India Takes Next Step Towards New 155mm Towed Howitzers

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The Indian Army has issued a tender for towed 155mm howitzers, with suppliers able to register to bid for a contract until March 8.

The move follows the acceptance of the need, approved by the Defense Acquisition Council on November 30, for the towed weapon systems.

The defense ministry last year said the weapon would “become a mainstay of the Indian Army’s artillery forces”.

According to the tender document, the Army plans to buy 52, 155mm caliber artillery guns under the Buy Indian-IDDM acquisition category. This process requires the involvement of an Indian vendor that has indigenously designed, developed and manufactured its product with at least half of its content, in terms of cost, being domestically sourced.

The towed gun systems must be no heavier than 15 tons and must be able to launch existing 155 mm projectiles at a range of 40-plus kilometers (25-plus miles). It must have a minimum life of 20 years, including a minimum barrel life of 1,500 full charge equivalents.

The Army’s effort to field several thousand new artillery systems under the 1999 Field Artillery Streamlining Plan took a long time to gain momentum. But retired Lt. Gen. JP Singh, a former deputy chief of the Army Staff for design and systems and an adviser to the government’s Defense Research and Development Agency, told Defense News that the modernization program is “accelerating.”

Local media estimated the military could buy about 1,200 towed gun systems, but that the initial order would likely include 400 shells worth about 65 billion rupees (US$783 million).

Potential competitors

Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd., a subsidiary of private firm Bharat Forge Ltd., could offer the 13-ton Bharat-52 as well as the 8-ton Mountain Artillery Gun-Extended Range. The latter is considered an extremely light howitzer that can offer versatility in mountainous areas.

State-owned Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Ltd. could introduce the 14-tonne Dhanush howitzer. The agency modified the 45 caliber system to meet the specifications of the 52 caliber with a range of 42 kilometers.

It is also possible that the Tata industrial group will strip the 18-tonne Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System to create a lighter variant for the competition. Incidentally, Tata and Kalyani are each competing to be awarded a contract to supply the military with 307 ATAGS guns.

Foreign collaboration is allowed in the Buy Indian-IDDM category, which could open the door for partners Adani Defense and Aerospace and Israeli company Elbit Systems to offer the Autonomous Towed Howitzer Ordnance System, or ATHOS.

Singh said there has been “positive response from many companies” in recent tenders for light towed guns and truck shells. Regarding India’s ability to produce artillery at home, he said the industry gained experience “during the successful design and development of state-of-the-art ATAGS”.

“Manufacturing skills are very prevalent in the public and private sectors. There are metallurgical requirements available for domestic production, [though] Software requirements for subsystems are not available domestically,” he added.

India is also looking for vehicles to tow the artillery system, with local manufacturer Ashok Leyland likely to supply them.

1 The Indian Army needs to modernize its fleet with existing Bofors FH-77B 155mm towed guns like the example pictured here. (Gordon Arthur)

2 This photo shows a Dhanush 155mm L/39 towed gun, which AWEIL has since developed into a 52 caliber gun as a candidate for the TGS requirement. (Gordon Arthur)

Gordon Arthur is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. After 20 years working in Hong Kong, he now lives in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

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