DELHI: It is the toast of India's "Make In India" program, an example of how the domestic manufacturing sector is performing, but the production line for the K-9 Vajra artillery guns may run dry soon as the order book exhausts, forcing a possible mothballing of the facility.

The ‘Vajra’, a 155 mm howitzer ordered by the Indian Army in 2017 after a global competition that was won by Larsen & Toubro, is a central attraction at the show that has seen participation from more than 70 nations.

Hanwha Defence shipped the first batch of 10 guns to the Indian Army in November 2018 on schedule, upon which 41 guns of the K-9 Vajra -- a modified version of Hanwha Defence’s K-9 155-mm 52-caliber -- have been manufactured and supplied two to three months ahead of schedule, according to the company.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Jan 2020 flagged off the 51st K-9 Vajra-T gun at the Larsen and Toubro Armoured Systems Complex at Hazira, Surat. The L&T officials showed the minister the different manoeuvres of the K-9 Vajra-T, a tracked self-propelled howitzer. Singh sat in the vehicle on which the gun was mounted and was driven around the Hazira complex.

L&T said the order for 100 guns — valued at Rs 4,500 crore — would be completed soon as Indian Army had requested the company for early delivery of the guns which are manufactured at its facility in Hazira, Gujarat, and would become idle after that. Appeals had been made to the defence ministry for additional orders. Options to export the system are also being explored, he added.

L&T have pleaded for additional orders and we hope something will happen. The firm is awaiting a repeat order for the guns. The production facility will be without work soon and may have to shift people to other facilities.

The Indian company is looking at options to keep the production line functioning by pursuing work share agreements with public sector units, and will also actively look at options for exporting the artillery gun to friendly nations.

“Maintaining the track record of ahead-of-time deliveries of the first 50 guns in the K9 VAJRA-T program, the 51st gun was also dispatched months ahead of contractual delivery date – a testimony to the technical capability, complex system integration skills, planning prowess and execution efficiency of L&T Defence,” the company said in a statement.

Wherever there is a requirement to operate in desert conditions and in an NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) environment, L&T has stressed that it supply K-9 Vajra that has been extensively tested by the Indian Army.

While the K-9 is also manufactured by South Korea’s Hanwha which is L&T’s partner in the project, the India-specific gun has been enhanced to meet the needs of the army for desert warfare. This could open up possibilities for exports to Asian and African countries.

The Vajra has an interesting history to it — the gun was offered to the army in competition with major global players that did not technically require a major Make in India component <>. However, L&T choose to offer it as an India-made product and has already achieved over 52% indigenisation by cost price.

When it comes to exports, the Indian company can also offer its experience of developing a domestic production line to third nations seeking to replicate the model.

The ‘Shoot and Scoot’ gun will be deployed along the western border to take on a Pakistani battlefield edge in mobile artillery. In 2009, Pakistan had acquired 115 of the M 109A5 cannons, given by the US as a “reward” for its assistance on the war on the Afghanistan border.