Artillery weapon systems are among the many projects that have been produced as a result of the national push to “Make in India” in order to attain self-reliance in industrial capacities, particularly in the manufacturing of defence products.
The Field Artillery Rationalization Program (FARP) of the Indian Army (IA) was conceived in the wake of the 1999 Kargil conflict. The IA plans to standardise and streamline the procurement and development of approximately 3000 pieces of artillery under this programme. These pieces will be distributed across five categories: 1580 pieces towed gun systems(ATAGS, Dhanush and Sharang), 814 pieces mounted gun systems (probably ATAGS on Ashok Leyland 8×8 military truck chassis HMV 15009 or 8×8 Tatra truck-mounted howitzer based on Dhanush Gun), 180 pieces self-propelled wheeled gun systems (K9 Vajra), 200 pieces self-propelled tracked gun systems (K9 Vajra), and 145 pieces ultra-light portable howitzers (M777 howitzer). In accordance with the ‘mediumisation’ plan of the Indian Artillery, the standard calibre for the majority of future artillery gun purchases will be 155 millimetres, with the 155 millimetre towed artillery guns serving as the mainstay of the artillery force.
The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is responsible for the creation of the 155mm Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), and the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) and the Armament and Combat Engineering Systems (ACE) located in Pune are directly involved in its development. The manufacturing of the weapon system has been given over to Bharat Forge Ltd., a subsidiary of the Kalyani Group, as well as Tata Advanced Systems Ltd.
The Bharat-52 was a 155mm 52 Calibre Length (155mm/52) Gun that the Kalyani Group built with technology included from international suppliers. It is interesting to note that the Bharat-52 served as a “precursor” in certain aspects to the ATAGS. In 2017, the IA put the prototype through its paces but ultimately decided against buying it for widespread use.
The 155mm/52 Calibre ATAGS Artillery Gun is intended to augment or replace the 130mm M-46 Russian Gun currently being upgraded to 155 mm and the 155mm FH77B Swedish Bofors Gun. The Indian Artillery has used both weapons for the past 60 and 40 years, respectively, as part of its arsenal. When compared to these older weapon systems, the ATAGS provides a major improvement in terms of lethality, ease of operation, and system features.
The Development and Production Partner Program (DCPP), which is where the DRDO hires Development Partners / Production Agencies to carry out projects as a form of support for the indigenous sector, was the impetus for the conception of the ATAGS Program in the year 2013. After that, it was planned that production would begin in 2019. At the beginning of the programme, Bharat Forge and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. created two prototypes for developmental testing called P1 and P2. The testing and evaluation results were used to develop and supply versions P3 and P4 of an upgraded prototype. Following that, testing with further prototypes occurred.
Due to the expertise already available from the continuous development of other indigenous Artillery gun systems, the development of the gun system was completed in a very short time of four years. The ATAGS were on display at the 2017 Republic Day Parade for all to see. Following the issue of the RFP, the first order of 150 units is expected to be fulfilled by the year 2026.
The need “to develop a comprehensive firepower and fire support system based on long-range artillery, rockets, and missiles with high lethality, precision, and mobility” can be found in Paragraph 24 of the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR), which is a vision document for capability building until the year 2027. It would be the responsibility of the people developing any indigenous artillery weapon system to ensure that it satisfies these broad performance standards.
ATAGS can fire a variety of ammunition, including Terminally Guided Munitions (TGM), High Explosive (HE) Longer Range Full Bore (ERFB), and High Explosive (HE) Base Bleed (BB) ammunition for longer range. 155 mm HE ERFB RA/BB can fire almost double the standard EEFB/BB projectiles. In addition, it can fire numerous charge zones, which gives it the ability to achieve ranges of up to 45 kilometres according to operational and tactical requirements. The chamber capacity of the gun has been expanded to 25 litres, which is higher than any other contemporary gun system found anywhere in the globe.
The gun incorporates a number of cutting-edge sub-assemblies, one of which is an electric drive, which is used to affect the majority of the actions and functions of the gun. This gives the gun greater operational stability and, as a result, higher consistency when it comes to firing. When operating in settings of extremely low or high temperatures, using a hydraulic fluid-based system can cause problems that can be avoided by employing an electric drive.
ATAGS is equipped with an Integrated Fire Control System (FCS) that consists of an Automatic Gun Alignment and Positioning System (AGAPS) based on an Inertial Navigation System, a Muzzle Velocity Radar, and a Ballistics Computer. These subsystems enable accurate firing data computation and gun-laying, achieving a very high level of firing precision and consistency. Both the automatic gun alignment system and the ballistic computer contribute to a speedier laying and orientation of the gun, resulting in an increased rate of fire.
The gun is equipped with a powerful auto-propulsion unit that has 147 horsepower and can achieve speeds of up to 18 kilometres per hour while operating in the deployment area and, to some extent, while travelling. This increases the gun’s survivability and improves its manoeuvrability, particularly in mountainous terrain. When used during deployment, the auto-propulsion unit drastically cuts down the amount of time needed for the cannon to come into action and be ready to take on engagements within an expedited time frame of sixty to one hundred and twenty seconds!
The Voice and Data Communication Unit is responsible for handling all aspects of communication. The Digital Intercommunication System enables voice communications in both directions to take place between the Command Post, the Troop Leader, and the Gun detachment commander. Meanwhile, the Intra communication system makes it easier for gun crew members to communicate with one another. The Artillery Command, Control, and Communication System (ACCCS), which the Indian Artillery uses for technical fire control, fire planning, deployment management, and operational logistics management, is also compatible with the ATAGS.
As a comprehensive weapon system, the ATAGS is equipped with its own gun tower, which is a specialised Ashok Leyland 6×6 Artillery tractor. This tractor is a part of the ATAGS. The gun tower is equipped with a crew cabin and can store the gun’s initial supply of ammo. In addition, the tower is outfitted with a hydraulic crane that can be operated manually and is used for loading and unloading munitions.
Part of the mix
In practically every metric, the ATAGS performs better than its so-called “predecessor,” the 155mm FH77B. One of the most significant concerns is the extra weight that the ATAGS will impose. However, the fact that mobility tests were successfully completed at high altitudes and the auto-propulsion motor is fairly powerful would more than compensate for this disadvantage. As envisioned by the FARP, the ATAGS and its indigenous contemporaries, such as the 155mm Dhanush and, to a lesser extent, the indigenously up-gunned 155m Sharang, would represent the backbone of India’s wholly or largely indigenous towed gun armament over an extended period of time.