Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
Gunning for the Right Calibre
A reality check of state of artillery modernisation
Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)
By Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

The Indian Army’s second largest arm, the Regiment of Artillery continues to be a victim of repeated setbacks in its modernisation plans. The latest in this sordid saga is the uncertainty on the acquisition of the 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 a year and a half back, the process for finalisation of the project seems totally stagnant, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) maintaining a stoic silence. In the absence of any communication from the MoD and with no other orders in the pipeline, the BAE Systems has been forced to shut down its M777 manufacturing facility located in England in October last year — this facility caters to 30 per cent of the gun’s manufacture mechanism.

As per reports, the BAE Systems is also seriously looking at the option of closing down its main facility in the US by March 2014, in case no further progress is made. This is a major setback to the artillery modernisation process as this was the army’s priority project, keeping in mind the raising of the new Mountain Strike Corps and the long outstanding inadequacy of artillery in the mountains on our Eastern and Northern borders with China.

History has repeatedly extolled the decisive role of artillery in war fighting. This fact remains relevant even today as firepower, especially artillery, continues to play a significant battle-winning role in modern warfare — the Kargil conflict was a clear demonstration of the same. But despite the lessons of history and the imperatives to transform/modernise well recognised, the Regiment of Artillery’s modernisation plans continue to stagnate.

In the last 26 years India has not bought even a single gun, after the then government of Rajiv Gandhi was hit by a payoff scandal over the procurement of Bofors guns. The major reason has been the numerous defence related scams, leading the MoD to show an extreme risk-averse behaviour, resulting in the blacklisting of some of the major players in the world market, producing state-of-the-art modern artillery gun systems.

This development has followed closely on the heels of the scrapping of another important project at the final stage of trials, involving the acquisition of 180 x 155mm /52 calibre wheeled self-propelled (SP) guns. The result is that the second largest arm of the army after infantry, continues to remain the most absolescent wings of the army — this has serious operational implications.

Technology and Modernisation Plans
The advancement and development of technology in the last couple of decades has made firepower more devastating in its application and has lead to the most dramatic enhancements in the capabilities of artillery. This has extended the effective reach (range and lethality) of the land forces to almost limitless levels.

Sophisticated surveillance systems now permit the exploitation of extended reach of artillery platforms, and advanced communications allow the application over the widest possible envelop almost instantaneously. Technologically, artillery guns have stabilised at 155mm. This is believed to be the optimum barrel bore for the best mix of range, lethality and platform mobility.
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