Ar­tillery Mod­erni­sa­tion: End of Stag­na­tion

In­dia’s fire­power ca­pa­bil­i­ties need to be en­hanced by an or­der of mag­ni­tude, es­pe­cially in terms of PGMs. This will re­quire sub­stan­tial upgra­da­tion of the fire­power ca­pa­bil­i­ties of In­dia’s armed forces.

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In­dia’s fire­power ca­pa­bil­i­ties need to be en­hanced by an or­der of mag­ni­tude, es­pe­cially in terms of PGMs. This will re­quire sub­stan­tial upgra­da­tion of the fire­power ca­pa­bil­i­ties of In­dia’s armed forces.

AFTER A DECADE OF stag­na­tion un­der the two UPA regimes, mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion ap­pears to be pick­ing up pace again un­der the new NDA Gov­ern­ment. The De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC), headed by in­terim De­fence Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley, ap­proved projects worth 80,000 crore in Oc­to­ber 2014. The new De­fence Min­is­ter, Manohar Par­rikar, while chair­ing his maiden meet­ing of the DAC on Novem­ber 22, 2014, cleared the long-pend­ing pro­posal to ac­quire 814 truck-mounted guns of 155mm/52-cal­i­bre for ap­prox­i­mately

15,750 crore. In keep­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s pol­icy to ‘Make in In­dia’, all of the newly ap­proved weapons plat­forms will be pro­cured with trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy and man­u­fac­tured in In­dia. As and when this project be­gins to de­liver, it will add sub­stan­tive value to the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Reg­i­ment of Ar­tillery of the In­dian Army.

Fire­power and ma­noeu­vre are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the two com­ple­men­tary sides of the tac­tics coin. Dur­ing fu­ture con­ven­tional con­flict on the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, largescale ma­noeu­vres will not be 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, In­dia’s fire­power ca­pa­bil­i­ties need to be en­hanced by an or­der of mag­ni­tude, es­pe­cially in terms of PGMs. This will re­quire sub­stan­tial upgra­da­tion of the fire­power ca­pa­bil­i­ties of In­dia’s armed forces. Ground-based fire­power re­sources com­pris­ing ar­tillery guns, rock­ets and mis­siles and aeri­ally-de­liv­ered fire­power con­sist­ing of fighter-bomber air­craft and at­tack he­li­copters, both must be qual­i­ta­tively as well as quan­ti­ta­tively aug­mented. Sim­i­larly, sea-to-land at­tack ca­pa­bil­i­ties must also be en­hanced.

Mod­erni­sa­tion of the ar­tillery has been ne­glected for over two decades de­spite the lessons learnt dur­ing the Kargil con­flict of 1999, in which ar­tillery fire­power had un­de­ni­ably paved the way for vic­tory. Ap­prox­i­mately 400 pieces of the 155mm/39-cal­i­bre FH-77B Bo­fors how­itzers 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 Bo­fors 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 105mm In­dian field gun (IFG) that needs im­me­di­ate re­place­ment. The ar­tillery also re­quires large quan­ti­ties of pre­ci­sion guided mu­ni­tions (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 ob­jec­tives, in­clud­ing the 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 155mm so as to en­sure 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 155mm/52cal­i­bre wheeled self-pro­pelled (SP) guns. The ten­der was can­celled after the tri­als were com­pleted. The con­tenders in­cluded Rhein­metal De­fence of Ger­many and Kon­strukta of the Slo­vak Repub­lic. Fresh ten­ders were is­sued and the pro­pos­als re­ceived are be­ing re­viewed. The pri­mary con­tenders now are the Teck­win ‘K-9 Thun­der’ of Sam­sung, South Korea and the Rus­sian Rosoboronex­port’s tracked gun, which is an up­graded 155mm ver­sion of the 152mm MSTA-S SP Gun.

The sin­gle largest ar­tillery ac­qui­si­tion will be of 1,580 pieces of towed 155mm/52cal­i­bre 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 re­quests for pro­posal (RFPs) that were floated for this project were can­celled due to the cor­rupt prac­tices be­ing fol­lowed by some com­pa­nies. New ten­ders were floated for 155mm/52-cal­i­bre long-range guns for the plains and tri­als have been un­der­way since Oc­to­ber 2013. Tri­als are also re­ported to be in progress for 100 pieces of self-pro­pelled guns for the desert ter­rain. 180 pieces of 130mm M46 Rus­sian guns have been up­graded to 155mm/45cal­i­bre with kits sup­plied by Soltam of Is­rael. The max­i­mum range of the gun has gone up from 27.5 to 39 km. Another 300 guns are pro­posed to be up­graded in due course.

The Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) is also con­sid­er­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of 145 pieces of 155mm/39-cal­i­bre M777 how­itzers of the US-based BAE Sys­tems for the moun­tains through the for­eign mil­i­tary sales (FMS) route from the US in a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment deal. How­ever, the deal is re­port­edly stuck for want of agree­ment on the off­sets obli­ga­tions and up­ward re­vi­sion in the price in­ti­mated to Congress by the US Gov­ern­ment from $647 mil­lion to $885 mil­lion. Also, as In­dia has taken too long to de­cide, some of the fac­to­ries in­volved in the man­u­fac­ture of the M777 have be­gun to close down. If this ac­qui­si­tion falls through, the process will have to be­gin afresh.

In­dige­nous ef­forts to man­u­fac­ture 155-mm how­itzers in­clude that by the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries Board to pro­duce a 45-cal­i­bre/155mm how­itzer based on the de­signs for which trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy was ob­tained from Bo­fors in the 1980s, but not utilised. The DAC ap­proved a pro­posal from the OFB to man­u­fac­ture 144 pieces of 155mm/45-cal­i­bre how­itzers with the op­tion to ac­quire another 400 pro­vided the pro­to­types suc­cess­fully meet the army’s GSQR in user tri­als. The pro­to­type of the OFB gun is un­der­go­ing tech­ni­cal tri­als. Mean­while, the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) has em­barked on its own ven­ture to de­sign and de­velop a 155mm how­itzer in part­ner­ship with a pri­vate sec­tor company.

The ac­qui­si­tion of 814 truck-mounted guns that has been ap­proved by the De­fence Min­is­ter re­cently will be un­der­taken un­der the ‘Buy and Make’ in In­dia cat­e­gory with trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT). While the first 100 guns will be im­ported, the re­main­ing 714 will be pro­duced in In­dia. The to­tal project cost is es­ti­mated to be 15,750 crore. Sev­eral In­dian com­pa­nies are known to be in­ter­ested in the in­dige­nous de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern ar­tillery sys­tems in con­junc­tion with over­seas part­ners. 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.

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 two reg­i­ments of the 12-tube, 300mm Smerch multi-bar­rel rocket launcher (MBRL) sys­tem with 90-km range was signed with Rus­sia’s Rosoboronex­port in early 2006. The Brah­Mos su­per­sonic cruise mis­sile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a pre­ci­sion strike ca­pa­bil­ity, very high kill en­ergy and max­i­mum range of 290 km, was in­ducted into the army in July 2007. Th­ese ter­rain hug­ging mis­siles are vir­tu­ally im­mune to coun­ter­mea­sures due to their high speed and very low radar cross sec­tion. The in­dige­nously de­signed and man­u­fac­tured Pi­naka multi-bar­rel rocket sys­tem is likely to en­ter ser­vice in the near fu­ture. Th­ese three weapon sys­tems to­gether will 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, so that it can be fired from the plains on tar­gets in Ti­bet, is the miss­ing link in plan­ning for a fu­ture war in the moun­tains.

Counter-bom­bard­ment 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, un­der a 2002 con­tract worth $200 mil­lion, Bharat Elec­tron­ics Limited is re­ported to be as­sem­bling 28 WLRs. Th­ese radars will be based on both in­dige­nous and im­ported com­po­nents and are likely to be ap­proved for in­tro­duc­tion into ser­vice after ex­ten­sive tri­als that are on­go­ing. The radar is ex­pected to match the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Fire­finder sys­tem and will have a de­tec­tion range of about 40 km.

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 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 un­der­way, ar­tillery mod­erni­sa­tion has once again be­gun to 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.

In­dige­nous ef­forts to man­u­fac­ture 155mm how­itzers in­clude that by the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries Board to pro­duce a 45-cal­i­bre/155mm how­itzer based on the de­signs for which trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy was ob­tained from Bo­fors in the 1980s, but not utilised.

Smerch 300mm multi-rocket launcher sys­tem

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