Modernization of Indian artillery: Vision and imperatives

The Artillery Journal | Aug 4, 2009

Russia gave India nuclear submarines on lease and provided assistance for the development of the cryogenic rocket engine for India's GSLV. During the December 2014 summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin, Russia had agreed to supply 12 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years. The Indian perspective for future defence technology cooperation will be shaped by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's drive to "Make in India" with ToT. Russian original equipment manufacturers will need to demonstrate their competitiveness and enter into strategic partnerships by way of joint ventures with Indian public and private sector companies to bid for future contracts in keeping with the Defence Procurement Procedure 2016.

(Indian artillery as a battle winning factor has graduated from a supporting role to an arm of decision. Increased lethality and range of weapon systems enable artillery to fight the contact, intermediate and deep battles simultaneously. Notable progress has taken place in SATA capability and rocket artillery. Failure to modernise artillery is likely to have adverse repercussions for India’s national security).

Vision for 21st Century Battlefields

From its original status as a “supporting” arm, Artillery has now graduated to a full fledged combat arm that dominates the battlefield with its inherently destructive firepower. In the post-Pokhran 1998 and post-Kargil 1999 scenario on the Indian Sub-continent, Artillery is clearly seen to be a decisive arm, indeed even a battle winning one.

Firepower and manoeuvre are two sides of the same coin and both complement each other. However, in tactical situations in which either one lags behind due to the tog of war, the other must rise to the occasion and compensate if a favourable outcome Is to be achieved. It is well known that future conventional wars on the Indian Sub-continent will be fought under the nuclear shadow. Hence, it will be extremely risky to plan a battle that involves deep manoeuvre, particularly in the plains. In such a situation, favourable outcomes will be possible only through the massive application of Artillery and aerially-delivered firepower. This major restriction on the manoeuvre component of military operations on land will lead to much greater emphasis on the firepower component to achieve military aims and objectives.

Emerging Artillery Tactics

Once a threat has been discerned, the Artillery firing 155 mm precision strike ammunition can be employed across the breadth and depth of the battlefield. Today, Laser-guided Artillery shells can destroy bunkers, bridges and small buildings with a single-shot kill probability (SSKP) as high as 80 per cent. Targets that can be seen by the troops in contact with the enemy can be illuminated by a Laser beam by a ground-based Artillery observer (spotter) carrying a Laser Target designator. Those targets that are behind crest lines and on reverse slopes can be designated by an airborne Artillery observer in an army aviation helicopter or even by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Improved conventional munitions (ICMs) shells carrying anti-personnel grenades and lethal “air-burst” ammunition can be “dispensed” over soft targets such as administrative bases, rations and fuel storage dumps and headquarters. These nave to be accurately directed using commando Artillery observers or TV camera equipped UAVs to achieve the desired effect. Other force multipliers include gun locating radars for effective near real-time counter-bombardment, UAVs equipped with TV cameras and suitable for high altitude operations for target acquisition.
accurate target engagement and damage assessment, powerful integrated observation equipment (IOE) fitted with night vision devices for long-range target engagement by day and night.

The Indian Artillery is playing an increasingly important role in the successful execution of integrated land-air operations on the modern battlefield. By suppression of the enemy’s air defence (SEAD) assets to enable own attack helicopters to operate freely and to also enable ground attack aircraft of the IAF to launch a strike successfully.

In offensive operations on the future battlefield, the Artillery will launch fire assaults or “attack by firepower” in conjunction with other combat echelons to shape the battlefield and, ultimately, create suitable conditions for the decisive defeat of the enemy. In fact, with the long reach of its missiles, rockets and medium guns, Artillery firepower will systematically degrade the enemy’s preparations for the attack from the concentration area onwards. The concentrated application of massed Artillery firepower will disrupt the enemy’s combat cohesion throughout the defensive battle.

With its ever-increasing range and lethality, the Artillery is now capable of simultaneously fighting the contact, intermediate and deep battles. Its nuclear tipped ballistic missiles such as Agni will guarantee India’s nuclear deterrence. Its conventionally armed ballistic missiles such as Prithvi and long-range rockets like Smerch will influence the final outcome of a battle. In short, the integrated and synergetic application of Artillery firepower at the point of decision will ensure victory and reduce the Army’s casualties. The Artillery will be a co-equal partner with the manoeuvre arms in the successful execution of firepower and manoeuvre provided it is equipped with modern guns and rocket launchers without any further delay. Hence, it is imperative that Artillery modernisation is undertaken with alacrity so as to generate both qualitative and quantitative firepower asymmetries to achieve unassailable dominance on the future battlefield.

Modernisation Plans

Modernisation plans of the Regiment of Artillery have stagnated for quite some time for various reasons, some beyond the control of military leaders. Beginning In January 2008, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued three global tenders to revive the long-delayed plans to modernise the Indian Artillery. Tenders were issued for 155mm guns and howitzers for the mountains and the plains and self-propelled guns for the deserts. Summer and winter trials were expected to be held over the next one year and expectations ran high that contracts for acquisition and local production would be awarded as early as in the first half of 2010. As none of the bidders have been invited to participate in summer trials in mid-2009, It appears that there will be further delay in the procurement and modernisation plans of a critically important arm of the Indian Army.

Despite the lessons learnt in Kargil, modernisation of the Artillery has continued to lag behind. 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. This gun had proved its mettle in the KargiI conflict. After two decades during which the 100mm and 122mm field guns of Russian origin and the indigenously developed and manufactured 75/24 Indian Mountain Gun joined the long list of equipment bordering on obsolescence but still in service with the army. Tenders were floated and trials were held for a 52-calibre 155mm gun to replace all field and medium guns.

Just when a contract for 120 tracked and 180 wheeled self-propelled (SP) 159mm guns was about to be concluded after about of protracted trials, south African arms manufacturer Denel, a leading contender for the contract, was alleged to nave been involved in a corruption scam in an earlier deal for anti-material rifles (AMRs). The other two howitzers in a contention, from Soltam of Israel and BAE (Bofors) of Sweden reportedly did not meet the laid down criteria and Army HQ recommended fresh trials, setting the programme back at least three to four years.

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 the requirement for a light-weight towed howitzer of 155mm calibre for employment in the mountains. A light-weight 155mm howitzer weighting less than 5.000 kg, with a light but adequately powered prime mover, is ideal for the mountains. The gun-train should be capable of negotiating sharp road bends without the need to unhook the gun from the prime mover. Two British 155mm howitzers had competed for the US contract for a similar howitzer some years ago the UFH (Ultra-lightweight Field Howitzer) and the LTH (Light-weight Towed Howtizer). Others. like the Pegasus of Singapore Technology have now been developed. These could be considered for licensed production with transfer of technology.

In January 2008, the MoD floated a Request for Proposal (RfP) for 1 40 pieces of ultra-light 39-calibre 155mm towed howitzers for use by the Indian Army’s mountain formations. Presumably, these will also be employed by the army’s rapid reaction divisions as and when these are raised as these howitzers will be easy to transport by air. 140 howitzers will be adequate to equip ‘seven medium Artillery regiments and will cost approximately Rs 3, ,000 crore. The RfP has been reportedly issued to BAE Systems (which now owns Bofors), for the M777 howitzer claimed ‘to be the lightest in the world at under 4,220 kg, and to Singapore Technologies for the Pegasus SLWH.

In a project worth a whopping Rs 8,000 crore, the MoD has also floated a global tender for the purchase of 400, 155mm towed Artillery guns for the Army, | to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 1,1 00 howitzers. The RIP was issued to eight prospective bidders including BAE, General Dynamics, Nexter (France), Rhinemetall (Germany) and Samsung (South Korea). A RfP worth approx. Rs 4,700 crore has also been issued for 180 wheeled self-propelled 1555mm guns for employment by mechanised forces in the plains and semi-desert sectors.

Since the Bofors 155mm Howitzer was introduced into service, the indigenously designed and manufactured 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) and its (not so) 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 successfully “up-gunned” to 155 mm 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.

There has been notable progress on the rocket Artillery front. A contract for the acquisition of two regiments of the 12-tube, 300mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range was signed with Russia’s Rosoboronexport in early-2006. This weapon system isa major boost for the longrange 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 the serial production of the Pinaka MBRL weapon system, another DRDO project plagued by time delays and completed with help from Larsen and Toubro and the Tatas. The Pinaka rockets will have an approximate range of 37 km.

Counter-bombardment (US term counter-fire) 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 these 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. These radars will be based on both Indigenous and imported components and are likely to be approved for introduction into service after extensive trials that are ongoing. The radar is expected to match the capabilities of the Firefinder system and will have a detection range of about 40 Km. The indigenous sound ranging system for locating the positions of enemy guns based on the sound of their firing does not appear to be making worthwhile progress and may be shelved in favour of an imported system. In fact, it needs to be considered whether this relic of the two World Wars, that is rather cumbersome to deploy and maintain, deserves a silent burial as gun and mortar locating radars now provide accurate locations of enemy
guns and mortars.

The modernisation plans of tube Artillery alone are likely to cost Rs 13,000 crore at -FY 2008-09 prices. The major acquisitions will be of initial lots of 400 towed howlizers of 155mm calibre, with a barrel length of 52-calibres, costing about Rs 4,000 crore, 140 ultra-light weight 155mm towed howitzers, with a barrel length of 40-calibres, costing Rs 3,000 crore and 180 SP 155mm howitzers costing Rs 5,000 crore. The ‘Shakti’ project for command and control systems for the Artillery, earlier called Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS), has reached the stage of maturity and is now being fielded extensively in the plains. Gradually it will be fielded up to the corps level and the two Artillery divisions will be equipped with It.

Efforts are also underway to add ballistic as well as cruise missiles to the Artillery arsenal. Th e Brahmos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a precision strike capability, very high kill energy and range of 290 km, is being inducted into the army. A ceremonial induction function of the Block-I version was held In July 2007. Since then, the Block-II version has 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. Efforts are afoot to further increase its strike range. Brahmos Aerospace has orders worth Rs 3,500 crore from the army and the navy, which has opted for the anti-ship as well as the land-attack cruise missile (LACM) versions. 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. Chile, Kuwait, Malaysia and South Africa have shown interest in acquiring this missile.


The Regiment of Artillery is now a battle-winning arm on the conventional battlefield and is the sword edge of India’s nuclear deterrence. From a supporting arm with the limited role of neutralising large areas of the ground with its Inherent dispersion of fire, Artillery has graduated to an arm of decision on the modern battlefield. This is an honour the Indian Artillery has earned by virtue of Its performance during Operation Vijay in the Kargil conflict in 1999. It now has a new role – that of destruction in defensive as well as offensive operations.

However, despite the increasing obsolescence of Artillery guns, mortars and rocket launchers, the government has been unable to conclude contracts for their replacement even though protracted trials of several 155mm howitzers have been carried out over the last few years. Delay in modernising the Indian Artillery Is likely to have repercussions for national security. There is a need for early resumption and successful conclusion of Artillery modernisation plans, as these are critical to the army’s performance in the next conventional war that India may have to fight. It there is any field of defence procurement in which the MoD must make haste, It Is this one.