By Natalia Freyton
India is due to expand its artillery capacities, and this move is bound to be a game-changer. In recent years, and after a few decades out of grace, artillery is back on the military map as the best firepower-to-mobility compromise, and a potent too for large-scale stability. With rapid geo-political shifts occurring around it, India is purchasing the weapon which will guarantee its citizens the best protection.
Back to the front of the stage
Artillery is one of the oldest collective weapons. Unlike more ancient arms, it requires a team of coordinated people to operate it, and not an individual shooter. Today, a team of three to five people typically operates a howitzer, and their destructive forces amounts to far more than five-fold the individual capacity of a single soldier. But, since artillery’s inception, many other armament evolutions have occurred, some of which have made cannons temporarily less relevant. The most recent example is the Cold War, during which investments into this technology dropped, while strategies focused more on submarine and aerial deterrence. But the sovereign life-form of warfare has, once again, called artillery to take a central role. Today’s world no longer opposed immense blocs, pitched against one another, but challenges States to respond to ultra-mobile micro-threats, which can quickly escalate into full-grown wars. In such strategic settings, both ends of the tactical spectrum seem ill-adapted: nuclear deterrence is excessive, and small infantry units are under-powered, with little reach.
India doing much to secure its borders
The Indian subcontinent is subjected to many factors of strong turbulence. The ethnic gap between India and its neighbour Pakistan is one of the oldest ones, not to mention internal dissensions. Secondly, the dramatic rise in China’s military power leaves India with little alternative than to match the same. Beyond another neighbouring nation China, lies Russia which is still struggling in the arms race, but in no way, shape or form, out of the game. In order to reinforce stability, India’s diplomacy and military are working with numerous partners, including Russia, an age-old partner. Defence Aviation Post reports that India has promoted its security cooperation with Bangladesh. In recent years, many skirmishes have occurred on India’s northern borders. A capacity to “strategically cover” its entire border would do much for Indian stability, but the sheer surface to cover has always proven to be a problem.
A broken trend
The most recent breakthroughs in artillery technology have broken a rule which applied for centuries: anyone who wanted more power or more range, had to simply build a bigger gun. Not so, anymore. Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) regiments, for instance, enable increased precision in target acquisition, even at long distances, with the help of drones. The United States, France, Israel, the UK, China, Russia, all have turned to UAVs to increase artillery potential, with great success. India also has its own SATA regiment, which enables the rapid and secure pinpointing of targets, and ensuing rapid fire deployment. Much progress has also been made with ammunition, namely in their range. This development is particularly useful to the Indian Army, given the size of the terrain they must cover. Modern shells can down exceed 30 miles in range, thus enabling howitzers to “cover” a circular area of nearly 3000 miles. They can also concentrate the impact, using simultaneous-impact technology. Army recognition writes: “The PzH 2000 integrates the built-in test equipment (BITE) system and can fire in multiple rounds simultaneous impact (MRSI) mode. The self-propelled artillery system has a maximum range of 420km.” Simply putting, artillery couldn’t have done much for Indian stability, until a few years ago. But the latest improvements in ballistic tech have changed the deal.
A vast territory means range and mobility
And, finally, this is where the latest evolutions of artillery fall right into India’s hands. In the old days, artillery was reserved to very specific tactical settings, because they were heavy, slow and difficult to move. Deploying artillery in mountainous areas, for instance, was often a no-no for military commanders. But recent innovators in the military field have found a way to fit complete artillery systems onto truck chassis, thus hugely increasing their speed and mobility. What about the protection which the old-fashioned armoured shells used to offer? With such levels of mobility, artillery trucks can fire and relocate quickly, thus evading any counter-fire. Ironically, these units are now perfectly adapted to mountainous areas, numerous in India. They are able to navigate in them, can cover large portions of borders, and can use concealment offered by the terrain as additional safety. A perfect win for a nation like India, and a plausible explanation for New Delhi’s recent procurement choices, reported by Hindustan Times’ Rahul Singh states: The Indian Army’s newest 155mm 45-calibre Dhanush towed artillery gun is also an Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) product and the force has placed an order for 114 guns. Hari Mohan, who superannuated as OFB Chairman, said the board has delivered six Dhanush guns to the Army and will supply another 12 by early next year. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the weapon is the first long-range artillery gun to be produced in India and a ‘Make in India’ success story.
Also, the immense size of the India territory meant that short-range weapons were simply off the table. New ammunition technologies have stretched the size of the “tactical bubbles” which howitzers can now interdict, and India is now able to establish a thick no-go buffer zone on its border, which any enemy, no matter how well trained or equipped, would cross at its own risk.
Using artillery’s stability potential
Indian Express’ Sushant Kulkarni writes: “Today, the Artillery of Indian Army consists of a dynamic inventory which ranges from Ballistic Missile, Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers, High Mobility Guns, Mortar, Precision Guided Munitions for destruction of enemy targets to Radars, UAVs and Electro optic devices for locating and carrying out Post Strike Damage Assessment (PSDA). The Regiment of Artillery has played a key role in all the post Independence conflicts with the neighbours including the Kargil War.” Indian command has therefore fully invested into artillery, will presumably continue to do so, and has likely understood what such a weapon can do for a country like India. Given artillery’s formidable power, it simply communicates to potential enemies that such an area is off-limits, because the losses endured would simply be too great.
It has always been the case to some extent, but is even more the case now: artillery works exponentially, as it can bar entire regions from enemy activity, and therefore concentrate enemy movements in specific zones, where more specific weapons can be deployed. Before the recent developments of modern artillery, India systematically had a choice to make as to which regions it would protect, as military budgets are not unlimited. This meant effectively knowingly leaving holes in the border. If India redirects its strategy towards artillery, it will have a potent border protector, at a manageable cost, which can obliterate any enemy but will be rather difficult to strike back.
–The writer is a defence and security industry consultant having varied experience working with medium and large companies majorly in European market. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda