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Modernisation plan of the Indian Army to procure indigenous 3,000-3,600 howitzers by 2025-27 as part of the Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP) has run into problems
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
On December 21, 2021, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh launched the indigenous Multi-terrain Artillery Gun (MArG) 155-BR manufactured by the Pune-based Indian MNC Bharat Forge Ltd in the presence of Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane concurrent to the multinational military exercise of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries held in December 2021. A three-day multilateral and multi-agency exercise for the BIMSTEC countries focusing on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations was held in Pune between December 20 and 22. On the sidelines of the exercise, various products of the Indian defence industry were launched. The Multi-terrain Artillery Gun was launched by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh while reviewing the exercise held at College of Military Engineering, Pune.
The Made-In-India Multi-terrain Artillery Gun (MArG) 155 - BR is the only 155mm 39 calibre gun system mounted on 4x4 HMV in the world
In line with the Government’s ‘Make in India’ and Atmanirbhar Bharat Mission, Pune-based Indian MNC Bharat Forge Ltd has developed this sophisticated weapon, adding another feather in its cap. The ‘Made In India’ MArG 155-BR is the only 155mm 39 calibre gun system mounted on 4x4 HMV in the world. The vehicle weighs 18 tonne and has the capability to be deployed even in mountain regions. The gun system is equipped with shoot and scoot capability, providing advanced technical performance and high integration, explained the company.
Speaking on the occasion, Baba N. Kalyani, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Forge Ltd said, “The path breaking vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make India a self-reliant nation has awakened the spirits and highlighted the importance of the indigenous capabilities of the Indian defence industry.”
A press statement from Bharat Forge Ltd read, “MArG 155–BR is our endeavour to develop advanced artillery gun defence systems in India. We are grateful for the cooperation, guidance and inspiration provided to us by the Indian defence forces to create best-in-class defence solutions made to face futuristic challenges.” Various other features of the gun system, as quoted in the statement, are: “Gradient negotiation: 30 making it a go-anywhere gun, capable of firing complete NATO standard and in-service ammunition, on-board ammunition carrying capacity of 18 rounds, coming into action time of 1.5 minutes during the day and 2 minute in the night.” Other characteristics of the MArG 155–BR include: elevation -2 to + 72; traverse 25 to right and left, and; it can fire at Burst Rate (2 rounds in 30 seconds, Intense Rate (12 rounds in 3 minutes) and at Sustained Rate (42 rounds in 60 minutes).
The ATAGs project had started in 2012, and has been getting delayed due to its failure to meet the critical parameters set out by the Indian Army
Reports of September 28, 2021 however indicate that modernisation plan of the Indian Army to procure indigenous 3,000-3,600 howitzers by 2025-27, as part of the Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP) which was approved after more than two decades, has run into problems with snags in the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) and Dhanush gun. Media has quoted Lieutenant General T.K. Chawla, Director General Artillery telling reporters on Gunners Day that the ATAGS has several issues which starts with the design and development. It failed in the recent summer fire trials in which it could not achieve certain parameters - some parameters related to firing and non firing need improvement. This means the ATAGS will have to go through further modifications.
ATAGS has been developed by the DRDO as nodal agency and two private companies – Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED. It has achieved a range of 48 km. ATAGS had been undergoing evaluation trials when an accident of barrel burst occurred in September 2020, which left four soldiers injured. In 2021, trials were carried out in the extreme summer temperatures of Pokhran and the ATAGS could not achieve the parameters as set out by the Army. These issues and readings have been shared with DRDO which is the nodal agency involved in the development of ATAGS. The Army is looking for a gun which is reliable and can fire accurately, and issues related to the weight of these guns too need to be addressed. The ATAGs project had started in 2012, and has been getting delayed due to its failure to meet the critical parameters set out by the end user – the Indian Army. The procurement plans for ATAGS now appears still some time away. Officials say the complete order for 150 modern ATAGS guns is likely to be completed only by 2026, which may still be ambitious.
During the trial by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) in mid-November 2020, Dhanush suffered a failure of the recoil systems. Between 2019 and 2021, only 12 of the long-range Dhanush guns have been delivered to the Army.
The Dhanush apparently has problems related to the production quality. Explaining more about the problems related to the production, Lt General Chawla said that there are teething problems and the end user Army and the manufacturer — Gun Carriage Factory (GCF), will soon undertake some “confidence firing”. The Army had ordered 114 x Dhanush guns in 2019 and the production had started in that year itself. The induction of Dhanush in the Army commenced in April 2019, however, following a CBI inquiry it was found that the'Wire Race Roller Bearings' of the six Dhanush guns supplied to the Army had ‘not’ passed the quality tests at the GCF and production was halted. During the trial by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) at Balasore in mid-November 2020, the gun suffered a failure of the recoil systems. Between 2019 and 2021, only 12 of the long-range Dhanush guns have been deliveredto the Army.