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Need a robust and reliable gun, says Army as artillery modernisation plan faces hiccups

Lt Gen. T.K. Chawla, Director General Artillery, stresses importance of indigenous defence manufacturing while discussing challenges facing Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System & Dhanush.

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New Delhi: Twenty-two years after the Army finalised the Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP), under which a mix of around 3,000-3,600 howitzers were to be procured by 2025-27, the modernisation plan is facing hiccups as two major indigenous programmes have failed to fire off fully.

At a media briefing Monday on the eve of Gunners’ Day, which marks the anniversary of the raising of the oldest Indian Mountain Battery (5th Bombay Mountain Battery), Lt Gen. T.K. Chawla, Director General Artillery, weighed in on the challenges facing the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), and Dhanush, known as the ‘desi Bofors’, as he emphasised the importance of indigenous defence manufacturing.

The more important of the two projects is ATAGS, being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) along with private firms Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED.

“A lot of handholding has been done by the Army, both for ATAGS and Dhanush. I had a detailed discussion last week with the OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) and ARDE (Armament Research and Development Establishment of DRDO),” said Lt Gen. Chawala. “We have mutually come to agree on where the requirement is.” 

The Army, he added, wants both the programmes to succeed.

“We want them to succeed, we are part of their success. There are advantages in going indigenous and technology being developed within the country,” the officer said.

Also read: ‘Positive indigenisation list’ got lengthier but India’s defence industry far from ready

‘ATAGS failed to meet all parameters’

Explaining the issues dogging the programmes, Lt Gen. Chawla said the summer fire trial this year of the ATAGS had failed to achieve certain parameters and would undergo further modification.

“There were some parameters which have been achieved and there are some parameters which need improvement, both in firing and non-firing parameters.”

He added that it is “difficult” to give a timeline for possible induction of the ATAGS into the Army.

“We did try them (ATAGS) out in the summer of Pokhran. There are a few issues. We have informed the DRDO and they have agreed to work on it. We are looking at a robust gun, reliable gun which can fire accurately and reliably,” he said.

The Army is believed to have voiced concerns over the weight of ATAGS, a project which began in 2012, and its inability to meet critical performance parameters.

“I am very optimistic in the case of ATAGS. The DRDO will work towards overcoming what could not be achieved at Pokhran and the teething problem is resolved,” Lt Gen. Chawla said. 

Dhanush facing production quality issues

While ATAGS is facing trouble in the design and development stage, the Army has flagged the production quality of Dhanush — of which the Army had ordered 114 in 2019.

The induction of Dhanush started in April 2019. Between then and the beginning of June this year, only 12 of the long-range artillery guns had been delivered. This is far below the 18 guns required to make a full regiment.

“Very recently, I had a fruitful and constructive engagement with the production-level officials. There are a few teething issues which they need to iron out. It is good work in progress,” Lt Gen. Chawla said. 

“We as a user are looking forward to it,” Lt Gen. Chawla added, saying the Army and the manufacturer — Gun Carriage Factory (CGF), Jabalpur, a unit of the state-run OFB — will undertake some “confidence firing” soon.

Under FARP, the Army aims to acquire a mix of around 3,000-3,600 155mm howitzers — with different calibre types, for example, towed, mounted, self-propelled (tracked and wheeled) — by 2025-27.

This was to be achieved through a mix of direct imports, licensed manufacturing and indigenous production.

After years of being in the rut, the artillery programme got a push in 2015, with the successful completion of trials (which had begun around 2012), signing of contracts, and various systems entering final stages of decision-making.

The artillery modernisation programme was then seen as a success story by everyone in the defence establishment. However, it has seemed to be floundering of late.

Only K9 Vajra, M-777 lightweight howitzers plans have fructified

Lt Gen. Chawla said that, of all the plans, the one for K9 Vajra howitzers, manufactured by L&T in collaboration with a South Korean firm, has been completed, and confirmed ThePrint’s report that the Army is looking at possibly ordering for additional tracked guns. 

Talking about the American M-777, assembled by India’s Mahindra Defence, the Director General Artillery said half of those ordered have reached the Army, adding that the Covid pandemic caused a delay.

He ruled out the Army looking at ordering more M-777s, adding that three regiments of the howitzers have been deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).  

The Army, Lt Gen. Chawla said, is also looking at mounted gun systems. The Army has already issued an RFI (request for information) for the mounted gun, which will give the force better manoeuvrability than a towed system.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also read: India’s approach to defence indigenisation has basic flaws. Private players can up the game


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