Indian artillery guns make a splash at DefExpo - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 8 February 2014

Indian artillery guns make a splash at DefExpo

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Feb 14

While inaugurating the ongoing Defence Exposition 2014 in New Delhi on Thursday, defence minister AK Antony bluntly stated that “there is no money left” for big foreign buys like the Rafale fighter. That statement holds good also for the army’s biggest equipment gap --- a Rs 10,000 crore shortfall of 1580 towed artillery guns, the battlefield’s most lethal killer for over a century.

What planning and strategic vision could not do for defence indigenisation is being enforced by a shortfall of funds. Three major Indian gun programmes are on show at the DefExpo, with two of them at an advanced stage of procurement.

The most immediate of these is the development of a 155 millimetre (mm), 45 calibre, gun by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which is based on the design and manufacturing technology provided by Swedish gun maker, Bofors AG in the late 1980s, as part of the controversial procurement of 410 FH-77B Bofors guns.

After being ignored by the army for two decades, this technology has been used as a springboard by the OFB for upgrading the original 39 calibre Bofors gun into a far more powerful and versatile 45 calibre gun (a higher calibre denotes a longer barrel) that hits targets more than 38 kilometres away, compared to the 27 kilometre range of the original Bofors gun.

More, the OFB gun, called the Dhanush, has an electronic sighting and laying system for aiming the gun at the target, an important improvement over the Bofors’ manual system.

Says Tushar Tripathi, Director Weapons for OFB: “Winter trials for the Dhanush are on-going in Sikkim, which will finish by February. Those will be followed by summer trials in the desert and, if all goes well, we will build 114 guns for the army.”

The OFB says Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur, is establishing production for 18 guns per year in 2015 and doubling that capacity in 2016.

Defence ministry sources say the initial order for 114 guns could be enhanced to 414 guns if the gun realizes the promise it is currently showing.

Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation is spearheading the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG) project, to build an even more powerful 155 millimetre, 52 calibre gun. This gun will range out to 60 kilometres, with a weight of just 12 tonnes, making it ideal for the narrow, twisting roads along which it would have to be transported along Indian’s Himalayan frontiers.

[Meanwhile, the army continues to pursue a long-delayed purchase of 145 BAE Systems M777 ultralight howitzers for equipping its mountain divisions. These will cost  between $647 million (the maximum price notified to the US Congress in Jan 2010) and $885 million (the revised maximum price notified to the US Congress in Aug 2013).]

According to S Sundaresh, the DRDO’s chief controller of armaments, the gun’s specifications have already been firmed and its basic design finalized by the Armament R&D Establishment (ARDE) in Pune. He says the gun will be developed as 7 work packages, with each of these sub-systems being developed and manufactured by Indian vendors, including the private sector. The DRDO has already co-opted Bharat Forge, L&T and Tata Power (SED).

“We will place orders on the vendors by mid-2014 and components will start coming in after a year. By 2016, we will begin in-house trials and offer the gun to the army for user trials by early 2017,” says Sundaresh.

So far, the army has assured the DRDO of an order for 114 guns, but that order would go up significantly if the gun proves successful and the on-going international tender for towed guns fails to result in a contract, as all such artillery gun tenders have done over fifteen years.

Besides the OFB and DRDO guns, Bharat Forge has built its own 155 mm/52 calibre gun, the Bharat-52, displayed at the DefExpo. The company imported an entire gun, the GHN-45 to absorb technology; while simultaneously buying and importing an entire production line from RUAG of Switzerland. While the MoD has not displayed an interest in this gun, Bharat Forge has been invited to play an important role in the ATAG project. 


  1. Dear Shukla,

    The OFB gun definitely looks wonderful, even though its 45 cal. However,even after much hoopla of Kalyani's gun, in the first instance, it appears as a enhanced version of M-46 130mm gun. The gun looks belonging to dated technology. I wonder what is the elevation and firing profile of the Bharat 52 gun and how it matches with OFB Dhanush, except the range?

    If somehow the Dhanush gun can be extended to 52 cal, it would be a formidable option and can be adopted across the platforms, namely, MGS, SPH etc for logistical simplification.

    Of course, Tata has a MGS gun but everyone knows that only the truck and computers belong to TATA while the gun is from DENEL.

  2. Bharat forge gun could be real. It is great to see localizations finally. Army should have highest local components after all. A little difference in performance/capability can be improved incrementally

    how many of OFB gun components are cannibalised from existing boforsgun ?

  3. Can you please write an article on what prevents MOD to give its test facilities tomTATA and Bharat forge ? If we have 3 vendors IA artillery can be upgraded in a predicted way : time and money wise.
    In what sense will the Proposed DRDO gun be better than TATA or Bharat forge ones ?

  4. Very Nice article. Very informative as well.

    Some comments:

    1. On a demonstration video of the Bofors AG FH-77 i noticed that it was a towed gun, but once the is seperated from the transport it would have some limited mobility of its own.

    I can only imagine that this mobility feature on its own must have proved vital in the kargil war where the Corps of Artillery of both Pakistan and India were not only providing fire support but were also engaged in an artillery to artillery duel.

    A battery would unload, set up, fire, fold up and travel, set up again and fire. i.e. "Shoot and Scoot" as termed by the army.

    Would this feature be available with the Dhanush or the Bharat?

    2. Gen VK Singh in his book " Courage and Conviction" mentions that the manufacturing plans and know how and wherewith all was always there with the OFB. And that on a visit to the OFB the army top brass was shocked, when they found out about it. For decades, OFB guys were just sitting on it, MOD was unaware, Army was unaware. All this time army desperately needs guns.

    If I remember correctky from the book Gen Singh asked OFB guys if they could develop a prototype...

    Come 2014, Dhanush, you son of a gun ! :)

    If somebody (MOD/Army/DRDO/DEF Min) would have done some actual digging and inspection in 20 years. Dhanush would have been ready to deploy by now.

    3. Innovative Idea : in military electronics and computing, many industial or military motherboards are liquid cooled i.e. encased in that liquid. Is it not possible to use such liquid cooling technology on Artillery or Amrored main guns.

    The one Dhanush that burst was due being fired a lot in the desert heat. Just my idea.

    As I have read, Gun heat is the number one reason why Naval Artillery has a substantially higher rate of fire than Field Howitzers in the army.

    And thats why the army needs more guns so each individual gun fires less rounds per fire mission to provide sufficient rounds per target.

    Naval guns are cooled by sea water.

    4. I have a strong feeling that the new Mountain corps, will have a very large helicopter component. From transports to attack.
    Simply because the Army cannot trust road development of GOI.

    Therfore, i believe the Army will give importance to weight and dimensions of the guns too, so they are air transportable.

  5. splash you said..... !!

    Rightly.... DODOs can only splash...

    what the forces require is a gun that thunders....

  6. The Bharat52 gun appears to be the older version of the Israeli ATHOS gun from Elbit. Incidently, Nexter Systems of France has partnered with L&T and showcased their Trajan® 155mm/52 Cal Towed Artillery Gun during DefExpo 2014, which is currently undergoing trials in India and this Gun seems the best fit for Indian MoD requirements. It may be noted that Bharat Forge has partnered with Israel's Elbit Systems to field the ATHOS 155mm/52 Cal towed gun, which is also undergoing trials in India. Based on these facts, the OFB's Dhanush gun and the Bharat52 gun have a lot to catch up with Nexter's gun.


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