The K-9 "VARJA-T" self-propelled 155 mm howitzer

The evolution of the artillery as a dominating force on the battle field has been a momentous journey. The advent of gun powder and its use in warfare has been one of the greatest revolutions in military affairs. Though India is still awaiting its membership to the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), the Trump administration has made this an exceptional case

Over the years, the manner in which wars have been fought reiterates that success in battle is synonymous with supremacy in firepower.

After 1971 till the year 2000 there has been only one major field artillery induction which was 155 mm/39 Cal Field Howitzer 77 B (Bofors).

According to the Indian army, in the 21st Century, artillery once again pushed for modernisation. In the first decade came the upgunned 130 mm gun 10 155 mm Soltam Gun and now after a considerable gap four new guns 155 mm gun systems have been have been contracted as part of the modernisation of the Artillery with 155 mm as basic calibre. These include: 155 mm 45 cal SOLTAM from Israel; 155 mm/45 Cal ULH M777 under FMS agreement from BAE Systems, US and 155 mm/52 Calibre K-9 Vajra-T from South Korea; 155 mm /45 Cal Dhanush gun system on Transfer of Technology (ToT) by Bofors; and lastly upgunned 155 mm/45 Cal being upgunned by OFB.

Sharing his view FE on the day two major guns were inducted in the Artillery of the Indian Army, Lt Gen Anil Ahuja, an artillery officer and former Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) says, “155/52 K 9 Vajra is the first credible self-propelled gun being inducted into the Indian Artillery. In the past Artillery had two regiments of 105 mm Abbot self propelled guns, which outlived their utility in the late 80s.”

In the medium gun category India tried its `Jugad’ of mounting 130 mm gun on Vijayanta tank chassis. It served the Army well giving nearly 30 Kms of range, which was the range of 130 mm gun. It however suffered from limitations of mobility and had to be phased out.

“The current induction fulfils a long felt operational void in the mechanised formations of the Indian Army. Along our Western borders, particularly in the semi desert and desert terrain of Rajasthan, there is a requirement of Artillery guns with matching mobility, long range and a credible punch delivered by heavy shells fired at a high rate of fire. These 100 guns (approximately five regiments worth) will fulfil the Artillery requirements of India’s mechanised formations. This gun enjoys greater survivability against the counter bombardment, by its mobility. It can also continue to operate in a CBRN environment, providing it protection against the TNWs that the Western adversary threatens to use, “the Gen points out.

According to him, in terms of indigenisation and make in India, it is another commendable achievement. The contract was bagged by L&T in the category of `Buy Global’ for which this gun, jointly developed with South Korea’s Hanwha Tech Win (HTW) was fielded. A proud achievement by L&T, a private Indian defence industry, paving way for indigenous defence programmes, including in the private sector.

The strategic partnership model in our defence acquisitions and according of Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status to India by the US, paves way for more private Indian industries to become manufacturers of weapon systems or to become significant partners in global value chains of foreign defence OEMs.

In August this year, ahead of the first ever 2+2 India-US Strategic Dialogue, the US had issued a federal notification which paved the way for high-technology product sales to New Delhi, particularly in civil space and defence sectors, thus making India the 37th country to be designated the STA-1 status by the United States.

Though India is still awaiting its membership to the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), the trump administration has made this an exceptional case.

Only countries given the STA-1 status by the US are those who are members of the four export control regimes: Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), Australia Group (AG) and the NSG.

According to Ahuja, the M777 gun, which is substantially lighter than the existing 155 FH 77B Bofors guns (4.5 tons as against 12 tons), meets the operational requirements of our borders in mountainous terrain, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Central Sector, where the communications are not so well developed yet.

“The gun is helicopter portable by the Chinook helicopters whish are under procurement. Though with a shorter barrel than the SP gun being inducted today and though marginally less automated than the existing Bofors guns, it meets the mobility and firepower requirements for our Northern borders,” he adds.

Though procured on the Foreign Military Sales Route (FMS), the AIT (Assembly, integration and testing facility) established jointly by BAE Systems and Mahindras brings in integration and some manufacturing skills. It will provide overhaul and spares facilities indigenously.

“The facility also brings in domain knowledge for use of titanium for manufacturing lighter weapon systems in future for indigenous use as well as for exports,” says the former deputy chief IDS.