Artillery modernisation: needed for firepower

The first meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on November 22, 2014, approved the acquisition of 814 truck-mounted 155 mm/52-calibre guns. 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.
Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory, modernisation of the artillery continued to be neglected for many years. Approximately 400 pieces of the 155 mm/39-calibre FH-77B Bofors howitzer were acquired over 25 years ago. Since then, the artillery has received no new guns and is now equipped with obsolescent weapons and equipment like the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) that needs immediate replacement. The artillery also needs 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, UCAVs armed with PGMs need to be added 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.
Firepower and manoeuvre are generally considered the two complementary sides of the tactics coin. During future conventional conflict on the Indian Sub-continent, large-scale manoeuvre will not 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 precision-guided munitions (PGMs).  This will involve substantial upgradation of firepower capabilities. 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. 
The Regiment of Artillery decided to standardise the calibre of its guns at 155 mm so as to ensure commonality of ammunition. The artillery plans to acquire a total of 2,820 guns of all types. The modernisation plan has 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 155 mm/52-caliber 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 trails are in progress. The primary contenders are the Teckwin ‘K-9 Thunder’ of Samsung, South Korea and the Russian Rosoboronexport’s tracked gun, which is an upgraded 155 mm version of the 152 mm MSTA-S SP Gun. So far, 180 pieces of 130 mm M46 Russian guns have been upgraded to 155 mm/45-caliber 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 single largest artillery acquisition will be of 1,580 pieces of towed 155 mm/52-calibre 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 RfPs that were floated for this project were cancelled due to the corrupt practices being followed by some companies. New tenders have once again been floated for 155 mm/52-calibre long-range guns for the plains, 155 mm/ 39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains, especially for the new Mountain Strike Corps that is being raised and for self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. The MoD is also considering the acquisition of 145 pieces of 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzers of 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.
Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155 mm howitzers include that by the Ordnance Factories Board to produce a 45-calibre 155 mm howitzer based on the designs for which Transfer of Technology (ToT) was obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, but not utilised. The DAC approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 155 mm/45-calibre 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 155 mm 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. While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining will be produced in India. The total project cost is estimated to be Rs 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.
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. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures 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. 
With the new projects now underway, artillery modernisation has once again begun to gather momentum. It is important that the combat potential of the firepower provider of the army be enhanced quickly to the required levels.
(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)