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India Makes A Lot Of Its Own Artillery

February 5, 2020

Via Ordnance Factory Board.

Just days before DEFEXPO 2020 was set to begin India’s state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) launched its own promotional content on its social media accounts. A surprise reveal was the Sharang, a 155mm towed howitzer based on an old Soviet artillery piece, whose range puts it on par with the world’s best. The OFB claims the Sharang can strike targets up to 36 kilometers away without specifying if these mean firing conventional ammunition or rocket assisted projectiles.

If Sharang looks familiar that’s because it’s an upgrade of the Indian Army’s M-46 130mm towed howitzers. DEFEXPO 2020 is taking place from February 5 to 8 in Lucknow.

The OFB’s success with the Sharang adds another product to its growing catalog of artillery weapons. To date the factories responsible for large caliber armaments mass-produce copies of the Thomson-Brandt 120mm mortar and the L118 105mm field gun. Homegrown innovation recently got a boost with the success of the Dhanush 155mm howitzer, which features a small motor in its carriage for steering the piece toward its desired position, that looks set to wean the army off its many aging tube artillery systems. But rather than garner huge orders, the US-made M777 won over the defense ministry for its weight class and India is listed among the select few operators of the type, and just 144 Dhanush will be delivered in the next few years,

As for the Sharang it represents another breakthrough for the OFB, whose reputation has suffered after successive high profile contracts between the armed forces and foreign suppliers hurt the collective reputation of Indian-made military equipment. It’s also an innovative approach to reviving older artillery weapons. The Soviet vintage M-46, whose production was shared with Egypt and North Korea, used to be recognized as one of the deadliest field guns in the world until NATO’s 155mm howitzers took the lead. But 130mm howitzers kept in service today are seeing extensive combat and adapting the weapon is a popular investment for budget-conscious militaries. The armies of Cuba, Egypt, Iran, and North Korea have repurposed their 130mm howitzers by developing vehicles to carry them.

The Sharang is the result of a collaboration between three OFB sites in Kanpur, Ishapore, and Jabalpur following a 2018 contract with the Indian Army. The OFB claims an earlier attempt by a foreign company to upgrade the army’s 130mm howitzers had disappointing results. Noticeable improvements on the Sharang are its 45 caliber gun barrel chambered for 155mm ammunition. The breech loading mechanism was altered although the OFB’s media wasn’t too specific. The wheels supporting the carriage were changed and the trails–the twin “legs” for stabilizing the weapon’s recoil–were redesigned as well and made sturdier.

Even as the army fields newer artillery weapons such as the M777 and the Vajra, the latter based on the South Korean K9 and manufactured by an Indian company, its current selection of howitzers is immense. There are still several hundred Soviet D-30 122mm howitzers and perhaps 2,400 locally made 105mm light field guns that need to be phased out or upgraded. The reliance on towed artillery rather than self-propelled guns stems from the geographical extent of the Indian military’s mission. In remote high altitude areas, for example, it’s impossible to deploy self-propelled howitzers. Considering the age of Soviet M-46 howitzers (going on 50 years now) the Sharang may extend their service lives by a few decades more.

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