-Subodh Sharma & Aman Routray
An Alpha Defense Exclusive
The Indian army and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are all set to modify the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) with certain user-specific requirements. The most important modification is the incorporation of a hydraulic assisted manual drive for elevation and traverse. The gun which is all set to start its summer trials will see these modifications before summer trials are undertaken. BEETA HYDROENGINEERING, PUNE will provide the Hydraulic Assisted Manual Drive for elevation and traverse
ATAGS was initially designed with all-electric drives and was carrying out trials based on the requirements of the Indian Army. The gun had successfully completed high-altitude trials in Sikkim last year. Starting with PSQR trials in PFFR at Pokhran, the gun will undergo trials in various ranges of the Indian army in central and western India. But it is not yet clear if the gun will be taken to the high-altitude trials again after these modifications.
Criticism of ATAGS:
The 155 MM /52 Calibre towed artillery gun systems are currently under the negative list for import. But the army has requested a year waiver given to the tense standoff in Ladakh. Army’s recommendation received MoD’s node given to the situation on LAC. The Indian Army has been pursuing a separate process for procurement of towed guns from abroad under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. The howitzer that was finally selected as the lowest bidder for this process was the ATHOS of the Israeli firm Elbit, in 2019.
The deal was for the supply of 400 guns and indigenous production of another 1,180 guns by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), under a full Transfer of Technology (TOT) process. This has created an Athos vs ATAGS situation in India, especially after that attempt where Army sought to acquire 400 guns directly from Israel. The critics of the gun points out the following issues:
Weight of the Gun
The critics say “the extra weight” of the gun, may impact the operational performance of the gun system in mountainous and high-altitude terrain. The ATAGS is said to weigh around 18 tonnes. In comparison, ATHOS weighs less than 15 tonnes.”
Cost of the Gun
Claims are ATHOS will cost less than Rs 11 crore per piece, while ATAGS is said to cost anywhere between Rs 16-18 crore. One must remember the cost of ATAGS are of prototype gun with GST while cost of Athos is of operation gun with pricing of 2018-19. The calculation do not include inflation and local manufacturing escalation.
Rate of Fire
Another concern is the alleged “inability of the gun” system to meet the critical performance parameters, especially with regard to rates of fire. The rate of fire includes the burst firing of five rounds in one minute, intense firing of 10 rounds in two-and-a-half minutes, and a sustained rate of 60 rounds in sixty minutes. In comparison, Elbit Systems claims ATHOS can fire three rounds in 30 seconds, 12 rounds in three minutes, and 42 rounds in sixty minutes. ATAGS has a magazine of 5 rounds comparison with 3 round magazine of Athos and because of that number of reloading of Athos are higher than ATAGS resolution in this alleged deficiency.
Hydraulic vs Electric Drive for ATAGS
It’s an established fact that the power source for machine motions can greatly impact the amount of energy a machine consumes. Conventional wisdom holds that electric drives are more efficient than their fluid-power counterparts. But in cases where equipment has a single, controllable hydraulic pump, the accumulator consumes less power. Typical howitzer drives are similar and thus losses due to hydraulic drives will not be really significant. However, the electric drive will be more efficient in comparison.
Maintaining a hydraulic drive is way simpler than maintaining an electric drive, although electric drives are usually not as maintenance intensive as hydraulic drives. In an application like the Artillery gun system, vibrations are not just common, but also, they are intense. These wild vibrations will cause the hydraulic drive to frequently leak oil and remain unavailable for action.
Though maintaining a gun with the hydraulic drive is much easier, a regular technician can easily upkeep these systems, but they are prone to more frequent breakdowns. On the other hand, electrical systems of the electric drives can be networked and reprogrammed very quickly. They also offer immediate feedback for both diagnostic and maintenance purposes. But Indian army will have to train the crew to upkeep these guns infield which will be a challenge. Hydraulic systems also require many component parts, including a fluid reservoir, release valves, or even additional motors, which perhaps makes it logistically intensive.
The hydraulic drives are comparatively compact for the similar torque requirements and thus the overall weight of the system is much lower. One of the criticisms of ATAGS is the weight of that system. Howitzer weighs a whooping 18 tonnes but it can be justified with the range and firepower it offers.
The use of Hydraulic drives will certainly reduce the overall weight of the system. Thus, operationally guns can be towed by artillery tractors of lower power ratios. This also has an impact on the overall fuel consumption during a typical towing rally.
The initial cost of an electric design is much higher than that of a hydraulic motor. However, they have much longer life with less frequent breakdowns resulting in much better overall lower lifecycle cost.
Electric drives can generate incredible amount of torque without the losses associated with torque-multiplying gear systems. The problem is that the size of these high-torque electrical drives is unworkable for use on heavy equipment. However, in ATAGS torque required is not comparable to a typical heavy haul application. On the other hand, hydraulic drives can generate almost equal amounts of torque at a fraction of the size, but with a penalty of efficiency. Some hydraulic drives have been specifically designed for high torque and power density applications. If there is limited space for a high torque motor, then a hydraulic motor would be best.
So, this drive change will make ATAGS more compact and lighter, but its operational efficiency will suffer.
Electrical motors offer the most precise and easily controllable positioning. These setups are easily scalable for any weight and torque requirement. They are quiet, smooth, and simple to repeat.
Overall, this change will certainly make this gun more aligned with the requirement of the Indian army. The gun will weigh less, it will cost less, and will be much easier to maintain. However the accuracy of the gun might suffer a bit.
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