Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS)

The Indian Army’s plans to indigenously acquire over 3,000 howitzers of different types is running in the slow lane. The Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme, approved in the mid-1980s, envisaged standardising the army’s howitzers on the 155 mm calibre (the diameter of the gun barrel) like the Bofors guns acquired in 1986. The ‘revised modernisation plan 2017’ in 2007 projected the induction of 2,700 new howitzers for Rs 22,000 crore by 2017. These guns would be acquired in different configurations—self-propelled, tracked (mounted on a tank chassis), wheeled (on a wheeled armoured vehicle), towed (pulled by a truck), ultra-light (air-dropped by helicopters) and a Mounted Gun System (fitted on a 4x4 or 6x6 vehicle). These guns are to equip the army’s 235 artillery regiments (each with 18 guns). From a three-decade lull after the Bofors acquisition, there has been a spurt in artillery acquisitions by the Indian Army. Ultra-light howitzers have been acquired from the US and tracked guns from South Korea, but the bulk of the artillery still needs upgrading.

One of the remarkable defence industrial developments over the last decade has been the huge strides made in indigenous artillery. There are now four gun production hubs in five states in the country. Firms like L&T, TATA Advanced Systems and Bharat Forge have set up gun production lines within the country to compete with the erstwhile monopoly, state-owned ordnance factories. There thus exists the capability to not just build guns within the country but also an eco-system to refit, upgrade and export them. Disappointingly, orders have been somewhat slow to come. The army’s DG Artillery, Lt General T.K. Chawla, recently told the media that the army was ‘hand holding’ the domestic industry to ensure indigenous projects like the Advanced Towed Array Gun System and the OFB-produced Dhanush howitzer meet their requirements. This year, as part of its defence indigenisation drive, the MoD banned the imports of 155 mm howitzers after December 2021. The army will have no choice but to turn to indigenous gun industry. For the first time in independent India’s history, it is spoilt for choice.