In­duc­tion of new ar­tillery shows in­dige­nous prom­ise

Be­sides im­ported guns, a bou­quet of in­dige­nous ones awaits tri­als

Business Standard - - ECONOMY & PUBLIC AFFAIRS - AJAI SHUKLA

For the third year run­ning, new ar­tillery guns have fea­tured in the Repub­lic Day pa­rade, sig­nalling that the Army’s de­bil­i­tat­ing short­fall of mod­ern ar­tillery guns — the most ef­fec­tive bat­tle­field weapon since the Amer­i­can Civil War — could soon be al­le­vi­ated.

The pa­rade saw the de­but of two new ar­tillery guns. One is the Korean-ori­gin K-9 Thun­der self-pro­pelled gun, a 155 mil­lime­tre (mm), 52-cal­i­bre gun that Larsen & Toubro (L&T) is build­ing un­der li­cence in its Tale­gaon plant, near Pune. These guns are mounted on tracked ve­hi­cles to keep pace with fast-mov­ing tanks of the strike corps, pro­vid­ing un­in­ter­rupted fire sup­port even as ar­moured spear­heads move deep into en­emy ter­ri­tory.

Just 100 K-9 Thun­der guns are on or­der, enough only for one In­dian strike corps. With three In­dian strike corps await­ing mod­ern self-pro­pelled guns; the or­der to L&T could well be tre­bled.

Also mak­ing its Repub­lic Day de­but this year was the M777 ul­tra­light how­itzer (ULH) — a 155 mm, 39 cal­i­bre gun, built largely of ti­ta­nium, that is light and ma­noeu­vrable enough for the moun­tain bor­ders. BAE Sys­tems has an or­der for 145 M777 guns but, given the need to equip four re­cently raised moun­tain di­vi­sions, this or­der too could be dou­bled or more.

Mean­while, the Army’s most cru­cial new gun — the Ad­vanced Towed Ar­tillery Gun Sys­tem (ATAGS) — made its de­but in the 2017 pa­rade. The Army could even­tu­ally in­duct over 1,500 of these pow­er­ful, 155 mm, 52 cal­i­bre towed guns, to re­place the old, lighter, shorter-range, less de­struc­tive 130 mm and 105 mm guns that has largely com­prised the Army’s ar­se­nal for sev­eral decades.

For now, how­ever, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) has or­dered just 10 ATAGS how­itzers, shared be­tween the two firms de­vel­op­ing the gun — Kalyani Group and Tata Power SED. The MoD has cleared an ini­tial or­der for 150 guns, sub­ject to suc­cess­ful tri­als. The low­est bid­der will get to build 107 guns, while the more ex­pen­sive bid­der will build the re­main­ing 43.

Us­ing this or­der as a spring­board into ar­tillery pro­duc­tion, the Punebased Kalyani Group has in­vested ~500-600 crore into gun fab­ri­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties. Group chair­man, Baba Kalyani, who had ear­lier bought and trans­ported to Pune an en­tire fac­tory from Aus­trian gun-man­u­fac­turer, RUAG, told Busi­ness Stan­dard he has re­cently bought an­other fa­cil­ity from the UK. “We have com­pleted the ac­qui­si­tion of a BAE Sys­tems fa­cil­ity in Bar­row-in-Fur­ness, UK, which is a sub­ma­rine and ar­tillery plant,” stated Kalyani.

Kalyani, who makes no se­cret of his am­bi­tion to be the Krupp of In­dia, has tasked his en­gi­neers to build var­i­ous guns in or­der to de­velop de­sign and fab­ri­ca­tion skills. Be­sides the on-go­ing ATAGS project, Kalyani Group has al­ready de­vel­oped six other types of guns.

“These in­clude two 155 mm guns — called the Bharat-52 and Bharat45. We have also mounted a lighter 105 mm gun on a truck. We have built three ul­tra­light how­itzers — one of ti­ta­nium, an­other called the Hawk­eye ULH, and fi­nally a 155 mm, 39 cal­i­bre, all-steel ULH,” says Kalyani.

One of these came af­ter Army chief, Gen­eral Bipin Rawat, on a visit to Kalyani Group, won­dered whether it would be fea­si­ble to mount the all-steel ULH on a truck, for mo­bil­ity in moun­tain­ous ter­rain.

Kalyani says he has met Rawat’s re­quest by in­te­grat­ing a 6.8-tonne, all-steel ULH onto a 7.5-tonne Ashok Ley­land car­rier. By March, it will be of­fered to the Army and could go into test­ing.

Kalyani Group is also pitch­ing in the ULH seg­ment, hav­ing de­vel­oped an all-ti­ta­nium ULH that, at 4.8 tonnes, is only marginally heav­ier than the 4.5-tonne M777. Kalyani claims this gun would be­come lighter as de­vel­op­ment pro­ceeds.

Both Kalyani Group and Tata Power SED of­fi­cials com­plain the ~15 crore the MoD is pay­ing for each ATAGS will not even cover man­u­fac­tur­ing costs. But they re­main in the project in the ex­pec­ta­tion of large or­ders ahead.

Mean­while, the MoD is pay­ing the OFB more gen­er­ously — ~14 crore for each 155 mm, 45 cal­i­bre Dhanush how­itzers it is man­u­fac­tur­ing, even though that gun is smaller and less com­plex than the ATAGS. The OFB de­vel­oped the Dhanush from the tech­nol­ogy blue­prints pro­vided by Bo­fors in 1986, and is now build­ing 114 guns for the Army. “Af­ter decades, there is move­ment on mul­ti­ple fronts in ar­tillery de­vel­op­ment. Now let us see how quickly we can get these guns into ser­vice,” said a se­nior Army plan­ner who deals with equip­ment in­duc­tion.

This year’s Repub­lic Day pa­rade saw the de­but of Korean-ori­gin K-9 Thun­der self-pro­pelled gun, a 155 mm, 52-cal­i­bre gun that Larsen & Toubro is build­ing un­der li­cence in its Tale­gaon plant, near Pune

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