Systems), the balance 120 are to be progressively built by the Indian partner M/S Mahindra Defence. To make the above possible Mahindra Defence has set up a huge Assembly Integration and Testing (AIT) facility for M-777. It is estimated that the throughput from the AIT will be five guns per month from Aug 2019 onwards. With this rate the company has set up an challenging target of completing 120 guns in 2 years flat.7

An Emerging Design

A study of the above two procurement set out a design for Make in India that is emerging slowly but steadily. The signature features of this design are as under:-

  1. A strategy to develop a network of Indian suppliers not only for the domestic market but also for the global supply chain.
  2. Global competitive bidding through international best practices.
  3. While some very small quantities of weapon to be inducted in fully assembled/ SKD condition to get traction in the project, the balance major chunk to be fully made in India, giving a huge fillip to the domestic defence manufacturing capability.
  4. Enabling and encouraging Indian majors to lead international bids and aim to win global tenders on their own strength and merit.
The Dhanush Story

The story of Dhanush, the 155mm, 45 calibre indigenous howitzer, is a story of our national pride, which gives credence to the belief that notwithstanding the ominous tag of world's biggest arms importer, India can also be a net exporter on some niche fields; in this case, artillery weapon platforms.

Heritage

The Dhanush owes its heritage to the Bofors gun. Actually, the Bofors deal also included technology transfer of the weapon system to the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Around 2010-2011, when the grim reality of a draught in procurement of any new gun platform was staring in the face, the OFB, based on the technology received from the Bofors and adding to it the domain experience and expertise of serving gunner officers, started to develop an indigenous howitzer for the Services after due approval from the Ministry of Defence ( MoD).

This arrangement worked magic and what followed was a fast-paced development of a howitzer prototype duly catalysed by the implicit hand-holding and pro-active participation of the Artillery Directorate. The platform was offered for user trials in 2016. The trials took place in Siachen glaciated region, field firing ranges in deserts and in the North East. There were number of hiccups and challenges, e.g. barrel getting blasted, defective shells, shell hitting the muzzle on exit, sub-assemblies failing etc. These were addressed through re-design and the weapon reverted for trials. Finally all the developmental trials were finished by 2018 and the weapon was cleared for series production in Feb 2019. Indian Army has ordered 114 guns but this order may be scaled up to 414 guns8. This a huge success after a gruelling uphill run.

(https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&biw=1366&bih=610&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=rpraXP7uOMDjz7sPh5m6wA4&q=Dhanush+howitzer)

The realisation of Dhanush shows a long journey of perseverance, wherein in the development period of 2011 to 2014 as much as 11 prototypes of the gun were produced. On the Make in India front, the gun comes much closer than the previous two described earlier. Not only it is fully indigenous, it has a positive contribution from several public sector majors, BEL, SAIL, DRDO to name a few.

The merits of the gun as developed puts us in the ranks of those countries which pride themselves in their capability to produce a world class and state-of-the-art weapon System. Advanced features of the weapon include it's all electric drives, high mobility and quick deployability facilitated through auxiliary power mode and its inertial navigation based sighting system. The weapon boasts of high accuracy, automatic laying facility, advanced communication systems and a capability to fire the standard NATO 155mm rounds with in a Bi-modular charge system.

Notably, its indigenous content is 81percent which is likely to climb to 91 percent by the end of 2019. Firing a sustained 60 rounds in 60 minutes to a range of 38 km (Bofors range - 27 km) , this long range weapon System is a major success story under the banner of Make in India. It was indeed a proud moment when the first lot of 6 guns were inducted in the Indian Army on 08 Apr 2019.

In the Def Expo exhibition in Apr 2018, OFB exhibited a prototype of the mounted version of Dhanush referred to as Mounted Gun System or MGS. It was a 155 mm 52 calibre weapon System with a range of 42 km. The weapon was mounted in the BEML 8x8 chassis9 which provides a high mobility of a maximum of 80 km per hour on roads and 40 km per hour cross country. With Dhanush and MGS kicking in, our dependence on foreign OEMs is likely to reduce a great deal in times to come.

ATAGS - A New Chapter in Capability Building

While all the weapon types discussed till now were howitzers, there is a huge void in the core 155 mm medium guns. Several attempts over the years and decades to procure a 155 mm 52 calibre standard gun through a process of competitive bidding on the global tender route produced nil results; Nexter from France, Elbit from Israel to name a few.

To fill the existing void in this category, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is a success story. This 155mm 52 calibre weapon has a range of 43 km and can deliver a sustained 30 rounds in 60 minutes. In the intense mode, it can deliver 15 rounds in three minutes. The burst capability is three rounds in 15 seconds. As per open source, the Army's requirement of these type of guns is about 200010.

(https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=610&ei=V4feXKemHMyNvQSsqI3IBA&q=ATAGS)

There are many a firsts about ATAGS. It is the biggest completely indigenous Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project till date which presents a classic case of coming together of several defence majors on a common platform. For instance, the gun barrel is being designed by OFB and Bharat Forge (Kalyani Group), the recoil system of the gun is being made by Mahindra Defence while Tata Power Strategic Equipment Division (SED) is designing the muzzle brake. OFB is the prime integrator.

The Defence Acquisition Council in Aug 2018 has accorded the approval for the purchase of 150 ATAGS at a cost of USD 490 mn ( 3364.78 cr).11 Induction of the weapon System is expected in 2020/2021. An interesting fact came out about the range of this gun. In that, it was reported that in one of the trial evaluation firing at Pokhran Field Firing Ranges the gun achieved an incredible range if 48.074km. This is a world record for this calibre!

While ATAGS is a towed gun system a Request for Proposal ( RFP) already stands issued for a mounted 155 mm gun. This 52 calibre weapon is mounted on the BEML 8×8 chassis and is slated to have a range of 42 km.

Artillery as a Package - a View Point

While what has been said about the guns a and howitzer does point out the path of resurgence which the Gunners are treading with pride, this is not the total picture.

While the guns and howitzer are indeed the mainframe weapons of the Artillery, its requirement canvass extends much further than this. For instance, besides the guns and howitzer alone, Artillery requires a variety of surveillance system by way of weapon locating radars to execute its role of Battlefield Surveillance and Target Acquisition (BFSATA), it requires a variety of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for a host of battle field functions clubbed under one acronym ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance) besides control of gun fire. In order to soften and pulverise battle field targets and prepare the ground for further operations, it requires state-of-the-art arsenal of Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs). The Artillery needs also to complete up-gunning of its lower calibre weapons to the 155mm sooner than later.

Talking of guns, experts opine that keeping in mind the disputed land border of nearly 7000 km with China and about 4000 km with Pakistan. and with a possibility of two-front war, the total requirement of mainframe gun systems is 2000+. This should be provided through a judicious mix of 39/45/52 calibre weapons. Working to this target with a new found sense of purpose and urgency, and most importantly, breaking the Bofors jinx has been very important and timely. That it must be sustained, need not be overstated.

Another major and critical requirement of the gunners is smart ammunition and Precision Guided Munitions (PGM). While it is impractical to suggest that all ammunition must be of smart and PGM variety, the feasible solution will be to have a fair mix of the dumb and intelligent ammunition. Technology today provides multiple solutions where such kits are available that significantly enhance the effectiveness of dumb ammunition. In case of munitions and targeting, it must be understood that the future belongs to precision targeting using artificial intelligence and deep machine learning. In essence there is a requirement to replace mass for effect as regards the munitions.12.

Artillery must be seen as a package and not as a accumulation of stand-alone weapons. It is to be hoped that the current resurgence and forward momentum takes into account the total picture and not a piecemeal weapon or two.

Up-up Gunners. March ahead Gunners true to your motto: Sarvatra-Izzat-o-Iqbal.

References:
  1. "Indigenous K 9 Vajra, India's answer to Pak istan's M 109A5," at www.defence lover.in . Accessed on 30 Apr 2019.
  2. "Indian Army gets new teeth, K-9 Vajra and M 777 inducted," at www. economictimes.indiatimes.com. Accessed on 01 May 2019.
  3. "US hands over used combat aircraft, other weapons, " at www.dawn.com. accessed on 01 May 2019
  4. "COMCASA- The Bigger Picture", at www.vifindia.org. Accessed on 14 Apr 2019.
  5. https://www.acq.osd.mil>us-india-defence-technology-and-trade-initiative. Accessed on 08 sep 18.
  6. "M777 155mm Ultraalightweght Field Howitzer ," at www. army-technology.com. Accessed on 02 May 2019.
  7. "Indian Army gets M 777 howitzer 30 years after Bofors scandal," at www.economic times .indiatimes. com. Accessed on 04 May 2019.
  8. "India's first indigenously built Dhanush howitzer inducted in Army," at www.business-standard.com.Accessed on 04 Nov 2019.
  9. "Truck mounted Howitzer," at www.indiatoday.in. Accessed on 04 May 2019.
  10. "DRDO Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System ( ATAGS)," at www.en.wikipedia.org. Accessed on 04 May 2019.
  11. "Indian Defence Ministry Approves Purchase of 150 Indigenously Made Towed Howitzers," at www.tbe diplomat.com. Accessed on 04 May 2019.
  12. "Future Artillery" Seminar by South Asia Defence Review ( SADR) Dec 2018.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: http://www.indiandefencereview.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Dhanush_155mm-artillery-gun-6.jpg

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
2 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us