With the Dhanush towed howitzer clearing firing trials and the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) due to begin its final phase of testing this month, India’s long-awaited indigenous artillery programme appears to be nearing completion.
In 2018, the Army placed an initial order for 114 155mm x 45mm Dhanush rifles from the Ordnance Factory Board’s Gun Carriage Factory (GCF) in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh — currently known as Advanced Weapons and Equipment India (AWE) Limited. However, the delivery was hampered by production quality difficulties identified by the military, necessitating new shooting trials before being fully deployed.
Two Dhanush cannons, each with a strike range of 38 kilometres, fired 90 rounds “flawlessly” as part of the second line of firing in Zone 6 at the Pokhran firing range Tuesday, according to sources in the defence and security establishment. This suggested that the groundwork for its induction had been laid.
Second line of fire refers to the continuous firing of weapons with 45 rounds of ammunition apiece, whereas zone 6 refers to the highest charge, which allows the gun to fire at its maximum range.
The barrel becomes extremely hot during this process and may burst, therefore the successful shooting demonstrated that the gun is now ready for active deployment, according to reports. Meanwhile, the ATAGS, being built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) along with private enterprises Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED, may possibly undergo its last round of test firing.
If successful, it will clear the way for orders to be placed by the Army, which is in severe need of artillery pieces. According to sources, the gun’s overall performance was “inconsistent” when it was fired in June of last year.
The cannon, which passed the mobility tests, had problems opening the auto ammunition loading bridge, according to reports. They went on to say that if the new trials, which start this month, are successful, the Army will be able to issue orders.
A Significant Step Towards ‘Atmanirbharta’
“Dhanush clearing the second firing line is a significant step forward. Lt Gen. P Ravi Shankar (Retd), former director general of artillery, observed, “This is a very major step towards our dream of Atmanirbharta (self-sufficiency).”
“This is the first time in India’s history that we have a fully automated gun that has been planned, produced, and made in the nation,” said the officer, who was important in expediting indigenous artillery initiatives during his tenure.
Only 12 guns have been delivered since the induction of these guns began in April 2019, falling short of the 18 needed to form a full regiment. While the Army is pleased with the gun’s lethality and mobility, it has raised many concerns about its manufacturing quality.
Lt Gen. Shankar stated that with Dhanush and ATAGS, India will no longer be reliant on foreign artillery, save in cases where a few lightweight howitzers, such as the M-777, are required.
With Extended Range Sub-Bore Boat Tail (ERFB BT) ammunition capable of hitting targets at 35 km and ERFB BB (Base Bleed) ammunition capable of reaching targets at 45 km, the ATAGS possesses unrivalled range. In 2017, the ATAGS shot at a range of 47 kilometres.
When the ATAGS are officially ordered, both private enterprises, Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED, are expected to receive orders, but the lowest bidder is expected to receive the greatest part – 60 percent or more.
The performance criteria of both ATAGS guns developed by the respective manufacturers are the identical, and the final contract will be awarded based on the cost specified.
The Artillery Program in India
Lt Gen. T.K. Chawla, Director General, Artillery, said in September last year that the Army had done “a lot of handholding” for both ATAGS and Dhanush. He also acknowledged the problems with India’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Program (FARP), which was finalised in 1999 and calls for the Army to have a mix of 3,000-3,600 155mm but diverse calibre types of towed, mounted, self-propelled (tracked and wheeled) howitzers by 2025-27.
Lt Gen. Chawla had previously stated that the Army would shortly conduct some “confidence shooting” of the Dhanush. The delivery of 100 Vajra tracked howitzers has been completed under FARP, and the induction of M-777 lightweight howitzers from the United States is underway.
The Army is currently considering purchasing more Vajras, not only for use in the highlands, but also to replace wheeled howitzers. However, no final decision has been made.