Two locally developed artillery pieces – the ATAGS and Dhanush – participated in a live demonstration at the DefExpo 2018 exhibition in Chennai. Although they are not yet in production, there are positive signals that the Indian Army’s artillery fleet is finally in for a boost, after failing to see any new weapons added in more than three decades.
The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), pictured above, is a 155mm L/52 towed howitzer with limited self-propelled capability via a 110kW auxiliary engine. Two prototypes exist and two more are in the process of being integrated.
The Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), part of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is in charge of the project that began in 2012. Notably, the ATAGS is being developed in conjunction with two primary private companies – Tata Power SED and Bharat Forge/Kalyani Strategic Systems.
Both have created prototypes of the ATAGS, with minor differences, although overall Kalyani is responsible for the gun system, while Tata Power SED takes care of the display, sights and fire control system.
Having two companies building prototypes is seen as a risk mitigation measure. Furthermore, if two companies are selected for production, it will permit faster rates, plus it will prevent future production residing in only one private company.
Firing tests in Rajasthan achieved a commendable range of 47.2km using a base-bleed round. After already completing desert, high-altitude and cold-weather tests, the army will conduct further trials of the ATAGS this year.
Of note, the gun uses all-electric drive, with no hydraulics involved. An ARDE spokesman said this had the advantages of being quiet, more reliable and requiring less maintenance. Another innovation is that the ammunition tray holds six rounds as well as one in the breech. That means the weapon can fire five rounds within 45 seconds.
Moving on to the other artillery piece being demonstrated, the Dhanush is an Indian development of the Bofors FH-77B 155mm L/45 towed howitzer. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is in charge of this project that kicked off in 2012.
The army needs 114 such guns, although when three Dhanush guns experienced muzzle brake failures during testing in July 2017, this delalyed the project.
The needs are tremendous. In all, the Indian Army needs some 3,000 artillery pieces to equip approximately 200 artillery regiments by 2027.
In terms of SPHs, Larsen & Toubro (L&T) is building 100 K9 Vajra-T systems under a May 2017 contract, these based on the Hanwha K9 from South Korea. This project is remarkable in its speed – fewer than six years from global tender to contract.
The first ten K9s are being built in South Korea, with the remaining 90 assembled in India with 50% or more local content. L&T produces or installs the air-conditioning, autoloader, NBC system, hull, turret, ammunition handling system and tracks. However, the barrel and breech come from Hanwha.
An L&T official said the first Vajra-T will be handed over to the Indian Army ‘within a few weeks’.
Elsewhere, India finally concluded a deal for 145 M777A2 lightweight towed howitzers from BAE Systems in November 2016. Mahindra and Mahindra is developing the assembly, integration and test facility in India for the M777.
As a potential competitor, Kalyani exhibited its 155mm L/39 ULH ultra-lightweight towed howitzer with conventional recoil at DefExpo 2018. Available for probably half the price of an M777A2, the company funded the project itself and hopes to score sales from the Indian Army in the future.
The ULH achieved a range of 24.7km, rising to 30km with extended-range rounds, during tests in March this year. It requires a crew of six and can be ready for firing within a minute of arrival. Using materials such as titanium, it weighs less than 4.8t.
A self-propelled version of the ULH mounted on a truck is also available. Known as the 4×4 Armoured Gun-Mounted Vehicle (AGMV), it possesses a hybr