The Dhanush 155 mm howitzer at Defexpo 2014 in New Delhi in February 2014
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, April 28th, 2015
The Indian Army’s most worrying operational gap --- that of field artillery guns to support infantry and armour in battle --- is gradually being filled. An Indian 155 millimetre, 45-calibre artillery gun called the Dhanush has cleared its field trials and is ready for manufacture in numbers.
Talking to Parliament’s consultative committee on Monday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said “Dhanush has successfully met all technical parameters during the winter and summer trials. Dhanush incorporates many improved features than the guns [that] the Army is possessing at present”.
The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) has built the Dhanush from manufacturing blueprints that Swedish company, Bofors, supplied India as part of the controversial 1986 purchase of 410 FH-77 howitzers. The OFB was going to build over a thousand of these howitzers in India, but allegations of kickbacks scuttled that plan; for years, OFB sat on the blueprints.
Now, it has not only figured out how to build these guns, but has upgraded these from the FH-77’s original 39-calibre to a more robust 45-calibre howitzer.
A higher calibre denotes a longer barrel and, consequently, a longer range. OFB officials say that upgrading the 39-calibre FH-77 into the 45-calibre Dhanush has increased the gun’s range from 27 kilometres to 38 kilometres, using enhanced range ammunition.
The OFB, it is learnt, will now receive an order for building 114 Dhanush guns, to equip 6 artillery regiments. If these guns perform to the army’s satisfaction, the order could go up to about 400 guns.
So far, the army is satisfied with the performance of the Dhanush during winter trials that were carried out in Sikkim and summer trials in Rajasthan last year.
Overall, the artillery consists of 264 regiments, many of them holding 105 and 130 millimetre guns. However, it has been decided that its basic gun will be 155 millimetres, so that their heavier shells can pulverize a piece of ground before infantry soldiers or tanks move to capture it, reducing casualties.
The artillery lobs shells from as far away as 20 kilometres, but has historically caused more battlefield casualties than any other arm.
With India having concluded no big artillery purchase since the 1980s, a range of tenders are now out for procuring modern artillery.
The purchase of 145 ultralight howitzers (ULH) from BAE Systems is being processed with the US government. With BAE Systems demanding close to $700 million (Rs 4,500 crore), the government has told parliament the price is too high.
Even so, the ULH is considered essential for the army’s new, but now-curtailed, mountain strike corps. Weighing only 4.2 tonnes (compared to the Dhanush’s 10 tonnes) the ULH can be transported rapidly by helicopters in the mountains.
Separately, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is partnering private firms like L&T, Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED in a Rs 700 crore project to build the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG). This 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun could have a planned range of 60 kilometres, while weighing just 12 tonnes.
In November, Parrikar sanctioned the purchase of 814 mounted gun systems (MGS) for an estimated Rs 15,750 crore. In this tender, Indian companies will establish joint ventures with foreign gun-makers.
To equip the artillery until the indigenous projects fructify, tenders have been floated in three more categories of 155 millimetre guns. These are for purchasing (a) 1,580 towed guns; (b) 100 tracked (self-propelled) guns; and (c) 180 wheeled (self-propelled) guns.
Towed guns are for regular use in plains and gentle mountains; tracked (self-propelled) guns are mounted in armoured vehicles to support tank formations; wheeled (self-propelled) guns are for fast-moving, non-armoured formations; The MGS is a regular 155-millimetre gun fitted onto a high mobility vehicle. This allows it to move faster and start firing quicker than a conventional towed gun.