Artillery Modernisation is Stagnating

Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory, modernisation of the artillery continues to lag behind. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155 mm FH-77B howitzers from Bofors of Sweden in the mid-1980s. 

Beginning in January 2008, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued three global tenders to revive the long-delayed plans to modernise the Indian Artillery. New tenders were floated for 155mm/39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains. It has been reported recently that the government has decided to buy 145 pieces of the M777 howitzer manufactured by BAE Systems – claimed to be the lightest in the world, through the Foreign Military sales (FMS) route on a government-to-government deal from the US.  

A tender has been issued for the purchase of 400 155mm towed artillery guns for the plains, to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 1,100 howitzers under ToT, in a project worth a whopping Rs 8,000 crore. The RfP was issued to eight prospective bidders including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Nexter (France), Rhinemetall (Germany) and Samsung (South Korea). While the companies concerned have responded to the RfP, no decision has yet been made and bureaucratic delays are once again kicking in. 

Another RfP has been issued for 155mm/52-calibre long-range howitzers – for 120 tracked and 180 wheeled self-propelled (SP) guns – for the desert terrain. As re-trials have not yet commenced in this case as well, it will take almost five years more for the first of the new guns to enter service. The artillery also needs large quantities of precision guided munitions (PGMs) for more accurate targeting in future battles. The present stocking levels are rather low.

The indigenously developed Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher will shortly enter service. A contract for the acquisition of two 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. 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. Both of these will provide a major boost for hitting the enemy at long ranges. It is also time to now consider the induction of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) armed with air-to-surface missiles for air-to-ground precision attacks.
The Corps of Army Air Defence is also faced with serious problems of obsolescence. The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK have all seen better days and need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The Akash and Trishul surface-to-air missiles have not yet been successfully developed by DRDO. The short-range and medium-range SAM acquisition programmes are embroiled in red tape. 
Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.