The user trials this summer have just been successfully completed at the Pokhran field firing ranges. Reliability of both the guns was proven by firing multiple rounds in various, including bursts, intense and sustained modes.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
The indigenous 155mm/52 caliber Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in conjunction with production partners Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Bharat Forge to replace older guns of the Indian Army. An all-electric drive, high mobility, advanced communications system and automated command and control system are some of the significant features of the ATAGS gun. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had approved a purchase of 150 of these guns at an approximate cost of 3,365 crore.
ATAGS had been undergoing evaluation trials when an accident of barrel burst occurred in September 2020, which left four soldiers injured. While the cause of the failure was being investigated, the next round of user trials was expected to be completed during the summer of 2021. Winter user trials of the ATAGS were successfully completed in Sikkim during February 2021. However, during the summer trials of 2021, the Army said the ATAGS towed gun had not met ‘certain parameters’.
The ATAGS has excellent accuracy, consistency, mobility, reliability, automation, and can fire five-round bursts as compared to three-round bursts by other guns
But the good news is that the user trials this summer have just been successfully completed at the Pokhran field firing ranges. Media has quoted a DRDO official saying that this time, the summer trials have been more successful. He said, “Reliability of both the guns was proven by firing multiple rounds in various, including bursts, intense and sustained modes.” The ATAGS has excellent accuracy, consistency, mobility, reliability, automation, and can fire five-round bursts as compared to three-round bursts by other guns.
Completion of these latest set of user trials will eventually pave the way for the 155mm/52 caliber ATAGS, which has a range of 48 km, to be fielded in the Army. The DRDO, however, has said that it hopes to complete the “few remaining tests for the non-firing parameters” of the ATAGS within a month. Once, the DRDO successfully completes these remaining tests, the tender or the request for proposal (RFP) will be issued to TASL and Bharat Forge.
The initial order for 150 ATAGS at an estimated cost of 3,365 crore is to be split between TASL and Bharat Forge, possibly for manufacturing 75 each. The procurement plans for ATAGS having been delayed, starting with the accident during firing in 2020, media has quoted an official saying that the complete order for 150 modern ATAGS guns is likely to be completed only by 2026. However, this may still be ambitious, depending on how many ATAGS are manufactured by TASL and Bharat Forge every year.
The procurement plans for ATAGS having been delayed, starting with the accident during firing in 2020, the complete order for 150 modern ATAGS guns is likely to be completed only by 2026
The target of supplying the Army with 150 ATAGS by 2026 will likely get delayed further if export orders are received for the ATAGS and the MoD goes for exports before first supplying all the 150 to the Army. An even bigger issue to be addressed is that with the government progressively banning foreign import, which in future may even include emergent requirements to fill critical gaps, the Army’s requirement for ATAGS would go up to 1,580 guns in this category.
An assessment is, therefore, required to include the following -
The contours of modern warfare are changing rapidly with constant advancements in technology. The artillery will, however, continue to remain vital to armies because of the four core functions it can fulfill in the modern battle-space -
The policy makers need to acknowledge this notwithstanding the present ceasefire with Pakistan, which could be a tactical pause. There is also plenty of talk about conventional conflict being relegated to hybrid and proxy wars in backdrop of the Ukraine conflict. But both Russia and Ukraine continue to use artillery.
The contours of modern warfare are changing rapidly with constant advancements in technology. The artillery will, however, continue to remain vital to armies
The government needs to remain focused on the requirement of speedily modernisation of Indian artillery. This all the more important because of the turmoil in Pakistan, the continuing standoff with China since the past two year, Chinese build up and better infrastructure across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), establishment of dual use villages by China as advance camps for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and Beijing showing no sign of resolving the border with India.