Stuck in the Stack
Indian Artillery marred by the S factor, stagnation and scandal
By Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)
The Bofor’s bogey continues to haunt the modernisation plans of the Indian artillery especially the acquisition of 155mm howitzers for almost a quarter of century. The modernisation process continues to stagnate for various reasons, some beyond the control of the army. This is largely attributable to different scandals continuing to stymie the long delayed acquisition of the 155mm howitzers, despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery fire power had undeniably paved the way for victory. The last major acquisition of guns was that of 400 places of 155mm/39 calibre FH 77B, howitzers from Bofors of Sweden with a range of 30 km in the mid-eighties.

Today, most of the guns held in the inventory of artillery are either obsolescent or reaching obsolescence. While the Russian origin 122mmD30 towed howitzer mainly deployed in the plains is already obsolete, the 105mm Indian field gun (1FG), the mainstay of the artillery and in service for the last three decades is nearing obsolescence. Furthermore its limited range of 17 km is almost irrelevant in a future battlefield environment where guns with 30-40 km range would be the need of the hour. Most of the armies in the world are today even looking at Mortars with enhanced ranges of 12-14 km. The FH 77B (Bofors) guns bought in 1986 are almost down to approximately half the numbers due to non-availability of spares and cannabalisation.

The only silver lining in this dismal gun acquisition saga is the successful upgrade of 180 pieces of 130 mm/39 calibre M46 Russian guns to 155mm/45 calibre with the ordinance and kits supplied by Soltam of Israel. Despite its initial teething problems, this has been a successful venture giving an enhanced range of 39 km from its original 26 km.
   OTHER COLUMNS Modernisation Status
The artillery’s modernisation pargramme includes purchase and manufacture of towed, mounted and ultra-light howitzers as well as self-propelled artillery both tracked and wheeled, multi-barrel rocket launchers, missiles, surveillance and counter bombardment equipment and important of all — the ammunition and communication equipment. However, my thrust would be on status of guns/howitzers, the main problem area in the modernisation process.
   • Made in India
   • Stuck in the Stack
   • Bottomline
   • First Person
Towed Gun: The Rs 8000 crore project was to buy 400 numbers of 155mm/52 calibre towed artillery guns, to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another, 1,180 howitzers for 79 artillery regiments. This will form the core of the artillery inventory replacing the 105mm 1FG and the 122mm guns. As is known, four rounds of trials conducted earlier came to a naught in 2007. Fresh tenders have been floated since then but the trials are yet to commence

Mounted Gun Systems: This project involves off-the-shelf purchase of 200 numbers of 155mm/52 calibre guns, followed by indigenous manufacture of another 614 mounted gun systems for arming 40 regiments. In this case even the global tender has not been floated so far. Available in the world market are Sweden’s Archer, French Ceaser, Bosnia’s Unis gun systems and South Africa’s Denel (presently blacklisted).

Self Propelled (SP) Guns (Tracked & Wheeled): This is the weakest link in the artillery inventory today. There is no worthwhile equipment held in this category. The trials for the tracked 155m/52 calibre SP guns also came to a naught due to blacklisting of Denel. Fresh tenders have been issued but trials are yet to commence. Requirement is of 100 numbers of 155mm/52 calibre tracked SP guns for five regiments. However, as per reports, the trials for wheeled SP guns (155m/52 calibre) have been completed. Plan is to induct 180 wheeled SP guns to equip nine regiments for plains and semi-desert terrain. In fray are the Germany’s Rheinmetall Defence and Slovakia’s Konstrukta Defence. If all goes well the selected gun should commence induction by end of this year.

Ultra Light Howitzer (ULH): Requirement is to buy 145 light weight howitzers, 155 mm/39 calibre for deployment in areas which are not easily accessible and for out of area contingencies in the neighbourhood to equip seven regiments. While the bore was kept to 155mm for commonality with other 155 mm guns being acquired the calibre selected was 39, to keep the gun light enabling transportation by heavy lift helicopters as well as transport aircraft. Initially, in fray were the Singapore technologies Pegasus light weight howitzer and BAE Systems’ M777 light weight howitzer. The blacklisting of Singapore Technologies by the Indian Government in July 2009 left the field open to BAEs M777. The same is now being acquired under the foreign military sales (FMS) route. The recent leak of the field trails report listing some shortcomings of the gun is again a set back. However, the M777 is a proven gun and the FMS route should ensure its timely induction. In fact, the process for acquisition of heavy lift helicopters (American Chinook and Russian MI-26) for transportation of these guns is already underway by the air force.
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