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India Is The World Capital Of Artillery

May 20, 2021
The ATAGS is manufactured by Bharat Forge Ltd. Via Indian Ministry of Defense.

As the Indian armed forces replaces its Eastern Bloc and Russian arms and equipment a very particular trend has brought back a national heritage that peaked during the Mughal era (1626-1856). After a ruinous decline spanning the British Raj and the decades following its independence, India now boasts a military-industrial sector that’s not just diverse but at the cutting edge in one specific technology: towed howitzers.

India’s military-industrial sector is divided between the powerful Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), whose activities are directed by the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and the conglomerates whose diversified holdings employ millions. The two are now integrating their efforts to quicken India’s rise as a world power.

This remarkable dynamic pitting the OFB versus the leading private sector manufacturers, both of whom are simultaneously cooperating and competing, led to so much artillery being developed that production now surpasses demand. The reason for this is simple. With the Indian Army’s terrible reputation for slow procurement and excess spending on imported products, supplying it is next to impossible. More so with the strong relationship forged by Washington, DC and Delhi that allowed the Indian Army to acquire BAE Systems’ 155mm M777 towed howitzer. So no matter how many contenders there are none have a guaranteed chance of winning the army’s artillery contract.

Now that a long-term rivalry with China is underway the Indian Army is resisting the government’s attempts at national self-sufficiency by trying to import over a thousand howitzers from abroad. This triggered a scramble by foreign manufacturers to find partners who can possibly win the same lucrative contract. As if this weren’t problematic enough the OFB, which is a network of state-owned factories, has a proven catalog of towed artillery weapons that’s still growing without further orders coming in.

Foremost among the OFB’s towed howitzers is the 155mm Dhanush based on the Swedish-made FH77B. The Indian Army acquired hundreds of the latter in the 1980s and these proved themselves during the Kargil War in 1999. Just like today a government effort to support national industry pushed for a local replacement of the FH77B and the resulting technology transfer led to the Dhanush. Boasting a four-wheel carriage, a hydraulic arm to assist loading, and a redesigned 45 caliber barrel, the Dhanush fires different ammunition types (including rocket-assisted projectiles) as far as 38 kilometers away.

Competing with the OFB’s Dhanush is a similar 155mm towed howitzer called the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System or ATAGS from Bharat Forge Ltd. The steel foundry owned by the Kalyani Group produced a towed howitzer similar to the Dhanush and is completing its testing phase before entering service at an unspecified date. Of course, the ATAGS is export approved and the Kalyani Group welcomes serious inquiries from outside India. In what looks like a concerted attempts at taking over the narrow domestic market for towed howitzers Kalyani Group allowed Bharat Forge Ltd. to develop another 155mm artillery piece called the Bharat-52 based on Israel’s Soltam/ATHOS towed howitzer.

Not to be outdone, the OFB manufactures the same howitzer under the name “Sharang”–a caliber upgrade applied to the Soviet vintage 130mm M-46 once used by the army.

Another Indian manufacturer, Larsen & Toubro or L&T, acquired licenses for two world-class artillery weapons. These are the French-made TRAJAN or TRF1 155mm towed howitzer and the South Korean-made K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer rebranded as the “Vajra.” The Vajra is now the primary self-propelled howitzer of the Indian Army after it retired its locally made Catapult, Soviet vintage 2S1 Gvozdika, and British-made Abbot self-propelled howitzers. The success of the Vajra didn’t extend to the TRAJAN, however, and the Kalyani Group’s lightweight or ultralight 155mm and 105mm howitzers (separate from Bharat Forge Ltd.’s artillery projects) further diminished L&T’s offering.

The Indian Army is looking for a truck howitzer as well, albeit in an ill-defined and haphazard manner. Once again, Kalyani Group rose to the challenge with a lightweight 155mm truck howitzer pitted against TATA Defence’s licensed Denel T5 truck howitzer and the OFB’s attempt at the same using a locally made 8×8 truck. The foreign contenders were serious as well, with the French-made CAESAR and the Israeli-made ATMOS vying for the army’s favor. Taken as a whole, India’s military-industrial sector is able to mass-produce several models of 155mm towed howitzers (Dhanush, Sharang, ATAGS, Bharat-52, Bharat ULH, TRAJAN, and possibly the Denel G5) and just as many self-propelled howitzers far beyond the requirements set by the army.

It’s worth mentioning smaller artillery calibers along with mortars and recoilless rifles are manufactured by the OFB. These are export approved in case the Indian Army can’t make up its mind on what’s needed for deterring China and Pakistan over contested borders. What can no longer be ignored, with the manufacturing base it has and the export potential its national champions may exploit, is India’s status as the world’s artillery capital.

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