By Arun Ramchandani and Mukesh B. Bopalkar
Larsen & Toubro (L&T) has been a partner to Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Armed Forces for over three decades. L&T is the Indian Artillery’s biggest Private Sector partner for equipment supply. During the last decade, L&T has successfully inducted multiple regiments of Pinaka MRLS with Command Posts, upgraded the in-service GRAD BM-21 MBRLs, and is currently executing orders for K9 VAJRA-T, Tracked SP Guns, with deliveries ahead of schedule. L&T has been at the forefront of development, integration and testing of Artillery Gun Systems with successful development of 155mm/ 52 Cal Tracked Self Propelled Gun K9 VAJRA-T along with Hanwha, South Korea and 155mm/ 52 Cal Towed Gun System TRAJAN® along with Nexter, France. Through this journey, L&T has developed some of the very niche capabilities like the Artillery Fire Control Systems including Ballistic Modules, Ammunition Handling Systems and Towed Gun Mobility Systems through in-house R&D.
All this has been possible by L&T’s continuous commitment and partnership to India’s security, while setting up eight centres of excellence dedicated to creating world-class indigenised weapons solutions along with multiple dedicated Defence R&D Centres. The latest addition to these is State-of-the-Art Armoured Systems Complex at Hazira, Gujarat. The green-field Armoured Systems Complex, ASC is spread over a 50-acre area within L&T’s about 900 acre Hazira Manufacturing Complex, rated among the top five manufacturing facilities in the world. The ASC is built with State-of-the-Art facilities for Robotic Armoured Hull and Turret Welding, CNC Machining, System Assembly and Integration, and Test Tracks to conduct mobility tests on the Artillery & Armoured Systems. These L&T centres of excellence are ably supported by carefully cultivated eco-system of dedicated local manufacturing supply chain of over 1000 industrial partners, mostly MSMEs, backed by L&T’s Engineering & Production facilities spread across India.
While these are examples of success, the history of Indian Artillery Acquisition has been a chequered one since the time of the acquisition of the Bofors Gun in 1984. With the formation of Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) at the beginning of this century, the Artillery directorate has got a renewed focus on standardisation of its gun artillery to 155mm with 52 calibre as well as the acquisition of different variants of the artillery guns. Continuous efforts by the Indian Ministry of Defence with the Arty Directorate, in spite of the setbacks in the form of retraction of RFPs, blacklisting of OEMs, met with limited success till recent times.
Indian Artillery is now successful in concluding the upgrade of the M46 Guns through OFB, acquisition of the M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers under the FMS route from the US, ordering out multiple Regiments of the Pinaka Multi Rocket Launcher System and contracting the K9 VAJRA-T indigenously with L&T. Arty has successfully completed the trials for the towed gun programme, however the final conclusion of the contract is awaited with the uncertainty of the latest ‘Import Ban’ list looming on this acquisition process and possibility of this happening through the fully indigenous route. The Mounted Gun System, a distinct part of the FARP, would also be procured through the indigenous route and would need to go through a new Acceptance of Necessity (AON) process. The past trend though demonstrates that any Artillery Gun Acquisition programme takes no less than five to seven years depending on the complexity and size of the programme.
Meanwhile, 30 years after acquiring the Bofors FH77 guns, OFB has utilised the ToT acquired with the Bofors FH77 guns and developed the upgraded version of the FH77, i.e., 155mm/ 45 cal Dhanush guns. DRDO has also entered the indigenous development fray, and has fast tracked the development of the 155mm/ 52 cal ATAGS gun. However, today, nearly 20 years post formation of FARP, the only in service 155mm/ 52 cal JBMOU compliant gun as per FARP is the K9 VAJRA-T.
Any future advancement in Artillery Systems, strive for three key aspects, i.e. higher Range, higher Precision and higher Lethality, while remaining cost effective. Additionally, Indian Artillery faces challenges of Non Commonality of Ordnance of 155mm guns (different calibres, different breech mechanisms and different chamber capacities) as well as inadequate quantities of guns as well as ammunition, with respect to that defined in the FARP, having more than 2000+ guns short and indigenous ammunition to support them.
It is recommended that the R&D capabilities of DRDO and Indian Industries should be harnessed to address the technical aspects of the range, precision and lethality including advanced ammunition like HE-RAP/ RAP and precision fire and forget ammunition. Further, the manufacturing infrastructure available within the country across the OFBs and Private Sector companies like L&T can be leveraged to focus on the quantities, production and quality.
It is the need of the hour to harness all these national resources, avoid duplication and synergise to generate a self-sustaining eco-system for Artillery Weapons indigenously. Following are a few suggestions for strategic enablers towards this:
- Standardise the 155mm/ 52 calibre ordnance in terms of design and processes, so as to have a common breech mechanism, muzzle design, standard calibres, standard chamber volumes, etc. DRDO can take the lead in establishing the design utilising the existing manufacturing capabilities of Ordnance Factories and Private Sector Industries.
- Identifying and nurturing centres of excellence for ammunition, ordnance and systems – identify different agencies with suitable R&D as well as Manufacturing capability for each of these competencies and allow these three agencies to work together in a focused manner to develop new product suites.
- Exploit available specialised infrastructure within the country (for example the Ordnance manufacturing infrastructure available with OFB) by making these accessible to the participating industries.
- Enable DRDO to focus on the future, advance developments in niche areas leaving development of products to the shortlisted private sector agencies.
- The latest ‘Import Ban’ of artillery guns to be continued without any relaxation on timelines and opening up all future requirements to indigenous competition with commitment to purchase from Indian sources in the form of a Buy Indian IDDM acquisition programmes.
- For a short term and immediate solution, increase quantities of the proven in-service equipment, in line with the FARP requirement.
Thus, India has all the ingredients required to be a self reliant Artillery super power. To achieve this there is a requirement for the leadership to implement a strategic vision to effectively integrate the key players including R&D, Public & Private Industries, along with the Users & Maintainers to fulfill the aspirations of Indian Artillery.
-The author is Executive Vice President & Head Guns, Missiles & Armoured Systems- L&T Defence and the co-author is Head – Business Development & Marketing, Guns & Armoured Systems Business & New Initiatives, Larsen & Toubro Defence