Indian Artillery: The arm of decision is lagging behind in its modernisation drive

Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict about the battle winning role played by firepower in modern wars, modernisation plans of the Regiment of Artillery have been stagnating for long. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of about 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155mm FH-77B howitzers with a range of 30 km from Bofors of Sweden in the mid-1980s. Though the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued several global tenders to revive long-delayed plans to modernise the Indian artillery, for one reason or the other, the acquisition process has not made much headway. 
Since the Bofors 155mm Howitzer was introduced into service, the indigenously designed and manufactured 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) and its light version, the Light Field Gun (LFG), have also joined the list of guns and howitzers heading for obsolescence. Approximately 180 pieces of 130mm M46 Russian medium guns have been “up-gunned” to 155mm calibre with ordnance supplied by Soltam of Israel. The new barrel length of 45-calibres has enhanced the range of the gun to about 40 km with extended range ammunition. 
The probability of the next conventional war breaking out in the mountains is far higher than that of a war in the plains. With this in view, the artillery recently conceptualised a requirement for an ultra light-weight towed howitzer of 155mm calibre for employment in the mountains. In January 2008, the MoD had floated a Request for Proposal (RfP) for 145 pieces of ultra-light 155mm towed howitzers for use by the Indian Army’s mountain formations. 145 howitzers will equip seven medium artillery regiments and will cost approximately Rs 3,000 crore. This howitzer, manufactured by BAE Systems, has been trail evaluated and is likely to be acquired through the direct Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US government. 
The MoD has floated a global tender for the purchase of 180 wheeled self-propelled 155mm guns for around Rs 4,700 crore for employment by mechanised forces in the plains and semi-desert sectors. An RfP has also been issued for 400 155mm towed artillery guns for the artillery, to be followed by the indigenous manufacture of another 1,100 howitzers, in a project worth approximately Rs 8,000 crore. The RfP was issued to eight prospective bidders including BAE, General Dynamics, Nexter (France), Rhinemetall (Germany) and Samsung (South Korea).
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 (ToT) was obtained from Bofors in the 980s, but no utilised. It has been reported that the Defence Acquisition Council has approved a proposal for the OFB to manufacture 414 howitzers of 45-calibre 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. Bharat Forge is one company that is known to be interested in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery systems.  
There has been notable progress on the rocket artillery front. A contract for the acquisition of three regiments of the 12-tube, 300mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range has been signed with Russia’s Rosoboronexport. This weapon system is a major boost for the long-range firepower capabilities of the army. Extended range (ER) rockets are being introduced for the 122 mm Grad MBRL that has been in service for over three decades. The ER rockets will enhance the weapon system’s range from 22 to about 40 km.  A contract worth Rs 5,000 crore has also been signed for two regiments of the 12-tube Pinaka MBRL weapon system, developed by the DRDO, Larsen and Toubro and the Tatas. The 214mm Pinaka rockets will have an approximate range of 37 km. Two more regiments of Pinaka MBRL are likely to be added later.
Efforts are also underway to add ballistic as well as cruise missiles to the artillery arsenal. Two regiments of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a precision strike capability, very high kill energy and range of 290 km, have been inducted into the army. Block-I and Block-II versions of the missile have successfully completed trials. It is a versatile missile that can be launched from TATRA mobile launchers and silos on land, aircraft and ships and, perhaps in future, also from submarines. 50 BrahMos missiles are expected to be produced every year. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures due to their high speed and very low radar cross section and are far superior to sub-sonic cruise missiles like Pakistan’s Babur. Two more regiments of BrahMos are likely to be inducted into service, including one specially designed for effective target engagement 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, USA, under a 2002 contract worth US $200 million, Bharat Electronics Limited is reported to be assembling 28 WLRs. The modernisation plans of tube artillery alone are likely to cost approximately Rs 15,000 crore. The “Shakti” project for command and control systems for the artillery, earlier called Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS), has successfully completed user trials and is now being fielded extensively. Gradually it will be fielded up to the corps level and the two artillery divisions will be equipped with it.
Despite the increasing obsolescence of artillery guns, mortars and rocket launchers, it has not been possible to conclude contracts for their replacement. The failure to modernise the Indian artillery is likely to have adverse repercussions for national security. If there is any field of defence procurement in which the government must make haste, it is this one.
Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi