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Indian Army desperately needs modern artillery

Indian Army desperately needs modern artillery

Artillery may prove to be the Indian Army's Achilles' heel.

Since a major power's military capabilities or those of a group of major powers still play a decisive role in the world (as recently demonstrated in Libya), it is important to take stock where India's modernisation plans stand in this regard.

India's defence preparedness has always been adversary-specific. The arming and organisation of the Indian Armed Forces have been planned mainly keeping Pakistan in mind. However, a minimum deterrence against China has been maintained since 1962 was too bitter a pill to swallow for India.

However, over the last 12 years, there has been a perceived change. The three wings of the Armed Forces have advocated moving away from an adversary or threat-specific approach to a capability-specific approach. The political class has, in principle, agreed to this.

The second-largest standing volunteer Army in the world is currently undergoing a transformation in terms of organisation as well. The Indian Army currently has a mix of offensive, defensive and mixed corps. India right now has three 'Strike' or 'Reserve' Corps - 1 Corps headquartered in Mathura, 2 Corps headquartered in Ambala and 21 Corps headquartered in Bhopal.

However, since a doctrinal change in terms of swift penetration inside the adversary's territory without the need to mobilise the old-fashioned way has been doing the rounds, the requirement for cutting-edge weaponry is being felt more and more.

While the Army plans to induct a total of 1600 Russian-origin tanks, a mix of T-90M Bhishma and the older T-90S, the indigenous Arjun MBT has finally proved its mettle. Though substantially heavier than the T-72s and T-90s, the Arjun has proved to be more capable in terms of firepower and armour protection, if certain sources in the Army are to be believed. Till now, around 248 Arjun tanks have been ordered and a regiment of tanks (numbering around 90) are already in service.

There were certain technical issues with the Russian T90 series tanks in terms of their performance in the extreme desert climate but Army HQ sources are saying they have been sorted out.

However, the Army's artillery modernisation drive has taken a major hit. The Army's last major artillery buy was in the 1980s when they bought about 400 FH-77 guns from Bofors, Sweden.

Just when a contract for 120 self-propelled (SP) guns on tank tracks and 180 wheeled SP 155mm guns was about to be concluded after years of protracted trials, Denel, the South African arms manufacturer and a leading contender for the contract, was alleged to have been involved in a corruption scam in an earlier deal for anti-material rifles (AMRs). Since, the other two howitzers in contention, from Soltam of Israel and BAE Systems, reportedly did not meet the criteria, the Army recommended fresh trials.

In January 2008, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued three global tenders for 155mm guns and howitzers for the mountains, the plains and self-propelled guns for the deserts. The Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) of MoD had earlier approved the procurement of 1,580 guns in 2007 and an RFP issued within the first quarter of 2008. It was issued to eight manufacturers including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Nexter (France), Rhinemetall (Germany), Samsung (South Korea) and ST Kinetics. The guns of BAE Systems and ST Kinetics were shortlisted. But since ST Kinetics came under the scanner for some wrongdoings, the RFP was cancelled.

The DAC had also approved the procurement of 145 light-weight towed 155mm, 39-calibre howitzers in 2006 and an RFP was issued to ten global vendors in 2008. ST Kinetics was the only one to submit a technical and commercial offer for its Pegasus Light Weight Howitzer. As it became a single-vendor situation, the MoD initiated the procurement of light-weight howitzers through the direct Foreign Military Sale (FMS) route from the US government. Trials of the US BAE Systems M777 A1 howitzer were held in the Pokhran range and reportedly trials were held in the mountains of Sikkim too. But a sudden report leak case, which the Army is probing, has since held up the matter.

Since the Bofors 155mm Howitzer was introduced into service, the indigenously designed and manufactured 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) the Light Field Gun (LFG), inducted further back, also need replacement. Approximately 180 pieces of 130mm M46 Russian medium guns have been successfully "up-gunned" to 155mm calibre with Israeli help. The new barrel length of 45-calibres has enhanced the range of the gun to about 40 km with extended range ammunition.

It was recently found out that the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) was sitting on the drawings of the FH-77 guns which came with the Bofors' deal - and this when the Army has been keeping about 300 of the old guns fit by cannibalising the other 100 pieces. OFB has now been asked by MoD to build six prototypes within 18 months.

However, the Army's artillery power has received a major shot in the arm by progressive induction of modern rocket artillery systems. Two regiments of the 12-tube, 300mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system have been raised. The Russian system has a 90 km range and has massively added to the true long range firepower of the Army. Extended range (ER) rockets have enhanced the 122 mm Grad MBRL's range from 22 to about 40 km.

The indigenous Pinaka MBRL system has also added to the Army's firepower. The system had first proved its mettle in Kargil War where it successfully neutralised enemy positions. The Army has inducted three Pinaka regiments till date while more are likely to be inducted between now and 2017. Each Pinaka regiment typically consists of three batteries with each battery comprising six 12-tube launchers. A full battery salvo of 72 rockets in 44 seconds can neutralise one square km of area. A few sources say India already has inducted as many as 80 of these systems.

The Pinaka will be operated in conjunction with the Indian Army's Firefinder radars and indigenously developed BEL Weapon Locating Radar of which 28 are on order. The Indian Army is networking all its artillery units together with the DRDO's Artillery Command & Control System (ACCS), which acts as a force multiplier. The ACCS is now in series production. The Pinaka units will also be able to make use of the Indian Army's SATA (Surveillance & Target Acquisition) Units which have been beefed up substantially throughout the late 1990s, with the induction of the Searcher-1, Searcher-2 and IAI Heron UAVs into the Indian Army as well as the purchase of a large number of both Israeli made and Indian-made Battle Field Surveillance radars. These have also been coupled with purchases of the Israeli LORROS (Long Range Observation and Sighting System) which is ideally suited for long range day/night surveillance.

Induction of the Brahmos cruise missile and Prithvi ballistic missile systems has re-affirmed the Army's battlefield domination ambitions. With modern infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) joining the force every year and the Army in the process of augmenting its flying gunship force levels, it is the necessary induction of between 3000 and 4000 pieces of towed and self-propelled artillery that can really hamper the 1.1-million strong Army's progress on the battlefield. The Army has recently beefed up its mountain warfare force by inducting two new mountain divisions or about 30000 terrain-fighting soldiers.

first published:October 27, 2011, 14:58 IST