Why the Big Guns?
The artillery amplifies an Army's winning capability. Up-gradation of Indian Artillery is being done keeping in mind the envisaged role in the current and future battle environs.
By Abhilash Halappanavar
French Military leader Napolean Bonaparte once said, "God is on the side with the best artillery." His words stand true even in today's era of modern warfare. The artillery amplifies an Army's winning capability as it can wreak havoc on the enemy troops in the open and also destroy bunkers and hideouts with deadly precision. This was evident in Kargil, where the Indian Artillery smashed Pakistani bunkers at high altitudes. The impressive exploits of the Indian Army's Bofor's Artillery guns during the 1999 India-Pakistan war still echo in the hills of Kargil. The Indian artillery family will soon welcome its newest member in the form of the "Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS)" developed by the DRDO. The ATAGS is an indigenously developed 155 mm Towed Howitzer.
Up-gradation of Indian Artillery is being done keeping in mind the envisaged role in the current and future battle environs. This can be corroborated as an integrated and coordinated deployment of all available firepower resources to shape the battlefield and reduce the enemy in contact and in-depth to achieve a decisive victory over the enemy troops. The arsenal for such firepower can include all types of guns, mortars, missiles, and where required, even the use of the Air force.
ATAGS is a "Made in India" product, with over 95 percent of its components locally manufactured. It is sufficient to meet all the requirements for additional manufacturing and upgrades as the supply chain for raw materials lie within the country, making it a manifestation of an "Atmanirbhar" defence system.
The Trailblazing ATAGS:
With a firing range of 48 km, which is a record of sorts in the family of 155 millimetre/52 caliber guns, an operational ATAG during a war will pulverize the enemy force. Additionally, the enemy will not be able to counter the ATAG as they would not be able to reach it, but the ATAG can reach the enemy easily from a distance of 48 kilometres.
In comparison with the legendary Bofors FH-77 and the rest of the guns in the world, which can fire only three rounds in a minute, the ATAGS can fire five rounds in the same period. The Bofors range stands capped at 32 km using the same type of round used by the ATAG. The mobility of the ATAGS is also very high, and the gun is very dependable, maintenance-free, and fighting fit.
The ATAGS is one of the most advanced guns which can deliver Bi-Modular Charge System (BMCS) zone seven propellants. The ATAGS is an addendum to the 155 millimetres/45 caliber gun Dhanush, an indigenously developed artillery system. Dhanush is an improvised version of the FH-77B 155mm/39 caliber towed Howitzer gun system built by the Swedish defence manufacturer Bofors. The Indian army had procured 410 Swedish howitzers between 1986 and 1991. Dhanush howitzers have an effective strike range of 38 km in salvo mode compared to the 48 km of the ATAGS.
The India-made ATAGS comprises a dual power system that uses hydraulics for mobility and gun in/out action. Additionally, electrical power is used for the Gun Laying and Ammunition Handling System (A.H.S.). The system is patterned with an all-electric drive that warrants its maintenance-free and reliable and secure operations over a long period. The gun system has mechanized setting up, laying with a high-end Inertial Navigation & Pointing System (I.N.S.) and automated Ammunition Handling System loads shell, charge, and primer simultaneously with a manual back-up for the laying system. The ATAG system's hydraulic drive provides effective adaptability in different terrains like treacherous roads, deserts, and high altitude areas. The high-power Auxiliary Power Unit also renders rapid deployment, short response time, and sufficient self-propelled speed.
The Artillery Edge:
India & China's current standoff forms a unique combination of mountainous terrain and freezing temperatures that include the high altitude environment. The emergence of new-age warfare has changed the nature of warfare on most of the world's surface, yet has not significantly changed the conduct of combat at high altitude. The tactics that lead to victory on the high altitude battlefield have remained constant. In such terrain, effective artillery undoubtedly plays an important role.
A skirmish between India and China in the Ladakh region would typically position the combat area at an elevation of 15,000 feet above the sea level. Regardless of the technological advancements, either of the forces has; a trained and well-equipped light infantry supported by efficient artillery is the best combination capable of decisive manoeuvre in mountainous terrain. Heavy volumes of perceptive firepower, in concert with bold manoeuvre, determine the victory. Artillery is the most crucial element of manoeuvre warfare. The Air force by itself cannot deliver sufficient firepower to support ground manoeuvre in the high mountains. Because in a fluid battle in the rugged terrains like that of the Ladakh region, the firepower necessary to support methodical and difficult ground manoeuvre cannot be provided by close air support alone.
The artillery's suppressive fire will be mightier than the precision of aerial munitions on the high altitude battlefields. With the Advanced precision munitions, such as the Long Range Guided Munitions (LRGM) the ATAGS will be effective against unprotected fixed targets in any environment. The ATAGS compensates for the loss of mobility and accuracy by offering concentrated and relentless fire in harsh and rigid operational conditions. It currently has developed capability unmatched by any other artillery gun. ATAGS can prove to be an indispensable component of the Indian Mountain Strike Corps raised to fight in the high altitude terrains.
The ATAGS will surely propel the Indian Armed forces with the requisite firepower to counter the Chinese aggression in a war. Also, the Ladakh terrain poses severe logistical challenges for both countries. With India's experience in the region, its artillery units stand in a better position to damage the P.L.A.'s logistical and supply routes.
With M777 Howitzers, the Dhanush Howitzer, Pinaka MBRL, and tanks like the T-72 & T-90 already in its arsenal, the Indian Army's Artillery Regiment will only go from strength to strength once the ATAGS are formally inducted into service. With its successful completion of high altitude winter trials in Sikkim and Summer Trials in Pokhran, the ATAGS is on the verge of navigating a new dimension of modern-day warfare.
There is another advantage of the ATAGS development for India that would be in the form of the potential sale and export of the 155mm artillery gun to Indian allies and foreign customers. The recent visit of the Indian Army Chief Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has brought the focus upon the potential sale of the BrahMos Missile System that has been jointly developed by India and Russia, with both U.A.E & Saudi-Arabia showing interest. Similarly, the lethal Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) has considerable potential to become an export success story, with the Gulf as a rewarding market. This opportunity in the Arab world for defence equipment can put Indian made weapon systems not only for defence trade but also for enhancing of joint-development programs where Gulf nations like U.A.E. & Saudi Arabia can collaborate with Indian defence manufacturers. India, U.A.E., and Saudi-Arabia have been working in the field of energy security, the same can be replicated in defence co-operation as well. Thus the ATAGS has the potential to serve a purpose larger than security for India.
Abhilash Halappanavar is a Junior Fellow at Usanas Foundation. He focuses on defence and technology.
Disclaimer: This paper is the author’s individual scholastic contribution and does not reflect the organisation’s viewpoint.