Evaluating the arsenal: The army is severely short of artillery - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla

The military faces a shortage of the modern battlefield’s deadliest killer: artillery

By Vikas Gupta

Defence News of India, 3 Jun 22

The army’s two mechanized strike corps, which are supposed to go deep into enemy territory in times of war, have been equipped over the past five years with five artillery regiments (100 guns), called K-9 Vajra. These 155mm/52 caliber tracked self-propelled (SP) artillery guns were built by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) under license from the Korean company Hanwha Techwin (HTW). While the influx of guns is welcome, the number acquired is clearly insufficient, given that each strike corps is authorized four medium SP regiments, each with 20 howitzers.

Given this shortfall, the army and the Ministry of Defense (MoD) are considering whether to procure an additional 100-200 mobile self-propelled (SP) howitzers. The 200 additional guns would equip 10 medium artillery regiments: three regiments for the second strike corps and seven for the independent armored brigades which exercise a mobile and offensive role during the war.

The army has long lacked artillery, the deadliest killer on the modern battlefield. Since the Civil War, artillery has had a simple function: to completely pulverize enemy positions so that attacking or defending them, as the case may be, is child’s play for the two combat arms: the tanks of the armored corps and the infantry infantry. However, for various reasons, the most obvious being the failure of the military, the Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to design and manufacture affordable artillery guns and to long range, the army is lacking in firepower. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) failed to make up for this shortfall by purchasing weapons on the international market.

This has been a historical weakness in India. In 1526, the invading Mughal warlord, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babar, won the First Battle of Panipat simply by skillfully deploying and employing artillery. The troop ratio in this battle greatly favored the Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodhi, but he had no field artillery. Babar’s three- to four-gun batteries, along with knowledge and experience in their use, caused the Sultanate’s army to panic. Meanwhile, the war elephants of the Lodhi army, unaccustomed to the roar of cannons, ran around in disorder and trampled many of their own soldiers.

India’s modern army inherited the philosophy of using artillery from World War II and the combat experience of the wars of 1965 and 1971. In the Kashmir campaign of 1947-48 and the 1962 Sino-Indian War, we had virtually no artillery and lacked firepower across the entire border. We also had no roads to move our artillery guns into better positions to give fire support.

Therefore, in all Indian Army battles since independence, there have only been a handful of instances where the artillery has performed well. An example where artillery demonstrated its usefulness was the use of the 155 mm 39 caliber Bofors FH-77 gun during the 1999 Kargil War. With directed artillery fire destroying or degrading much of the enemy’s combat potential, our soldiers could mount mounted assaults on Pakistani positions on commanding heights without causing too many casualties.

Artillery numbers

India now has approximately 226 artillery regiments and is seeking to increase this number to 270 regiments. With approximately 18 artillery guns in each regiment, plus two reserve guns, the arsenal amounts to 5,400 artillery pieces. In the wake of Kargil, a decision is taken for the “mediumization” of all the army’s artillery regiments. This involves replacing the 105mm and 130mm field guns with 155mm medium guns. In addition, there is a growing number of multi-barrel rocket launcher units, including six units of the native Pinaka, three Russian SMERCH regiments and five Russian GRAD BM-21 regiments. Rockets are intended to saturate large area targets with firepower. Additionally, there are three BrahMos cruise missile units, with a fourth being upgraded.

In addition to guns, the artillery corps operates sophisticated surveillance and target acquisition (SATA) systems that detect and locate enemy guns and radars which can then be destroyed by counterfire. These include the Swati Indigenous Weapons Locator Radar (WLR), which is in service in SATA batteries at the divisional and corps level. The locations of enemy guns and batteries are also detected by LOROS (Long Range Reconnaissance and Observation System) systems, imported from Israel. These can pick up vehicles at distances of 20-25 km.

Increased gun performance

The easiest way to increase the range and capacity of guns is to increase their chamber size. The larger a gun’s chamber, the more charge it can explode in it, and therefore, the longer the range at which it can launch a projectile. Common chamber sizes in artillery guns are: 19, 23, and 25 liter chambers. The 155mm/39 caliber FH-77B Bofors cannon has a 19 liter chamber, while the National Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), which the DRDO is developing, has a 25 liter chamber. The chamber size of a gun does not change its effect on the target, since the same projectile is fired from all three chamber sizes. All that changes as the size of the chamber increases is that more propellant burns in it, creating greater pressure on the projectile, propelling it further. This increases ammo range.

A higher caliber means a longer barrel. The 155 mm/39 caliber barrel of the Bofors gun is 39 x 155 mm long, or 6.05 meters. This gun is preceded by the ultra-light howitzer (ULH) M777, whose 155 mm/45 caliber barrel measures 45 x 155 mm, or 6.96 meters. BAE Systems is developing a 58 caliber gun to increase the range of its M777 155mm ULH. However, these guns are surpassed by most contemporary guns, whose 155 mm/52 caliber barrel is 52 x 155 mm long, or 8.06 meters.


Another capability enhancement provided by artillery is accuracy. A firearm with higher accuracy must fire less ammunition to achieve the desired effect on a target. There are two technologies to achieve accuracy: In Excalibur ammunition, the projectile is precisely guided to the target using inertial guidance and on-board GPS. For this, the precise coordinates of the target must be known. The Excalibur is not in service with us.

Accuracy is achieved through another type of guided munition called Krasnopol, which is guided to the target with a laser designator. Indian Krasnopol stocks, now obsolete, were destroyed.

Other methods

A third way to increase projectile range without increasing chamber capacity or barrel length is to place a ramjet at the rear of the projectile, which propels it farther. BAE Systems is already doing this, while DRDO is pursuing research at academic institutions.

Lethality can also be improved by using higher explosives in projectiles. This is the domain of the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) of the DRDO, which works on bi-modular charging systems (BMCS). This involves the use of thrusters in a graded system, rated from Charge 1 to Charge 7, which only ATAGS uses.