The Indian Army put on an impressive show of firepower on Sunday at the huge field firing range in Maharashtra’s Devlali. They used their own artillery guns, rocket systems, ammunition, and weapons along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC), where the Indian and Chinese armies have been fighting for more than 32 months.

Several big guns were used in the spectacular display of the Army’s capabilities, code-named “Exercise Topchi-2023,” by the prestigious School of Artillery. 

These included the most recent 155mm/45-caliber Dhanush towed artillery gun, 155mm/52-caliber tracked self-propelled K9 Vajra-T guns, M777 ultra-light howitzers, upgraded Sharang guns, 105mm/37-caliber Indian (155mm denotes the diameter of the shell and caliber relates to barrel length). HT was given a pass to see the performance.

According to Lieutenant General S. Harimohan Iyer, commandant of the School of Artillery at Devlali, the exercise aimed to demonstrate the country’s indigenous capabilities and the progress made toward establishing self-reliance in the defense sector. When it comes to defense, Atmanirbharta is reaching new heights. “The Army is prepared for any threat,” he declared.

Also on exhibit for the duration of the two hours were 155 mm FH 77 BO2 guns (also known as Bofors), 155 mm Soltam guns, 130 mm M46 guns, a Russian-made Grad BM 21 multi-barrel rocket system, unmanned aerial vehicles, weapon detecting radars, mortars, helicopters, and various surveillance systems.

The drills were carried out when the Army was preparing to induct new artillery systems, longer-range rockets, and loitering munition to boost its capabilities along the China border.

The artillery capability upgrade will involve the induction of more K9 Vajra-T guns, additional Dhanush guns, and the new 155mm/52-caliber advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS), Iyer said. 

These exercises were conducted as the Army prepared to increase its firepower along the China border by introducing new artillery pieces, longer-range rockets, and loitering munition.

ATAGS System

What’s Next: The Army is considering bringing ATAGS into service by the end of the year. During last year’s 75th Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort, an indigenous howitzer was utilized as a part of the customary 21-gun salute in addition to the British guns that were usually employed.

In 2013, the Defence Research and Development Organisation launched the ATAGS project to develop a new 155 mm artillery gun to replace existing models in use by the Army. In order to produce the gun, which can travel 48 kilometers, it teamed up with two private companies: Bharat Forge Limited and TATA Advanced Systems Limited.

On the ATAGS system, which completed validation trials in May 2022, officials said they fast-tracked the remaining process for quicker induction. The source explained that Electromagnetic Interference/ Electromagnetic Compatibility ( EMI/ EMC) trials were completed and maintainability trials by the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers.

Currently, the Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA) evaluation is underway which includes environmental tests. They are being concurrent to shorten the evaluation. The source said they should be completed in another two months, after which the preliminary requirements would be converted to General Staff Quality Requirements (GSQR), and commercial bids would be sought.

Cost negotiations would follow this, and the source added that the initial order for 150 guns would be split between the Lowest bidder (L1) and the second (L2) in a 70:30 ratio.

The ATAGS is a 155mm, 52 calibers heavy artillery gun jointly developed by Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), the Pune-based laboratory of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), in partnership with Bharat Forge and TATA Group. In May 2022, the gun completed validation trials toward meeting the specifications of the Army and is now ready for induction.

Here’s a low-down on the weapons that were deployed in the exercise:

Dhanush Towed Artillery Guns: The 2017 Republic Day parade marked the gun’s debut. The Gun Carriage Factory in Jabalpur produces these anti-aircraft guns, which sell for 14.50 crore each and have a range of 38 kilometers.

The first long-range artillery gun to be produced in India, the desi Bofors, is being hailed as a ‘Make In India’ success story. The Army has already implemented the first Dhanush regiment at the China border and is planning to raise a second regiment with 18 cannons by March 2023.

K9 Vajra-T Guns: The guns have been manufactured in India by private sector defense major Larsen & Toubro and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin. The Army has already inducted 100 under a 2017 contract worth $720 million. 

Although the guns were initially purchased for desert duty, some have been stationed in the Ladakh zone due to winterization upgrades. The military wants to purchase one hundred additional K9 Vajra-T weapons.

M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers: In November 2016, India placed a $750 million purchase with the United States for 145 M777 howitzers. After the Bofors scandal broke in the late 1980s, the M777s were the first artillery guns to be ordered.

The 155 mm/39 caliber howitzers are lightweight enough to be slung onto helicopters for rapid deployment to mountainous terrain. BAE Systems, the producer of the M777 howitzer, delivered 25 completed units. At the same time, the remaining guns have been assembled in India with the help of Mahindra Defence as part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative launched by the administration of Narendra Modi.

Sharang Guns: Modernizing the artillery includes the updated Sharang artillery pieces. Currently, the Army is home to three separate Sharang regiments. It has ambitions to expand to 15 such regiments in the future and is currently raising a fourth.

The Sharang project seeks to modernize the Army’s older 130mm M46 towed artillery pieces, originally manufactured in the Soviet Union. The range of the modified weapons has increased from 27 km to 37 km, and their terminal efficacy has improved.