A slew of long-pending crucial acquisitions for the Indian Army were fast-tracked in 2018
Keeping in line with the big-ticket procurements that were fast-tracked for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy in 2018, the Indian Army too, has been a recipient of a slew of critical acquisitions with more in the pipeline. Not only were major artillery systems inducted last year but also the procurement of critical infantry equipment and helicopters saw noteworthy progress.
The artillery guns inducted recently were the most significant acquisitions for the Indian Army in 2018. Marking the end of Bofors’ 30-year reign, on November 9, three major artillery gun systems were inducted during a special induction ceremony at the Devlali Firing Ranges in Maharashtra. These included the M777 A2 Ultra-Light Howitzers, K-9 Vajra-Tracked Self Propelled Gun, and 6×6 Field Artillery Tractors.
The M777 A2 Ultra-Light Howitzer is a towed 155 mm artillery gun system that is substantially lighter than the existing 155 FH 77B Bofors guns and meets the current operational requirements of the borders in mountainous terrains, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and the Central Sector. India entered into a contract with the United States in November 2016 for procuring 145 M777 A2 Ultra-Light Howitzers via Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme route. The contract with BAE Systems (the manufacturer) indicates that 20 of the 145 guns will come to India off-shelf in a fly-away condition (two per month will be delivered), and the rest 120 are going to be assembled at the facility in India in partnership with Mahindra Defence. The gun will come with laser inertial artillery pointing systems (LINAPS), maintenance, personnel training and training equipment, technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services. The M777 system is not only lightweight but also extremely mobile and versatile.
According to vice president and general manager, BAE Systems, Joe Senftle, the M-777 is an extremely reliable and battle-proven platform. It will bring with it rapid deployment capabilities and unparalleled accuracy as it can operate in areas that are difficult to access. Though procured via FMS, AIT (Assembly, integration and testing facility) established jointly by BAE Systems and Mahindra brings in integration and manufacturing skills. The AIT capabilities will provide not only in-country support to the army on its weapon system, but also begin the process of indigenous manufacture of modern artillery in India under ‘Make in India’ initiative
Speaking to FORCE, Maj. Gen. Rajesh Singh (retd) said, “The M777’s heli-lift capability is very useful especially in the Northeastern Sector where the East-West lateral cross inter-valley movement is extremely difficult and the North-South axial movement along the valleys is very time-consuming.”
The K-9 Thunder (Vajra) is a South Korean self-propelled 155mm howitzer. The first 10 of the 100 K-9 Vajra 155mm/52 calibre guns ordered were imported from Hanwha Techwin of South Korea in a ‘Semi Knocked Down’ state during DefExpo 2018 and have been assembled by Larsen & Toubro in India. The remaining 90 guns will be largely manufactured in India with some major assemblies coming from South Korea. Its induction will be a game-changer regarding the firepower capabilities of the Indian Army on the country’s western borders. The first regiments of both the M777 and K-9 Vajra, each comprising about 18 guns, are expected to be equipped by October 2019 and have been a massive shot in the arm to the artillery inventory of the Indian Army. According to Maj. Gen. Rajesh Singh, the K-9 Vajra will provide effective fire support to the mechanised forces during all stages of the battle as it has the matching mobility with tanks and ICVs of the mechanised force.
Following the inductions of these artillery guns, the army shifted its focus towards the Dhanush 155mm artillery gun and the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS). The Dhanush 155mm artillery gun is essentially a modified version of the Bofors. It underwent successful user trials in June 2018 and is presently being evaluated at the Indian Army HQ before bulk production clearance receives the green light. Manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Dhanush has a maximum effective range of 40 km, an onboard computer, and an electronic suite to enable real-time as regards moving and static targets. 18 Dhanush artillery guns are expected to be inducted by December next year. The ATAGS, sanctioned by the ministry of defence (MoD) in September 2012, received a go-ahead from the Indian Army this year after its performance was extensively evaluated. It is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by Tata and Bharat Forge.
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