The Army is likely to face a key capability gap when it comes to artillery modernisation, with best case scenario calculations showing that a sizeable number of much needed modern howitzers will only arrive by 2026.
While efforts are on to bridge the gap by exploring additional numbers of the home-developed Pinaka rocket system as well as the K9 Vajra mobile artillery among others, the prevailing situation with China in eastern Ladakh has raised concerns in the system.
Defence ministry sources aware of the Army’s projections say that if the procurement process does not face any further hurdles the home-developed Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAG) are still some time away from active service.
Concern has also been raised on the Dhanush 155 mm towed after the gun suffered a failure of the recoil systems during a Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) trial at Balasore in mid-November last year. A board of inquiry has been ordered into the incident.
Officials say the complete order for 150 modern ATAGS guns is likely to be completed only by 2026, after the gun suffered an unexpected barrel burst late last year during trials, which left four soldiers injured. While the cause of the failure is being investigated, the next round of trials are expected to be completed by June-July this year.
As per projections, the formal Request for Proposals will follow successful trials and the fastest the system can move to the contract negotiating stage will be in May 2022. If this stage is processed on time — history shows that in most cases it is a protracted process — the Army will move to the next stage of First of Production Model (FOPM) trials.
These will be a real test for the production variant of the guns and are expected to take a year, following which deliveries of the guns will start at the earliest by March 2023. The delivery order for 150 guns then would take three years for completion.
Sources said that with the Chinese threat, hard power is needed for immediate deterrence and a mix and match approach may be required to meet the operational needs for artillery. Officials aware of internal projections said that the Army was fully supportive of the indigenous development as that was the future but there was concern that a capability gap could emerge in the short term.
From a glut in artillery modernisation, given the ghost of Bofors scam, the Army has fast moved procurement for modern guns in the past six years. The induction of the K9 Vajra — all 100 guns are likely to be delivered in a few weeks — has been a huge capability boost and plans are afoot to extend the order.