Fast on Fire-Power
 A look into the future of artillery modernisation
  By Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

God, Napoleon said, fights on the side with best artillery, which formed the backbone of his army in the late 18th and early 19th century. The adage received further impetus with Stalin describing the Soviet artillery as God of War during its role in the World War II. These statements remain relevant even today as fire-power, specially artillery, continues to play a significant battle-winning role in modern warfare.
Closer home, this facet was amply demonstrated during the Kargil conflict. But despite the lessons of history and Kargil and the imperatives to transform and modernise well recognised, the modernisation plans of artillery continue to stagnate for various reasons, the major impediment being the blacklisting of some of the major players in the world market, producing state-of-the-art modern artillery gun systems. Such a move reduces competition permitting lesser known players to enter the field or alternately resulting in single vendor situations, which in itself is detrimental to the modernisation and procurement process.

Nexter’s CaesarThe latest in this sordid saga is the cancellation of the acquisition process of the 180 x 155mm /52 calibre wheeled self-propelled (SP) guns due to their not meeting certain technical parameters and more importantly, infirmities noticed in the trial process itself - this pertained to the barrel bursting of the guns during firing. In the fray were Germany's Rheinmetall Wheeled Gun and Defence and Slovakia Konstrukta’s Zuzana. It would be pertinent to mention here that after the trial process Rheinmetal Defence was blacklisted by the defence ministry for its dealings related to acquisition of air defence equipment, leaving a single vendor situation.

The only project likely to fructify is the import of 145 BAE Systems M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers (ULH) being acquired through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route with the United States. While the trials were completed almost 10 months back, the process received a setback due to leakage of the field trials report, listing some shortcomings of the gun. Also, Singapore Technologies, whose gun had participated in the earlier trials which were subsequently scrapped due to blacklisting of the firm by ministry of defence (MoD) for issues not related to the ongoing trials, had gone to court questioning this decision. However, as per reports a maintainability evaluation team (MET) has visited the US in February this year to evaluate the maintenance aspects of the howitzers and the contract is expected to be inked, hopefully, by May this year if there are no further glitches.

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