A closer look at desi Howitzers – the latest entrants amongst the Kings of the battlefield
Truly towards atmanirbhar bharat
Part 1 – Towed Howitzers
As we know the current Indian government’s key initiative mainly in the field of the defence sector has been “ Atmanirbhar Bharat” ( self-reliance) and “Make in India” initiative under the virtue of these two programmes, Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh this year introduced a negative list of 101 defence items(although list is ought to progressive in nature) one of the items listed in for embargo are artillery systems or howitzers. Artillery is considered to be single most lethal and widely used tool of battlefield since ages that’s more true in case of modern artillery systems which are capable of introducing wide range and long distance precise damage to enemy’s camps, Given it’s huge importance in battle field India has not only procured new systems like M777 ultra light howitzer and K-9 Vajra T from foreign vendor under joint venture with Indian firms, but has also worked in-house to develop multiple gun systems, more importantly many of them coming from private sectors or through Strategic Partnership Policy between DRDO and private companies. Now in these 3-parts article series we shall be discussing on indigenous and foreign collaboratory efforts with their respective local Indian partners in design, development, production/ manufacturing of various field artillery systems. However we don’t intend to make this article rather long we shall be keeping our attention in first part of this article in regards to towed artillery systems only
105/37mm Indian Field Guns
This gun system is based on Light field guns of UK and was developed by ARDE. The gun produced since 1984 by Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur weights around 2.4 tons and can be easily air transported by current Indian MI17V5 helicopters. These guns are fast and easy to deploy and are specially useful in mountainous terrain where bigger calibre guns finds it difficult to reach. It has elevation of -5 degrees to 73 degrees and traverse 5 degree left to 5 degree right and 360 degree on a firing platform. The gun can fire 6 rounds per minute for a continuous period of 10 minute in intense mode and 1 round per minute for 2 hours in sustained mode, with round achieving maximum distance of upto 17.2km. The gun is currently being upgraded with Digital Fire Control System and efforts are being made to increase the maximum range to 27km using Base Bleed rounds. There are more than 1500 pieces in service with around 1000+ mk1 variant and 500+ mk2 variants.
This gun system is based on Haubit FH77 famously known as bofors and is developed by Ordinance Factory Board after extensively studying the blueprints of bofors provided under TOT . It weights around 13 tons and has elevation of -3 degrees to 70 degrees and traverse 30 degree left to 30 degree right. The gun can fire 3 rounds in 15 seconds in burst mode, 15 rounds in 3 minutes in intense mode and 60 rounds per hour in sustained mode, with maximum range of upto 38km using base bleed round. It has an auxiliary power unit which allow it to be self propelled at a speed of 5kmph, it also allow operation of its hydraulic arm. It feature a digital fire control system which allow automatic target laying capability and ballistic computation using INS based sighting system with GPS aid, Muzzle velocity radar etc . It has already been inducted into Indian army and is currently under mass production by Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur since 2019 with 114 units on order. Total requirement for this gun is 450-800 units
The system is developed by DRDO in collaboration with 2 private sector industries i.e. TATA Advanced System and Bharat Forge. Both companies made 2 slightly different prototypes of the gun. The system currently weights 18 tons and has elevation of -5 degrees to 75 degrees and traverse 30 degree left to 30 degree right. The Bharat Forge variant has burst mode of 5 rounds in 1min, can fire 10 rounds in 2.5 min in intense mode while sustained rate is 60 rounds in 1 hour. On the other hand TATA variant has burst mode of 6 rounds in 1min, can fire 12 rounds in 2.5 min in intense mode while sustained rate is 60 rounds in 1 hour. It is the only system in the world which have 6 round magazine. The Bharat Forge gun set the world record of firing HE-ERFB BB round at 48 km range and HE-ERFB BT at 38.5km, while TATA one achieved range of 47.2km wit base bleed ammunition. The gun has an all electrical drive which is powered by an 110kW auxiliary power unit allowing it self-propelled speed of 18kmph. The ammunition is fed using hydraulic arm and on-board Digital fire control system allow ballistic computing and automatic target laying capabilities using INS based sighting system with GPS aiid, Muzzle velocity radar etc. The order for production of 150 guns has been cleared by DAC and it will be divided among both companies with L1 or company with lower price producing 107 units and L2 producing 43 units at prices offered by L1. Total requirement for this calibre is 2000 units.
155/45mm Bharat 45
With purchase of Noricum, Austria, the Kalyani group brought the entire manufacturing line to India. This gun is based on Noricum GHN-45. It weights around 12.5 tons and has elevation of -3 degrees to 72 degrees and traverse 40 degree left to 30 degree right. The gun can fire 3 rounds in 15 seconds in burst mode, 15 rounds in 3 minutes in intense mode and 42 rounds per hour in sustained mode, with maximum range of upto 38km using base bleed round. It has an auxiliary power unit which allow it to be self propelled at a speed of 25 kmph and feature Digital fire control system provided by Elbit. It has semi automatic ammunition handling system with backup manual arrangement. Though in the same category as Dhanush, the gun is most likely for export only.
155/52mm Bharat 52
This gun is further development of Noricum GHN-45. It weights around 15 tons and has elevation of -3 degrees to 72 degrees and traverse 35 degree left to 35 degree right. The gun can fire 3 rounds in 30 seconds in burst mode, 12 rounds in 3 minutes in intense mode and 42 rounds per hour in sustained mode, with maximum range of upto 41-45 km using base bleed round. It has an auxiliary power unit which allow it to be self propelled at a speed of 21 kmph. It features digital fire control system which allow automatic target laying capability and ballistic computation using INS based sighting system with GPS Aid, muzzle velocity radar etc. The gun is competition to DRDO ATAGS which too is manufactured by Bharat Forge . Indian Army has concern with weight of ATAGS which is on the higher end of 18 ton as compared to other system around the world which weights around 13-15 tons. So this gun can get attraction of Indian Army however it lacks the burst firing capability of ATAGS. Currently this gun is being tested by Saudi Arabia for its army and recent news suggests it is also entered final testing phase of Indian Army.
The gun developed by Kalyani strategic Systems ltd as a direct competition to M777 ULH of BAE, US currently being produced under a joint venture with Mahindra. The Titanium version weights only 4.5 tons and is easily deployable in mountain terrain and can also be airlifted using Chinook Helicopter of IAF. The steel version weights 6.8 tons and is cheaper option to titanium version as titanium is costly. It is equipped with Digital Fire Control System which include Advanced Inertial Navigation and Aiming System , muzzle velocity radar etc and has a semi automatic breech operating system. It is manually steered and has elevation of -3 degrees to 70 degrees and traverse 23 degree left to 23 degree right. The gun can fire 4 rounds in 1 minute for 2 minutes in intense mode and 75 rounds per hour in sustained mode, with maximum range of upto 27.4 km using base bleed round. Any future requirement (which maybe around 500units) for Ultra light howitzer is likely to be met with this gun. The system is under trials with Indian Army.
155/52mm ULH ER
The indigenously developed towed light weight howitzer of higher calibre by Kalyani strategic systems ltd for mountainous terrains. It weights around 8 tons and is manually steered with elevation of -3 degrees to 70 degrees and traverse 23 degree left to 23 degree right and features a digital fire control system. The gun can fire 3 rounds in 30 seconds in burst mode, 12 rounds in 3 minutes in intense mode and 42 rounds per hour in sustained mode, with maximum range of upto 41 km using base bleed round. Currently requirement of this category of howitzer by Indian Army is unknown but it can definitely tap some export market.
These are basically 130mm M46 guns of Russian origin which are upgraded by OFB with 155/45mm Sharang kit. Each upgrade costing less than Rs.75 lakh makes it almost a new gun. The upgrade kit include a new 155mm barrel, a new breech block along with hydraulic rammer to ease the loading. It will also feature a new sighting system. Basically cannot be strictly classified as a howitzer but artillery gun system, weighting around 8.5 tons and having elevation of 0 degrees to 45 degrees and traverse 25 degree to left and 25 degree to right. The range has been increased to 39km. Initially up-gunning 180 units was done with help Israeli company Soltam( now Elbit) under Project Karan. But now under new tender OFB is up-gunning 300 units on its own and is suppose to supply them to army by 2022.