Make In India: The Test Case Of Mediumisation Of Indian Artillery
For the last seven decades we have heard one Govt after another wax eloquent about the dire need to indegenise our defense production and gain autarky in the domain of weapons and equipment. The Nehruvian dispensation set up a huge gargantuan Public sector to indigenise defense production. All that we ended up with in the name of indegenisation was assembly of semi and completely knocked down kits purchased from abroad. We gained no experience in design and development and the know – why of weapons systems. They could not even upgarade the weapon systems they were supposedly manufacturing. All that this cosmetic exercise did was to create the optical illusion of indegenisation. Mettallurgy of the home grown (assembled products) was a serious cause for concern. The joke was that in many cases – the assembeled in India equipment was costlier than the imported originals and less reliable. A dire need was now felt to stop expanding a most inefficient public sector bureaucracy and increasingly involve the Private sector in defense production. Hence there was considerable excitement when the Modi Govt in its very first term announced its ambitious make in India policy to have strategic partnerships of our Private sector companies with OEM in the west and other advanced countries and create a viable and efficient eco- system for defense production in our own country. Sadly five years later we have seen the public sector and bureaucracy( military and civil) sabotage this brave new initiative and stall every single project. The trail is littered with failed experiments and derailed projects. The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), the Future
Tank,(FCV) The Medium Transport Aircraft- every single brave new initiative was scuttled. One Project that succeeded very well in the make in india initiative was the DRDO led ATAGS(Advanced towed artillery gun system). This proved to be a master gun that out- performed the American 155/52 cal gun of its class. The amazing thing was the vehemence with which our civil and military bureaucracies have tried to kill this make in India project that is so vital for our army and for our economy. For indegenisation will lead to job creation in our country.In this article therefore I will take up the mediumisation of the Indian artillery as a case study to understand why make in India is being made to fail and flounder in our country.
Lessons from Our Military History
In the 1965 war with Pakistan, India had a total of 628 Artillery pieces to Pakistan 552 pieces. This slight numerical advantage was largely neutralised by the fact that a fair amount of Indian artillery was deployed against China. This left Pakistan with a slight overall edge. The major edge that Pakistan had in firepower however was caused by the generous American allocation of Medium and Heavy Artillery guns and howitzers. Thus Pakistan had a total of 174 x155mm and 155mm guns/8 inch Howitzers to India’s 112 medium and heavy guns (5.5 inch Howitzers and one regiment of 7.2 inch Howitzers) .Of these 112 some 30-40% were deployed against China. As such Pakistan had a marked preponderance of artillery- especially medium and heavy artillery. This had a major impact on the outcome of the various battles in the 1965 war- especially in the Chhamb, Sialkot and Lahore sectors. Lets analyse them in detail.
Chhamb sector. Pakistan 7th Infantry Division that launched the offensive on Chammb was allocated two regiments of Patton Tanks and the 4 Corps Artillery Brigade which had three Medium Regiments, one Field Regiment and a Heavy Battery each of 155mm guns and 8 inch Gun-Howitzers. The Pakistan 7 Division itself had 2 × Fd Regiments. Thus Pakistan had 20 fire units(11 of them medium and Heavy) against just four with India (A lone field Regiment and a troop of Mediums). The Pakistan Medium guns just simply destroyed the sole Indian Field Regiment and blasted a path for the Pakistan tanks which almost reached the Akhnur Bridge. It was only India’s 1 Corps counter offensive in Sialkot that forced Pakistan to pull back the formidable 4 Corps Artillery Brigade and one Tank Regiment out of Chhamb. This recoil forced a halt on the Pakistan advance to Akhnur.
Sialkot Sector. The Pakistan 6th Armoured Division was located there with 6 Armoured Regiments .The Indian 1 Armoured Division attacked with 5 Tank Regiments – Pakistan threw in its tank regiments one by one and suffered heavily. Its 11 Cavalry Regiment was wiped out by our Centurions. In panic Pakistan withdrew the 4 corps Artillery Brigade and one regiment from Chammb. The Medium and Heavy guns now stopped the Indian advance before Chawinda. In fact the Pakistani Medium guns destroyed more tanks than the Pakistan Armoured Regiments could. The preponderance of medium guns heavily affected the outcome of the battle. It finally stopped the Indian 1 Corps advance well short of Sialkot.
Lahore Sector. On the first day of the war itself (06 Sep) an Indian battallion had crossed the Ichhogil Canal. Had India’s First Armoured division been allocated to this sector( as Gen Harbaksh Singh wanted) we could have encircled Lahore. Pakistan’s artillery played a major role in slowing down the Indian advance to a painful slog that just managed to lean on to the Icchogil Canal by the end of the war. The Pakistan 1 Armoured division counter offensive to get behind our two attacking corps, was trapped in the flooded fields of Asal Uttar and decimated by a combination of Tanks and Artillery. The value of Mediums was evident.
1971 War. India had a clear edge in Artillery-especially in the East and it proved decisive. Pakistan had misused US aid given for cyclone relief to make concrete bunkers in Bangladesh. To neutralise these, additional medium Artillery Regiments were allocated to Eastern Command. In addition 80 Close Air support( CAS) sorties per day were provided by IAF and these paved the way for a rapid advance in East Pakistan.
1999 Kargil War. Medium artillery once again proved to be a decisive and war winning factor. Bofors medium guns and Grad Rocket regiments were pulled out from the Strike Corps to support our counter attack in Kargil. A 120 guns were deployed to support the attack on Tololing and proved to be the turning point. The norm set in this war was a 100 artillery tubes to support each battalion attack in the mountains. This won the war for us.
Mediumisation of the Artillery. No wonder after the Kargil War the Indian Army planned to rapidly rationalise the plethora of guns in its inventory and mediumise the artillery by standardising it around the 155/52mm calibre. Unfortunately the ghost of Bofors has delayed this very vital artillery modernisation plan by over three decades. This scandal stopped the induction of any medium guns for over 30 years. It was a disaster of monumental proportions . It was only now that after a painful gap of 30 years that we have started inducting the American M-777 ultra light weight howitzer and the Dhanush locally made 155/45 cal medium guns along with the Tracked 155/52 K- 9 Vajra of Korean origin. These have at long last started trickling in.
There is an urgent need to speed up this process and ensure that the mediumization and indigenization, of our artillery is completed at the earliest possible. We need to standardize and rationalize the plethora of calibers and guns to the 155/52mm standard caliber. This one major step itself will give us a revolutionary overmatching capability over Pakistan in the west and serve to deter China in the North. This process was sabotaged by the Bofor scandal. This along with the tragic draw down in our air power and squadron strength ensured that for three decades, India could not react or respond in any meaningful manner to Pakistan’s provocations and proxy war in Kashmir and the its hybrid terror war all over Indian cities. We just had to patiently grin and bear it. The clear cut military modernization task for our government is therefore apparent and most urgent.
- We must rapidly mediumize our entire artillery around the 155/52 caliber
- We must rapidly take up our squadron strength to 45 squadrons and ensure we have overmatching BVR capabilities. Balakot was a major wakeup call.
The Current Artillery Profile
India’s current artillery profile is a bewildering mish mash of various calibers and different artillery guns with the same caliber. Thus India has:-
- A 950 units of 130mm (M-46) Russian medium guns (some being upgraded to 155mm)
- 500 units of 122mm (Field Guns Russian)
- 1800 units of 105mm Indian Field Gun (IFG)
- 800 units of 105mm Indian Gun
- 80 units of 105mm Abbot Self Propelled (SP)guns
- 110 units of 122mm Gvozdika (SP) guns
- 410 units of 155mm FH-77 Bofors (Now down to half)
- 150 units of 122mm Grad MBRLs
Proposed new induction (Guns)
The proposed new inductions are-
- 150 x 155mm K-9 Vajra SP guns (tracked of Korean origin)
- 145 x 155mm Ultra Light Howitzers (M-777) US origin
- 150 x 155/52 Advanced Artillery Towed Gun System (ATAGS) Indian origin
- 114 x 155/45 cal (Dhanush) gun made by OFB
This would cater for about 5-600 new guns of the 155mm cal. The need is to induct almost some 3000 guns of the towed, truck mounted and tracked class.
We need to ensure that we not only mediumise but also indegenise in a manner that gives a major boost to defense production in the PRIVATE sector. The option matrix so far is –
Public Sector .The Dhanush was developed as a 155/45 cal from the design drawings of the FH-77 Bofors. This gun now developed by the Indian Ordinance factories is 25- 30% superior in performance to the Bofors. First six guns were handed over to the Indian Army in April last year. It has done well in trials and has a range of 40kms. The only hitch is the need to improve its metallurgy (which somehow is a weak point of our public sector enterprises and needs urgent attention).
Private Sector : in 2013 DRDO had started the development of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS). ARDE was the lead design agency in a project ably partnered by the Kalyani Forge, Tata Power and OFB. Kalyani Forge’s Baba Kalyani had rendered yeoman service in this effort. Kalyani had purchased an entire Austrian 155mm gun factory and shipped it to India. With the companies inherent expertise in metallurgy it has resulted in the development of a radically advanced gun. In firing trials it touched ranges of 50kms and consistently fired beyond 47kms. It has a rate of fire of 6 rounds per minute. Compare this with the American gun of the same class which has a range of 45 km and a rate of fire of 3 rounds per minute. Thus India has come up with a world beater design.
Need for Sector Specific QRs. However our military and civilian bureaucracy is far more concerned with the fine print of the GSQR. This gun at nearly 20 tons is said to be some 6 tons overweight. We are completely prepared to overlook the far superior performance parameters and demonstrably superior metallurgy of this gun in our obsession with the weight of this gun. How is the weight such a disqualifying factor? Most bridges in the plains and desert environment are class 70-capable of taking a 70 ton load of a tank Transporter with a tank. In the mountains our bridges can take 45 ton medium Tanks .So this furore over 20 tons being a catastrophe is most uncalled for hogwash designed to somehow sabotage our make in India process. Public sector behemoths are most uncomfortable with competition emerging from the Private sector. And if the 20 tons weight is such a major drawback ( please first explain why)we can always do away with the platform or try some other ways to bypass bureaucracy. In future, to avoid such bureaucratic bottlenecks,we should go for sector specific QRs. The critical factor is reliable metallurgy. We simply cant afford to have barrels flowering on the battlefields and that is the key distinguishing parameter of the ATAGS – its vastly superior perfomance and very sturdy metallurgy compared to the Dhanush guns. Longer range permits us to destroy hostile medium batteries by engaging them beyond their maximum ranges.
Given this analysis, the obvious choice is to induct the ATAGS rapidly in much larger numbers. The RM, new CDS and new COAS must take the key command decision and circumvent the petty bureaucratic hurdles to the large scale induction of the ATAGS – an indigenous Indian gun produced in our private sector. It is the only major Indian success story in the entire make in India process. Why our bureaucracy should be so keen to kill it is mystifying.
Export Potential. India has desperately been trying to export its weapon systems to achieve economies of scale . If we wish to sell the ATAGS in the world market, the Indian Army will first have to induct it in large numbers that go beyond tokenism( a la Arjun).Let us reinforce success. Let us give due weightage to performance and reliability factors over staff quibbles. Let us launch a major drive to push this gun in the export market once our own requirements are met- that is the only way our Make in India drive will ever take off. It will generate many new jobs in India. Perfect should not become an enemy of the good.
PGMs. Krasnopol Russian precision- Laser- guided shells were extensively used in the 1999 Kargil conflict and were useful against enemy bunkers and mortar positions. However these had limitations. Hence in 2019 emergency purchase was made of the M-982 American Excalibur Satellite/ GPS guided PGMs( artillery shells). These have a CEP of some 5 meters and have proved particularly effective against terror training camps and command and control targets as also Counter Battery tasks. With 50 km plus ranges these are a formidable weapon system against such Hybrid war targets.
MBRLs. India has some 150 units of 122mm Grad Russian MBRLs ( range 20kms) which have more than proved their worth in the 1971 and 1999 Kargil wars as very effective area neutralization weapons. These are reaching obsolescence and are being replaced by the indigenous 214 mm Pinaka MBRLs. These have ranges of 75 Kms presently and plans are afoot to increase this range to 120 kms. In the time of extreme poverty of medium artillery, Pinakas were being used to replace medium guns. This is principally incorrect. We have also acquired the formidable Russian BM-30 Smerch MBRLs which- with their range of 70-90 kms and greater throw weight can put the fear of god in any enemy.
Conclusion .After The Kargil war we started the very logical and long overdue process to standardise our artillery around the heavier and proven 155/52 mm calibre.It was based upon the lessons we had repeatedly learnt in each and every war we had fought.The ghost of bofors delayed this vital and badly needed upgrade by over 30 years. Firm after firm was blacklisted as it allegedly tried to Offer bribes. Bribe Giving was the sole Crime.the Bribe taker had a devine right to loot the ex- chequerand short charge the armed forces who would suffer if these badly needed weapon systems were delayed. A worst fate has overtaken our air force whose modernisation and expansion has been most dangerously scuttled. It is time to see that made in India is made to work.
By Maj Gen (Dr) GD Bakshi (retd)