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The Indian Army set to order an additional 100 South Korean-developed K-9 Vajra self-propelled howitzers, but debates are intensifying over the need for a shift towards greater reliance on self-propelled artillery. Lessons from the Ukraine War, where towed howitzers have proven vulnerable to counter-battery attacks, emphasize the importance of agility and survivability for modern battlefields.

Wheeled self-propelled howitzers offer potent firepower and enhanced mobility compared to traditional towed systems, but lack the armored protection and off-road capabilities of tracked platforms. India’s ambitious modernization plans include acquiring over 800 wheeled self-propelled howitzers, and a significant increase in its tracked artillery fleet.

The cancellation of the Bhim-tracked self-propelled howitzer program, due to issues surrounding the South African Denel firm, left a gap in India’s artillery capabilities. However, recent developments, including the successful indigenous development of the ATAGS Towed Towed howitzer and the development of the Mounted Gun System based on the same gun, have revived the possibility of a domestically produced tracked howitzer solution.

Senior DRDO officials confirmed that the ATAGS gun can be readily adapted into a tracked platform, also has been told that the Army had not approached them and even if it does to make the whole program viable including for its partners in the program, Army needs to commit for at least 300 Tracked self-propelled howitzers to justify the program’s revival.

Former Army Chief Gen Naravane recently advocated reducing the Indian Army’s dependency on the towed howitzers in favour of wheeled and tracked self-propelled systems. This perspective aligns with the growing threat posed by loitering munitions and the need for rapid counter-battery responses, as highlighted by the Ukraine War.

The Indian Army faces a crucial choice as it seeks to bolster its artillery capabilities. Prioritizing self-propelled howitzers appears imperative for addressing future battlefield challenges. Reviving the Bhim program, powered by Indian-made ATAGS technology, could significantly boost indigenous defence production and offer tailored solutions for India’s unique operational requirements.

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