Expediting the field artillery rationalisation process to replace ageing fleets and for capability enhancement, the Army is expected to go for induction of 100 K9 Vajras, 300 Sharang guns and 18 of Dhanush apart from ATAGs at different time schedules to add lethality to its firepower required to match up adversaries like China.

In addition to these guns, the Army is also looking for weapon locating Swati radars and UAVs for surveillance and reconnaissance systems to achieve a certain threshold level, though, the artillery modernisation process may take at least a decade-and-half to realise.

Sources in defence establishment said the defence acquisition council (DAC) has already cleared the requirement for 100 more 155 mm/52 calibre tracked and self-propelled K9 howitzer, manufactured by private defence company, Larsen and Toubro (L&T). A Request for Information (RFI) will be issued any time, with the Army wanting the winterisation kit along with the K9s which were initially bought for operation in deserts but had to be deployed at high altitude in Eastern Ladakah following the May 2020 Galwan stand-off with China, said defence sources.

Winterisation kit

The winterisation kit includes nine items such as oil and lubricants having a viscosity suitable for even sub-zero temperatures, and batteries that remain active in extreme cold. One regiment of K9s, which the L&T is manufacturing under transfer of technology contract signed with South Korean company Hanwha Corporation in 2017, is already fielded along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh to counter Chinese PLA that had deployed post offensive new artillery regime of PCL-181 and PCL-161, among others.

The Army wants the process of acquisition of  155/52 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGs), developed by DRDO and produced by private companies Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Bharat Forge, to be fast-tracked. Post field trials of both the guns, defence sources described the two as “good systems” and the orders will have to be split in the ratio of 70: 30 between both the private manufacturers, said sources.

Production capacity to be scaled up

The Army, similarly, is immediately looking at 300 more more upgraded 155mm Sharang guns, manufactured by three erstwhile Ordinance Factory Boards. But, the defence sources said the production capacity needs to scale up to avoid long delays in getting the weapons and systems. At the rates these guns — upgraded in 2020 from 130mm to 155mm, 45 calibre with enhanced firing range of 36km — are being produced, a maximum of 2 to 3 regiments can be added in a year, sources said.

A culture of production through consortium is required to be adopted by the indigenous defence sector to tide over unnecessary delays, an issue which was raised at one of the previous defexpos too by a senior Army officer, remarked defence sources.

The second regiment of 18 Dhanush, which had recently undergone successful trials at Pokhran with a strike range of 38 kms, will come up by next March to give a fillip to procurement through indigenous companies, said sources.