(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
Improved roads in border areas and induction of Chinook heavy lift helicopters will enable the Army to quickly deploy artillery guns to forward areas, said Lt. Gen. T.K. Chawla, Director General of Artillery on Monday. On artillery modernisation, he said the Army is working closely and doing “lot of hand holding” with Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to resolve issues with the indigenous Dhanush and towed artillery guns to turn them into “robust and reliable” systems.
“Since its design and development project it follows Preliminary Service Quality Requirements (PSQR) evolved by DRDO and Army. During the trials some parameters have been achieved and some which need further improvement. These concerns have been shared with DRDO,” Lt. Gen. Chawla said in an interaction with select journalists on the eve of Gunners Day, observed on September 28. The Advanced Towed Array Gun System (ATAGS) is a 155mm, 52 calibre heavy artillery gun jointly developed by the DRDO in partnership with Bharat Forge and the Tata Group.
“Firing trials were held recently in July-August in Pokhran. DRDO is working with its development partners in order to achieve these firing and non-firing parameters,” he said while stating that a timeline cannot be given as it was a design and development project. On the Dhanush artillery gun being developed by the OFB based on the original drawings of the Swedish Bofors guns, Lt. Gen. Chawla said there are few teething issues which they need to iron out but it is was good work in progress.
“We as the user are looking forward to it fructifying sooner than later. As long as they are able to iron out those issues, we can go down to so some confidence firing that is what has been agree to with OFB,” he stated. The Army has already given an indent for 114 Dhanush guns with the OFB. A lot of hand holding has been done by the Army, both for ATAGS and Dhanush, he added.
In August 2018 the Defence Acquisition Council had accorded approval for the purchase of 150 of these guns at an approximate ₹3,365 crore which would be split between the two companies. There is an overall requirement of 1,580 of these guns. “Border Roads [Organisation] is doing lot of effort to build the network in far flung areas. I think this effort will continue and we can get guns in more areas,” Lt. Gen. Chawla.
Lt. Gen. Chawla was in Eastern Ladakh recently and visited the gun positions and interacted with the troops deployed there to motivate them in the backdrop of the standoff with China. “The 105mm field guns are still very much robust with very high angle of firing which is so very essential in the mountains. Bulk of the deployment in Eastern Ladakh is largely of this calibre,” Lt. Gen. Chawla said, adding that as and when the other guns move in enough numbers, they will be replacing the 105mm guns.
The Army has also deployed its latest M777 Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. The Army had contracted 145 M777 guns and so far three regiments are operational. The fourth regiment is the process of acquiring equipment and under conversation, he stated. Stating that the ULH give that extra advantage of mobility due to their lighter weight, Lt. Gen. Chawla said training is “going on in moving guns from one sector to another with the Chinook helicopters.”
In addition, the Army has also inducted 100 K9 Vajra self-propelled howitzers and Lt. Gen. Chawla said the Army is considering the procurement of some more. The Army has recently issued a tender for procurement of over 800 mounted gun systems, which he said, were especially suited for the mountains due to their mobility. Under the Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP) promulgated after the Kargil conflict in 1999, the Army envisaged procuring close to 3,000 guns of various types. Under this the towed guns will be the mainstay of the Army and artillery is being standardised to 155mm standard.