Modernisation of Artillery
Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd)
AS PART OF ITS Artillery Modernisation Plan, the Indian Army is looking at inducting several types of howitzers through in-house manufacture by DRDO/Ordnance Factory Board, intergovernmental pacts and global tenders. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of 400 pieces of 39-calibre /155mm FH-77B howitzers with a range of 30-km from Bofors of Sweden in 1987. This gun proved its mettle in the Kargil conflict. After about 25 years of neglect the artillery modernisation continues to stagnate.
Attempts are being made to resurrect and fulfil its long-postponed 1999 Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP), under which the army aims to import, locally develop, and licence-produce around 3,000, 155mm howitzers of various categories to equip 220-odd artillery regiments for an estimated 56,000 to 63,000 crore ($8-9 billion). These include 1,580 towed gun systems (TGS), 814 mounted gun systems (MGS), 100 self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) — all of which are 155mm/52calibre — and 145 BAE Systems M777 155mm/39-calibre lightweight howitzers. Locally upgraded and retrofitted guns will make up additional numbers.
Trials of 155mm towed howitzers of Nexter and Elbit Systems
Trials involving two competing 155mm/52-calibre towed guns for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) 2011/12 tender for 1,580 such platforms concluded in November 2015. The two guns are currently undergoing General Staff evaluation by the army before one is shortlisted and price negotiations begin. Trials for two systems namely the Nexter’s 155mm ‘Trajan’ 155mm/52-calibre howitzer, and Israels ATHOS 2052 gun built by Elbit were required to undergo the supplementary tri- als from mid-2015 after completing desert and high-altitude firings in 2013-14. The army plans to acquire 400 guns under the Defence Procurment Procedure’s (DPP) ‘Buy and Make (Foreign)’ category and licence-build the remaining 1,180 howitzers. Nexter is a French Government company formerly called GIAT has a tie-up with Larsen &Tubro (L& T) and Elbit from Israel has tied up with the Kalyani Group/ Bharat Forge in Pune, but who will be the designated manufacturer of the shortlisted howitzer is presently not known.
Self-propelled howitzers (SPH) K9 Vajra-T:
In December 2015 the MoD began price negotiations with L&T for 100 modified South Korean SPHs, worth around
5,600 crore ($800 million). The K9 VajraT, an L&T version of Samsung Techwin’s K9 Thunder 155mm/52-calibre gun customised for India’s 2012 SPH tender, was shortlisted for acquisition in late September 2015 following trials the previous year. In these the K9 bested Russia’s MSTA-S selfpropelled gun, which had been modified to 155mm/52-calibre standard and mounted on a T-72 tank chassis.
According to industry sources the K9, which is being procured under the DPP 2012 ‘Buy (Global)’ category, will be built at L&T’s Talegaon facility near Pune. This classification permits domestic companies to enter into tie-ups with OEMs to offer cooperatively developed equipment and platforms to the Indian military. The K9 is expected to contain some 13 major indigenous subsystems, including its fire control, ammunition han-
dling, and nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) system and muzzle velocity radar, to help it bypass the 30 per cent offset obligation. Military sources say the SPH deal is likely to be signed during the upcoming financial year, beginning April 1, and includes a follow-on option for an additional 50 K9 guns.
Catapult the interim solution: In the interim the army is expected to induct 40 indigenously developed Catapult Mk II SPHs, which mount a 130mm gun on the chassis of the locally designed Arjun MBT. These will replace an equal number of Catapult Mk Is, designed in the early 1980s by mating the M-46 weapons onto the lengthened chassis of an OFB-built Vijayanta (Vickers Mk 1) MBT.
145 Ultra light howitzers (M777)
In May 2015 the MoD approved the import of 145 M777s along with Selex Laser Inertial Pointing Systems (LINAPS) via the US foreign military sales (FMS) programme. On February 17, 2016, the United States submitted its letter of acceptance (LoA) sanctioning India’s purchase of 145 M777s. Other than the upwardly revised tender price of around 4,900 crore ($700 million), the LoA included delivery schedules, guarantees, and after-sales technical, material, and spares support, BAE Systems is also believed to have submitted to the MoD its list of offset agreements with local companies, valued at 30 per cent of the overall contract value and estimated at around 1,400 crore ($210 million). The LoA also imposed a 180-day deadline on the MoD within which to confirm the deal for the M777s and LINAPS units. The M777 purchase to equip the army’s 17 Mountain Strike Corps, which is presently being raised for deployment along the disputed border with China, has an indigenous perspective. In November 2014 BAE Systems announced the transfer of its M777 assembly, integration & test (AIT) facilities from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to India, and has selected Mahindra Defence as its local partner to operationalise the programme, ahead of signing the deal. However, some key elements of the M777 will continue to be sourced from the BAE Systems facility at Barrow-in-Furness in the United Kingdom. Military sources say the M777 numbers could increase to 350-400 units.
The M777 matches the firepower of current generation 155mm towed systems at less than half the weight. The howitzer is equipped with a 39-calibre barrel. The muzzle velocity (at charge 8 super) is 827m/s. The maximum firing range is 24.7 km with unassisted rounds and 30 km with rocketassisted rounds.
Excalibur munitions: The M777A2 can fire the Raytheon/Bofors XM982 Excalibur GPS/inertial navigation-guided extended-range 155mm projectiles using the modular artillery charge systems (MACS). Excalibur has a maximum range of 40 to 57 km and accuracy of 10 m. The M777 is able to deliver up to five rounds a minute under intense firing conditions and is able to provide a sustained rate of fire of two rounds a minute.
Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155mm howitzer (Dhanush)
OFB have been tasked to produce a 45-calibre 155mm howitzer based on the transfer of technology (ToT) obtained from Bofors in the 1980s. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 pieces of 155mm/45calibre howitzers with the option to acquire another 400 provided the prototypes successfully meet the army’s GSQR in user trials. Meanwhile, the 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
This has been approved by the DAC in November 2014 will be undertaken under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ category with ToT. While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining 714 will be produced in India. Tata Power SED with its 155mm truck mounted gun system and L&T-Ashok Leyland-Nexter with their 155mm gun are among the private companies in India that are likely to submit proposals for the project, as reported by the media. The total project cost is estimated to be 15,750 crore.
The Defence Acquisition Council 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.
(Top) M777 Howitzer (Above) Dhanush 155mm 45-calibre gun