The Washington Post in an article dated 30th Apr, titled, ‘Western artillery surging into Ukraine will reshape war with Russia’,quotedUS Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking alongside his Canadian counterpart, Anita Anand,mentioning that long-range fires will prove ‘decisive’ in the next phase of the war. US, Canada and France are providing 155mm artillery guns, ammunition as also training Ukrainian troops in using them. Thus far, Russia has been employing its long-range vectors to advantage, against Ukraine which lacked similar capabilities. Most destruction in Ukraine has been caused by Russian artillery and missiles.
The US, as part of the USD 33 Billion package to Ukraine, has promised 190,000 rounds of ammunition and 90 artillery guns. Ukraine has been seeking multiple-barrelled rocket launchers and self-propelled guns. The article adds that with both sides possessing gun locating radars, the equipment being provided must have the ability to shoot and scoot. The west hopes that a combination of Javelin missile systems and long-range artillery would impede Russian progress.
An update on the Ukraine war over the weekend stated that backed by the arrival of long-range artillery, Ukrainian forces have commenced an offensive in Eastern Ukraine. Simultaneously, they fear a counter barrage of Russian rockets and artillery. In added news, Germany and Netherlands would be dispatching self-propelled artillery to Ukraine to boost its firepower.
One of the major lessons flowing from the war is the emergence of artillery as a decisive arm. The Russians have employed artillery,apart from its traditional roles of preparatory bombardment, close support during armoured assaults and degrading enemy firepower and air defence systems, in also extricating their forces successfully from Ukrainian ambushes. Russia artillery was primarily responsible for the devastation of Mariupol.
In the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict of 2020,Azerbaijan employed a combination of UAVs and artillery to target Armenia’s high-value military assets, armoured columns and S-300 air defence systems.UAVs were operationally integrated with the artillery to locate targets and direct artillery fire.
In modern warfare the role and destructive power of the artillery is increasing. It had always been a battle winning factor but by integrating it with UAVs, its longer ranges can be exploited to target reserves in depth while simultaneously isolating the battlefield and demoralizing the enemy.With limited use of airpower in both, Ukraine and Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, the impact of joint artillery and air strikes have not been assessed. If considered together then their destructive power would be immense.
When the LOC with Pakistan was active, India effectively engaged Pakistan gun positions in counter artillery strikes. The few regiments of 155 mm deployed along the LOC also targeted Pakistan’s depth defences, logistics dumps, HQs, terrorist launchpads and training camps. The damage led to Pak forces leaving their posts in panic.
Indian artillery, which saw almost no inductions post the Bofors, is finally moving forward, though slowly. If media reports are to be believed, trials of the Danush, the Indian version of the Bofors were completed in March this year and that of the ATAGS (Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System)early this month. Orders for both guns are expected to be issued shortly.
Modernization of the Indian artillery began with the Field Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP) approved in 1999. However, it faced multiple stumbling blocks due to delays in development and trials. The ultimate goal is to graduate towards 155mm guns. It must be noted that the higher the calibre, the more the weight of the shell and the greater would be its destructive power.
The Indian army has, after trials, approved the deployment of K9 Vajra self-propelled artillery guns to Ladakh.These were originally procured for mechanized operations in plains and deserts. Their redeployment would necessitate placing additional orders for employment in their initially designated roles.The activation of the northern border by China and failure to resolve the dispute resulted in India reassessing its capabilities viz-a-viz China. Artillery was one area where India fell short in comparison to the PLA. The induction of the K 9 Vajra and M 777 light howitzers, imported from the US, has reduced the gap considerably. However, complete upgrading to 155 mm would work to Indian advantage.
With the induction of UAVs, guns can be employed at longer ranges with greater accuracy.UAVs can be tasked to locate and direct guns and missiles to enable destruction of enemy’s fighting capabilities. Modern drones can also be employed in isolation alongside the artillery. A combined firepower plan could prove devastating.
The Indian armed forces must continue modernizing its artillery. The ‘bribe tainted’Bofors played a key role in Kargil. Regiments were moved into the sector from different parts of the country to meet firepower requirements and they did not disappoint. Alongside guns, India needs long-range multi-barrel rocket launchers. The greater the firepower the greater is the deterrent to the enemy. With a battle-hardened and motivated infantry, supporting firepower is essential to ensure victory, as was evident in Kargil.
With multiple companies, within the country, developing 155 mm guns, India has the option to choose the best. Simultaneously, minor defects in the guns can be rectified during the production phase. Currently, the rate of production of the Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited (AWEIL), the erstwhile Ordnance Factory Board, is slow. It is their delay which led to India considering the Israeli ATHOS guns, procurement of which was turned down by the MOD in favour for Atmanirbhar Bharat. Inhouse development and production must be speeded up.
Apart from guns, there is also a need to develop gun towers to enable speedy movement and deployment. These also need to be indigenous. Poor quality gun towers would be a setback as future artillery would need to be rapidly deployed and extricated prior to enemy’s counter strikes.
With the induction of modern artillery pieces into Ukraine, the nature of conflict will change. The war will move towards artillery barrages and the force which possesses better firepower, detection and shoot and scoot capabilities would prevail. Indian armed forces must observe the emerging nature of conflict in Ukraine and upgrade its artillery accordingly. Cutting corners is not an option.
The author is Major General (Retd)