Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Arty Role On The Front Line

Lt. General K Ravi Prasad, Director General Artillery

In conventional warfare, artillery plays a very crucial role. Artillery is not just an arm of the Indian Army; it expresses power over the enemy. And perhaps that is why they are called ‘Gods of war’. Almost every time, artillery is the first response to any misadventure of our not so friendly neighbours. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the nitty-gritty of artillery, its evolution, and various roles played by them. We had a candid discussion with Lt. Gen. K Ravi Prasad, DG Artillery, on the significance of artillery as an arm of the Indian Army; excerpts encapsulated below from the interview.

What is your vision for the Indian Army Artillery?

The stated vision of artillery is to modernise Indian Army Artillery to enhance integrated, networked Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and firepower capacities to attack by firepower, in all stages of the battle, in conjunction with all other combat power assets for domination of the battlefield, thereby achieving favourable conditions for the decisive defeat of the enemy. Modernisation of Artillery is focused on smart mediumisation of guns and capability enhancement of long-range firing platforms and smart ammunition to increase the range, lethality, and precision capabilities. The Indian Army Artillery is in the process of achieving the capabilities with a well laid out Road Map over the next decade, the soul of the process being “Mediumisation through Indigenization”.

How do you see the status of guns and munitions with the Indian Army, Qualitatively and Quantitatively?

Firepower – The present equipment profile of Indian artillery comprises varied calibre guns and rockets from 105 mm to 300 mm deployed in different terrains of the country. The maintenance of these guns has been adequately managed through indigenous production of spares. The Indian Artillery, in its quest for modernisation, plans to induct several 155 mm guns in the 13th, 14th & 15th Plans in a phased manner. The planned induction of new gun sys will result in the holding of nearly 80% 155 mm guns by 2035. Following the Government’s boost for ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’, fair chance and opportunity have been offered to OFB and other Indian private players to develop competence & capability for participation in Artillery Modernization Programme.

Ammunition – A considerable impetus to the Government & Semi-Government companies has resulted in the present 97% of the ammunition requirement of Indian artillery being met by indigenous production and only 3% being imported. With the indigenisation and participation by private players, there exists a surge capability wherein the output of ammunition can be enhanced to meet any contingency operational situation.   

How do you see the indigenisation plan and execution moving on the ground?

The Indian Army’s artillery modernisation plan envisaged procuring nearly 2,800 guns by 2027. In the first part of the 21st century, the Indian Defence Industry could not manufacture 155 mm Guns, be it 39/ 45/ 52 Caliber. Hence, the dependence on foreign vendors fell out of the capability deficit in the defence industrial base. However, as part of indigenisation, the procurement cases were also processed under various routes by Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). These schemes encouraged OFB to commence development of Dhanush Gun System based on ToT of 155 mm Bofors (already available in the country) in 2011 and DRDO to commence development of 155 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) in Sep 2012. The development of ATAGS brought in private industry, and the journey of indigenisation expanded from the public sector to the private sector.

The last few years have seen an induction of 155 mm/ 39 calibre M777A2 ULH of BAE Systems in collaboration with Mahindra Defence, South Korean K-9 Vajra Gun System being produced by L&T, 155 mm/ 45 Caliber Dhanush Gun System and 155 mm/ 45 Caliber up-gunned Sharang produced by the OFB. In addition, significant capability has been achieved in the design and development of 214 mm Pinaka MRLS by DRDO with L&T and TATA Power SED as the development partners, various types of Pinaka Rockets by ARDE in collaboration with OFB and EEL, Missile Systems by BAPL and DRDO and Swathi Weapon Locating Radar by DRDO and BEL. The Indian Army’s modernisation plan has now turned indigenous, focusing on ‘Make in India’. Indian Army is now going to buy Indian made Guns, Rockets and Missile Systems to boost the Indian Industry.

How are you taking the Make in India plans for Artillery with PSUs, PPPs, Start-Ups & Private companies further forward? What are the areas of hurdles in it?

The modernisation of artillery is progressing based on the ‘Make in India’ vision of the Government. It started by involving the Indian Industry to establish a military-industrial ecosystem, encouraging competition between the DPSUs and Private Industry to enhance efficiency, encouraging indigenous design and development and giving manufacturing contracts to more than one private vendor and/ or DPSU to accelerate the production and induction process. The status of the procurement cases currently under progress with the level of indigenisation achieved is as under: –

(a) 155 mm/ 45 Caliber Dhanush Gun System – 155 mm/ 45 Caliber Dhanush Gun System has been developed indigenously by OFB as a flagship project. It has 81% of indigenous content. However, there are some challenges in the delivery of the Gun System to the Army. 

(b) 155 mm/ 45 Caliber Sharang Gun System – 155 mm/ 45 Caliber Sharang Gun System is an up-gunned version of the existing 130 mm gun. This gun sys has been developed indigenously by OFB with 100% indigenous content of the ordnance with the original 130 mm carriage retained. The induction of the guns has commenced.  

(c) 155 mm/ 52 Caliber SP (tr) K-9 Vajra-T – 155 mm/ 52 Caliber SP (Tr) K-9 Vajra-T guns are being procured from M/s L&T with 50% indigenous content at the cost level of the project. The indigenisation process has developed a robust product support base in India.

(d) 155 mm/ 52 Caliber ATAGS – Prototypes of ATAGS have achieved 75-80% of indigenous content presently, and actions are in progress to attain approximately 88% of indigenous content.

(e) 155 mm/ 39 Caliber M777 A2 ULH.  145 x 155mm M777 A2 ULH have been procured from the US Government through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Route. To contribute towards the Make in India initiative, only 45 guns have been procured in Fully Formed (FF) State, and a balance of 100 guns will be delivered in Semi Knocked Down (SKD) State. The assembly, integration, and testing of the SKD guns are being carried out in India at the AIT facility at MDSL (Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd), Faridabad.

(f) Pinaka MLRS.  Pinaka Multiple launch Rocket System (MLRS) is a versatile and indigenously developed (by DRDO) and produced rocket system (by M/s L&T and TPCL). A total of ten Pinaka regiments are planned for the Regiment of Artillery. The rocket system has been developed with an indigenous content of 70-75%.

(g) WLR SWATHI  the complete Radar, is developed indigenously with 85% indigenous material and 100% indigenous software. The manufacturer’s recommended list of spares is 84% indigenous content, and special maintenance tools (SMT) & special test equipment (STE) is 60% indigenous content.

(h) Integration of 6 x 6 Indigenous Vehicle with GRAD BM-21 MLRS  GRAD BM-21 is a Rocket System procured from Russia in 1970. The URAL vehicles of the original equipment were facing numerous sustenance issues. Hence integration with an indigenous 6 x 6 vehicle was completed by M/s L&T in 2019 thereby giving a fresh lease of life to the equipment.

Artillery Ammunition – OFB indigenously manufactures a large percentage of the Artillery ammunition. Even various types of ammunition for new generation equipment like Pinaka are being designed, developed, and manufactured indigenously by DRDO and its development/ production partners, i.e., EEL and OFB. However, the OFB will have to modernise and upgrade its processes and infrastructure to enable the manufacture of modern ammunition, which includes large electronic content. The requirement is to bring in the private sector to meet the challenge of the development of Fuzes, Bi Modular Charge System, and other artillery ammunition.  

The process to procure a Mounted Gun System has been on for almost two decades. Again, an RFI has been issued for 155mm / 52 calibre? Any plans to bridge the immediate requirement gap?

The procurement of 155 mm/ 52 Caliber Mounted Gun System has been in progress for more than a decade, and endeavour was always to have the gun system with the latest technology with maximum indigenous content, which is also mountain capable and not restricted to plains and deserts alone. Therefore, a need was felt to modify the GSQR of the guns to align it to the latest technology available and gauge the capability of the domestic defence industry to deliver a true ‘Make in India’ Gun. Accordingly, RFI has been issued, and the procurement case is being started afresh.

What are your observations on the DRDO developed indigenous Howitzer Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System that did the test firing at the Balasore firing range in Odisha last year?

The development of ATAGS has been completed and is presently under PSQR trials to finalise the final configuration of the Gun system. However, there are a few issues of concern. First is the aspect of extra weight, which may impact the operational performance of the Gun System in mountainous and high-altitude terrain. Second is the inability of the gun systems to meet the critical performance parameters, especially about rates of fire. The third is the recent accident during the internal validation trials.

What are the guns you are working on from hereafter? A tentative idea about the aim of next-generation guns the Indian Army working on.

155 mm/ 52 Caliber Gun System has been adopted as the standard calibre for the Indian Army since 2001. All future procurements will be aligned towards achieving the objective of standardised calibre, with some low population terrain specific weapon systems inducted to meet specific operational requirements.  

Apart from the ongoing procurement cases, the immediate requirement of the Indian Army is for a 155 mm/ 52 Cal Mounted Gun System, capable of being employed in all types of terrain from mountains/ high altitude areas to obstacle-ridden terrain to deserts. In addition, the delay of nearly twenty months in finalisation of 155 mm/ 52 Caliber Towed Gun System ATHOS means that there is a requirement to identify a similar indigenous Gun System for induction, should the ATHOS Gun System be not contracted.

What are the plans for precision munitions? What are the projects related to that where the related industry can work on?

The potency of the firepower hinges on the ability to deliver the shells/ rockets as accurately as possible and thereafter on its lethality. The need, therefore, is to develop guidance systems for artillery ammunition. 

To meet immediate requirements, Global Positioning System guided SMART Ammunition “Excalibur” has been procured from the USA. It is all-weather ammunition with fire and forgets capability. The ammunition has less than 10 meters CEP and has demonstrated less than 2-meter CEP in actual trials. It has a maximum range of 35 Km. The projects that are underway which the industry can focus on are: –

(a)    Course Correction Fuze (CCF).   CCF is a Precision Guided Kit that can be fitted onto any 155 mm Shell and is designed to improve the accuracy of the 155 mm Shell. 

(b)    Terminally Guided Ammunition under Make-II. Indigenous development of Terminally Guided Ammunition is being undertaken under Make-II. Expression of Interest is planned to be issued to the domestic defence industry soon.

(c)    Medium Range Precision Kill System (MRPKS). Indigenous development of Loiter Munitions is being undertaken under Make-II. Expression of Interest is planned to be issued to the domestic defence industry soon.

(d)    Guided Extended Range (GER) Rocket ammunition for Pinaka MLRS. The ammunition variant with a capability to engage targets up to ranges of 75 Km with greater accuracy has been developed by DRDO. The ammunition is under procurement.

Any immediate plans to increase the battlefield range? Long-range systems?

The technical advancements in the field of gun systems have achieved a plateau. To increase the range, the barrel length will have to be increased. However, this will impact the stability, mobility, and survivability of the Gun System. The option, therefore, is to improve the ammunition. The following projects are in progress: –  

(a) Velocity Enhanced Long-Range Artillery Projectile (VLAP) or Base Bleed ammunition will contribute towards achieving enhanced range. This is being undertaken as a technology demonstrator project by DRDO.

(b) Ramjet Assisted Projectiles (RAP) with Precision Guidance project is undertaken as an ADB project with IIT Chennai. This ammunition can be fired from all 155 mm guns to achieve greater ranges.  

Rocket System – Rocket regiments equipped with Pinaka MRLS are under induction, completed by 2027. A few Pinaka Rocket Regiments have already been operationalised. Guided Extended Range (GER) Rocket ammunition for Pinaka MRLS with a capability to engage targets up to ranges of 75 Km with greater accuracy has been developed by DRDO, and the trials for the same are scheduled in the latter part of the year.

Do you see mega improvements happening in the Indian Army Artillery on ‘Networking for fire controls’ front?

Indian Army has developed Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS) as part of the networked fire control system. Also called “SHAKTI”, it is the first successful system to be fielded of all tactical Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence (C4I) systems. SHAKTI is a network of military-grade tactical computers that are automating and providing decision support for all operational aspects of Artillery functions from the Corps down to the battery level. The system is jointly developed by BEL, Bangalore, CAIR, ARDE and PMO ACCCS of DGIS. It has now been fully deployed. The newly inducted modern gun systems, including Pinaka Weapon System with an automated fire control system, are also being integrated with Shakti. 

Work has also started on Future SHAKTI, which will be lighter, user friendly and have advanced connectivity features. It is planned to be totally indigenous and will prove an opportunity for the local defence electronic industry.

What impact will the PLA bring in with new weapon systems like PCL-161, PCL-181 & PHL-03 MLRS, to name a few? How prepared is the Indian Army Artillery to tackle these and other Artillery assets of PLA? 

PCL-161, PCL-181 & PHL-03 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) are three new weapon systems that the PLA has inducted. PCL-161 is 122 mm, while PCL-181 is a 155 mm vehicle-mounted self-propelled howitzer. They can achieve a range of 40 Kilometers with conventional and a claimed range of 70 Kilometers with extended range ammunition. Both systems can quickly shift from driving mode to shooting mode, enabling them to achieve significant combat advantage. PHL-03 MLRS is a 300 mm rocket system with 12 tubes based on the Russian BM-30 Smerch MLRS. It has a computerised fire control system incorporating GPS/GLONASS/Beidou guidance systems, making the rockets function as guided missiles. The maximum range of the rockets is 70 Kms though PLA claims to have developed an improved rocket with a 150 Km range. These new weapon systems are likely to replace the old ones deployed in the regions opposite the LAC and will considerably increase the PLA’s firepower. I have already covered our plans for modernisation above.

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