Stalled Fire

Artillery purchases are making progress, albeit slowly, while ammunition levels continue to cause concern

A FORCE Report

The Indian Army continues to make slow progress with regards to the acquisition of modern artillery systems. Incredibly, it has been almost three decades since a modern 155 mm artillery weapon was inducted by the army; the 1987 acquisition of 410 Bofors FH77B02 howitzers being the last acquisition of a modern artillery gun system.

Nexter’s Caesar gun with the UN troops
Nexter’s Caesar gun with the UN troops

An estimated 2,820 artillery guns of various types were to have been acquired to replace obsolete guns and equip new units as part of the Indian Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan. The sole success in 2015 was the clearance accorded by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) for the long pending proposal for the purchase of 145 BAE Systems M777 Ultra-Light howitzers, to be acquired at a cost of Rs 2,900 crore. A formal contract is expected to be signed this year and there are reports that additional quantities of the light-weight howitzer could be ordered.

The M777 will be procured via the Foreign Military (FMS) route but spares, maintenance and ammunition will be procured through Indian systems. The USP of the M777 is its portability; two M777 howitzers can be transported in a single C-130 Hercules and be dropped, loaded and ready to fire up to ranges of 30 km in under three minutes. South Korea’s Samsung Techwin which partnered with Indian firm Larsen & Toubro (L&T), to pitch their K-9 Vajra tracked self-propelled gun has also been shortlisted for the requirement for 100 numbers of 155mm/52 caliber tracked guns, fending of competition from Russia’s MSTA-S SP modified 155mm/52cal SPG. The final contract for 100 SPGs is estimated to be worth an estimated Rs 4,900 crore. The 155mm/ 52 Cal K9 VAJRA-T tracked Self-Propelled Howitzer is a variant of K9 Thunder which is in service with a number of armies including the Korean Army.

Nexter has also partnered with Indian firms L&T and Ashok Leyland Defence Systems to bid for an Indian Army requirement for a Mounted Gun System (MGS). The companies are now waiting for a new Request for Proposal (RFP) to be issued for the MGS contract, after it was decided by the Indian ministry of defence (MoD) in November 2014, to proceed with the acquisition. The sheer size of the order alone; 814 numbers of 155 mm/ 52 cal. wheeled artillery systems worth almost Rs 15,750 crore makes it a prized competition. The artillery systems will now be acquired under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ category as per India’s Defence Procurement Policy (DPP). Hundred wheeled gun systems are to be acquired directly from the manufacturer and a Transfer of Technology (ToT) route will be taken to manufacture the remaining 714 artillery systems in India.

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