It is no secret that the Indian Army artillery modernisation programme has been hamstrung for over two decades by a variety of circumstances, both political and otherwise. But in a renewed atmosphere of urgency to shed demons of the past and move forward substantively, the field is once again wide open. Reluctance and cynicism has slowly given way to cautious optimism, and now enthusiasm to modernise what is, by all accounts, one of the key war-winning arms of the Indian Army: the Artillery Regiment. The Indian artillery modernisation programme is at once large as it is ambitious. Indications at Defexpo 2012 have been hearteningly positive not just for continuing interest from established technology houses worldwide, but the incredible amount of interest from Indian private firms willing to go out on a limb.
For instance, one of India's largest and most experienced private defence players Larsen & Toubro Limited (L&T) and South Korea's Samsung Techwin Co., Ltd (STW) have announced right here at Defexpo 2012 that they would be cooperating in the Indian Army's Tracked Self Propelled Artillery Programme. A proposal to develop the 155mm/52-calibre tracked, self-propelled artillery, with L&T as the lead partner, had been submitted last year to the Ministry of Defence. “L&T and Samsung Techwin have joined together to offer a state-of-the-art self-propelled tracked howitzer system meeting the aspirations of the Indian Army for this strategically important programme. This cooperation would lead to new avenues in Indian and global defense markets for both the partners working together," said M.V. Kotwal, Member of the Board, L&T and President, Heavy Engineering. The agreement reflects the success of both companies in their respective areas of proficiency. L&T has had a series of successes as an innovator and systems integrator for key systems & technologies, and has indigenously developed and supplied complete systems for the Indian defence and aerospace sectors. Samsung Techwin is the OEM for the Korean “K9 Thunder” self-propelled howitzer, one of the largest and most successful of the 155mm/52-cal self-propelled artillery systems in the world today. Larsen & Toubro, as the lead partner, has announced that it will indigenously produce the self-propelled howitzer. As part of the cooperation agreement between the two companies, STW will provide key technologies to L&T for localisation of the K9 Thunder. During the production phase of the Indian tracked artillery programme, the joint offering would have over 50 per cent indigenous content including components like fire control system, communication system, NBC & AC, APU, life support system, etc which have already been used in India. This phase will also include significant localisation of hull/turret structure and major sub-systems. L&T also plans to set up the integration and testing facility for roll out of these guns from its world-class, dedicated defence equipment facility in Talegaon, near Pune. The K9 Thunder is on display at the L&T stall in the Defexpo, with L&T-STW jointly announcing its readiness to field the system for Indian Army’s user evaluation trials which are expected to commence shortly.
Bharat Forge, one of the world's largest forging companies, has expressed its interest in competing for the Indian Army's monumental 155mm/52-cal towed gun requirement, one that has slipped for years without an acquisition being made. The company's executive Director Amit D. Kalyani announced at Defexpo, "We are developing a towed gun of 155/52-calibre mainly for the supply to the Indian Army. We have already responded to a tender for supplying this gun." The company is making an initial investment of $20 million ( Rs. 100 crore) to build capacity and acquire technology to develop and build the new gun at a facility already up in Pune. Kalyani said: "We have initially committed Rs. 100 crore only on development. If we win the tender we will need another dedicated line of investment for the assembly line." The company currently engages about 60 people to develop the gun.
The impressive BAE Systems M777 ultra-light howitzer is back at Defexpo this year. After months of uncertainty, the government has made indications that it is moving forward with the procurement of 145 M777s, though it is reportedly still to complete a full evaluation of the guns. The government has stated that the field evaluation of the ultra-light howitzer comprises three parts, user trials, DGQA trials and maintainability trials. "The performance of the gun can be ascertained only after evaluation of all three trial reports," Defence Minister A.K. Antony said earlier in March. BAE Systems is, incidentally, ready to assist in India in building some of its older Bofors guns to meet critical gaps in the interim. The ordnance factories will build capacity for the manufacture of Bofors (now BAE Bofors) artillery guns within the country and will receive $75 million ( Rs. 375 crore) to create the manufacturing infrastructure. The Defence Minister said in Parliament, “The government had secured the right of transfer of technology during the purchase of Bofors guns. Though all the technological documents as per the ToT contract were received by OFB from M/s AB Bofors, the transfer of technology was not carried forward as the dealings with the technology provider, (M/s AB Bofors) were suspended. Further, no indent was placed by Army on OFB for manufacture and supply of complete gun system. Capital expenditure of Rs. 376.55 crore has been sanctioned by the Government in March 2012 for creation/augmentation of large calibre weapon manufacturing capacity in ordnance factories.”
Another company with the experience of forging ties with the Indian private sector, Nexter Systems of France, is also back at Defexpo and raring to go. The company has said that “Nexter plans to open up new areas of cooperation in the Indian defence market by developing partnerships with Indian industry (transfer of technology, joint ventures, sale of components etc.), to support and provide the local industry with the latest technology for the "Make India" projects and any new requirement of the Ministry of Defence of India, to collaborate with the DRDO for modern and high technology research and development projects.” The company has established cooperations in India to collaborate in the Indian Army's artillery competitions. For instance, Nexter Systems and Larsen & Toubro signed an agreement in June 2010 to cooperatively develop a 155mm mounted gun system (MGS) for the Indian Army. In September last year, the company and Larsen & Toubro signed a second agreement for the TRAJAN® 155mm/52 cal towed gun for the Indian Army. Both agreements announce the formation of a Nexter Systems led consortium for the 155mm/52 calibre mounted gun programme and the 155mm/52 cal towed gun programme and the upgunning of the M46 for the Indian Army. In a statement, the company said, "Due to the importance of Indian artillery and other programmes and the willingness of Nexter Systems to become a leading partner of Indian defence industry, Nexter Systems has decided to establish a wholly owned subsidiary, Nexter India, in 2012.” Elbit Systems has model displays of its ATMOS wheeled (self-propelled) 155-mm howitzer and ATHOS 155mm towed gun system, the latter experienced in Indian field evaluation trials in the past.
The Indian Army is in the process of acquiring the following gun types: 155mm/52-calibre towed guns, 155mm/52-calibre tracked (self-propelled) guns, 155mm/52-calibre wheeled (self-propelled) guns, 155mm/52-cal mounted gun system (MGS) and 155mm/39-calibre ultra-light howitzers.