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  Artillery guns for new Weapons
By Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) Published : May 2008

New Delhi. Despite the increasing obsolescence of artillery guns, mortars and rocket launchers, no contract has so far been concluded for their replacement even though protracted trials of several 155mm howitzers were carried out over the last few years.

In view of the nuclear shadow under which the next conflict will be fought, offensive and defensive manoeuvres will be extremely limited. Consequently, it will be necessary to generate firepower asymmetries to destroy the adversary’s war waging potential. In such a scenario, the failure to modernise the Indian artillery will have serious repercussions for national security.

Hence, it is extremely heartening to note that in January 2008 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) began to make long-awaited amends by issuing requests for Proposals (RFP) for various types of 155mm howitzers.

In the post-Kargil 1999 scenario in the Indian sub-continent, the artillery has proved to be a decisive arm. Indeed, even a battle-winning one.

It was clear to all perceptive observers who followed the Kargil conflict closely that infantry soldiers had to repeatedly attack uphill to recapture the mountaintops at Kargil taken quietly by the Pakistan army.

It was actually the artillery that had paved the way for victory. The Indian Army deployed an overwhelming superiority of its concentrated firepower, and that enabled the infantry attacks to be launched for repossessing the lost territory. Operationally, the Army also used the opportunity to test and fine-tune the indigenously-developed Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs).

The Indian Army has approved the 155mm howitzer as the standard artillery caliber, but new, modern systems are yet to be acquired to replace the old units and augment the strength to requirement. Precision-guided 155mm artillery shells can destroy bunkers, bridges and small buildings with a single-shot kill probability (SSKP) as high as 80 percent.

Improved conventional munition (ICMs) shells carrying anti-personnel grenades and lethal “air-burst” ammunition can be “dispensed” over soft targets such as administrative bases, rations and fuel-storage dumps, headquarters and rest areas. When these are available in large quantities, the artillery can cause much greater destruction and indirectly reduce the number of casualties in the infantry.

Approximately 400 FH-77B 155mm guns that proved their combat superiority in the Kargil conflict, had been purchased in the mid-1980s from Bofors of Sweden to equip 20 medium-artillery regiments.

These guns had enhanced the effectiveness of the artillery by an order of magnitude. Notably, the 105mm Indian field guns and the older 130mm Russian medium guns in service since the early 1970s have reached an advanced stage of obsolescence; while World War II vintage 25 pounders, 75/24 Indian mountain guns, 122mm field guns and 100mm field guns have already been phased out of service.

In the recent years, just when a contract for 120 tracked and 180 wheeled self-propelled (SP) 155mm guns was about to be concluded after years of repeated trials, South African arms manufacturer Denel, the leading contender for the contract, was alleged to have been involved in a corruption scam in an earlier deal for Anti-Material Rifles (AMRs). New tenders have now been floated.


From its original status as a “supporting” arm, artillery has now graduated to a full-fledged combat arm that dominates the battlefield with its inherently destructive firepower. In the classic “fire and manoeuvre” tactics practised during operations on 20th century battlefields, artillery traditionally provided the firepower punch while armoured, mechanised and infantry units manoeuvred to gain tactical advantage.

Artillery engagements were generally limited to the battle where own troops were in direct contact with the enemy. “Covering fire” during attack and “defensive fire” to beat back enemy attacks were provided in a supporting role.

Artillery guns, mortars and rocket launchers were considered area weapons and the neutralisation of large areas of ground with inherent dispersion of fire, rather than destruction, was the established primary task.

Today, once a threat from across the borders has been discerned, the artillery, firing 155mm precision strike ammunition can be employed to destroy the intruding forces quickly so that the aggression can be vacated and sanctity of the international boundary restored.

Targets that can be seen by the troops in contact with the enemy can be illuminated by a Laser beam by a ground-based artillery observer (spotter) carrying a Laser Target Designator. Those targets that are behind crest lines and on reverse slopes can be designated by an airborne artillery observer in an army aviation helicopter or an Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Improved conventional munitions (ICMs) shells carrying anti-personnel grenades and lethal “air-burst” ammunition can be “dispensed” over soft targets such as administrative bases, rations and fuel storage dumps, headquarters and rest areas. As these are not precision strike munitions, these have to be accurately directed using commando artillery observers or TV camera equipped UAVs to achieve the desired effect.

Precision munitions are expensive, but they turn out to be cheaper as only a few have to be used to destroy designated targets. Plus, they offer the advantage of Assured Kill, making operations that much easier and also saving lives that would otherwise be lost in an assault.

Long-range MBRLs such as Smerch can enable the enemy’s sensitive command centres to be hit with impunity.

Had Smerch MBRLs been available during the Kargil conflict, the Pakistani HQ and administrative base at Skardu and other targets deep inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) would have been hit with devastating results.

Other force multipliers include Gun or Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) for effective counter-bombardment, UAVs equipped with TV cameras and suitable for high altitude operations for target acquisition and engagement and damage assessment, powerful binoculars for target engagement by day and long-range night vision devices for the same purpose at night.

The Indian Army had in fact requested for the Gun Locating Radars in the mid-1980s, but their acquisition was approved by the Government only after the Kargil conflict, in which a majority of the Indian casualties were due to the Pakistani artillery, which Indian forces could not detect and therefore could not neutralize effectively. Now, the Army has taken delivery of a dozen radars from the US arms major Raytheon under a government-togovernment contract. More of these radars are to be made in India as required.

The Indian artillery is playing an increasingly important role in the successful execution of integrated land-air operations on the modern battlefield.

The emerging philosophy of employment of artillery firepower visualises the synergetic orchestration of all firepower resources across the length and breadth of the battlefield to cause destruction, systematic degradation of the enemy’s fighting potential and suppression of specific combat echelons of the enemy from operating effectively for limited durations.

The latter function will include the suppression of the enemy’s air defence (SEAD) assets to enable own attack helicopters to operate freely and to also enable ground attack aircraics, and India has taken up the gauntlet by building one at Cochin. Fincantieri, which is building the Count Cavour in Italy, has been roped in as the consultant to make the best use of its expertise and experience.

This lesson has not been lost on UK which has not built carriers for years. Hence it is jointly planning to build two similar 60,000 ton aircraft carriers with France for interoperability. UK hopes to learn from the experience of the French Navy which encountered problems in the size of the nuclear powered Charles de Gaulle to operate the newer Rafale aircraft. Despite excellent calculations, the ship's landing deck had to be enlarged, post facto.

The ship's bridge also was located too far forward and led to turbulence for aircraft landing and the vessel lost a propeller in the Caribbean islands. The ship limped back to France with a tug in escort.

All these issues are being rectified in the new UK French carriers.

When there is no operational flat top platform for continuation training and deck landing qualifications, the consequence is a backlog of pilots rapidly losing their deck landing qualifications DLQ. Indian Navy pilots are being trained in USA and at IAF bases in India as the Indian Navy is set to receive its first MiG 29Ks in the coming months.

Notably, the first MiG 29K flew spectacularly at the MAKS aviation show outside Moscow recently.

INS Viraat was to have been decommissioned by 2010 but now it appears it will have to bat on longer than anticipated, as both of India's aircraft carriers on order have been delayed. The Gorshkov - to be christened INS Vikramaditya on commissioning - being refitted at the Sevmash shipyard at Severnodinsk in Russia, is delayed for delivery from 2008 to 2010 and the head of the shipyard has been removed for the faux pas. Nevsokye Design Bureau has been asked to look in to this.

A delegation led by UK-trained engineer Vice Admiral B S Randhawa, the Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition (CWPA), slated to be the next Chief of Material, had visited Russia mid May and inspected the Mk 1143.4 Admiral Gorshkov, and yet again in July. He confirmed that the ship is behind schedule.

Strangely, the Russians also asked for price escalation, saying that they had made a mistake in calculating the required work, and despite also that the delay was due to their own problems.

Even then, Defence Secretary Shekar Dutt, who is now India's Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA), and Secretary Defence Finance V K Misra, visited Moscow in July to help resolve the issue.

According to former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Arun Prakash, the Russians need to be penalized for the delay as they had already been afforded one escalation.

The Navy Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, is an experienced aviator who, like his predecessor, has flown off INS Viraat and Vikrant as a green horn Sea Hawk rookie pilot. He was looking forward to inducting the Vikramaditya during his tenure. He has indicated a new date for its induction, as after late 2008. It will be a challenge for the next Navy team in South Block to ensure that the vessel is transferred to India not far behind the schedule.

The 273 meter long, 30 year old 48,500 ton Gorshkov's keel was laid in 1976 at the Nikolayev Shipyard now in Ukraine, and when commissioned, it operated 14 Yakovlev Yak-141 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) Fighters, eight Yak-38 Forger VTOL fighters, as well as 16 Kamov Ka-25 and Ka-252RLD Hormone and Ka- 252PS Helix anti-submarine warfare (ASW), reconnaissance and search and- rescue (SAR) helicopters.

The ship was earmarked for scrapping, and then offered to the Indian Navy free, provided India paid for its refurbishment and bought Russian aircraft to operate from it. Admiral J G Nadkarni was among those who supported its acquisition towards fulfilling the Indian Navy's need for aircraft carriers.

After much delay and procrastination, India signed a US$ 1.5 billion Gorshkov modernisation contract in 2004 under Defence Minister George Fernandes' direction. Its refurbishment was agreed at $ 700 million, and the rest was for the 16 MiG-29K fighters, helicopters, miscellaneous equipment and weapons from third parties.

Many of the carrier's old systems are being removed while the new equipment includes some Made-in- India sensors and other systems.

The Anti Aircraft system is likely to be the Israeli Barak, though this acquisition is under the CBI's scanner over allegations of bribe by IAI/Rafael to an Indian middleman in the Rs 1100 crore deal.

Israeli missiles had to be purchased in the wake of the 1999 Kargil War when the naval brass found to its dismay that Indian naval ships had no protective missile cover, thanks to the paralysis in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) from 1990 onwards.

Gorshkov's 24 meter wide deck has been fitted with three arrester wires, as opposed to the US carriers which have four and two 30-ton and 20 ton lifts located on the port side, and one aft of the superstructure for continuous operations of MiG-29Ks on the 2,400 square meters deck space.

The MiG 29KUBs are being fitted with French Thales Top Sight helmet sighting device for attack, and the Sagem Sigma-95 laser-gyroscope inertial navigation system, with open architecture.

The open architecture enables changes easily.

The cockpit will have three multipurpose MFI10-6 data screens in the MiG-29KUB's front and rear cockpits, the IKSH-1K Heads Up Display (HUD). Target data in video will be from Phazatron with NIIR radar, the new-generation Zhuk-ME optronic radar, in digital terrain contour matching (TERCOM) map along fiber optic channels. Many innovations are new and never been installed in Russia's inventory earlier.

Russians' lack of experience in the new systems could be contributing to the delay.

  © India Strategic  
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