October 4, 2023
India’s primary defence ally is Russia, which supplies approximately 50 per cent of the weaponry utilized by the nation’s armed forces. A Russian military specialist has expressed willingness for Russia to establish a collaborative manufacturing facility for long-range artillery guns dedicated to serving the Indian Army, indicating their enthusiasm for such a venture.
Dmitry Kornev, founder of the Military Russia portal based in Moscow, made these remarks following media reports suggesting India’s intention to procure 400 self-propelled, long-range artillery units, citing their demonstrated effectiveness in the Ukraine conflict. ‘Self-propelled, long-range artillery’ refers to artillery units mounted on vehicles equipped with their own propulsion systems. These artillery pieces can move independently on the battlefield, providing mobility and flexibility, and are capable of firing projectiles over long distances, making them effective in engaging distant targets.
Self-propelled, long-range (SPG) artillery and Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) are tracked or wheeled military vehicles and serve distinct roles. SPGs focus on long-range indirect fire support, while MBTs are designed for direct combat and armoured warfare on the battlefield.
Expounding on the advantages of self-propelled artillery systems, the Russian defence analyst clarified that these versatile units encompass artillery guns, mortars, cannons and howitzers, featuring various medium to large calibres. They are mounted on self-propelled, tracked or wheeled platforms, offering high mobility and the ability to move independently, which enhances their tactical flexibility on the battlefield.
- Artillery Guns: This is a broad term encompassing various types of large-calibre firearms, including cannons and howitzers, typically used to deliver projectiles over long distances, providing firepower and support on the battlefield
- Cannons: Cannons are relatively short-barrelled artillery pieces designed for direct fire with a flat trajectory, making them effective against specific targets, such as vehicles and personnel
- Howitzers: Howitzers have shorter barrels than traditional cannons, but are designed for indirect fire with a high angle of trajectory, making them versatile for hitting targets not in line of sight or in trenches
Benefits of Extended-Range Artillery Weapons
Contemporary artillery guns no longer require dedicated trucks or tractors for transport. They can be deployed in open fields, swiftly reposition to engage the enemy and depart. Additionally, the artillery crew remains within the confines of the combat vehicle during operations, enhancing their efficiency and safety. Kornev, speaking to a media house on Saturday (September 30, 2023), indicated that, given the outcomes of the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, self-propelled artillery appears to be the most efficient artillery type currently in use.
Furthermore, he pointed out that a contemporary self-propelled gun is equipped with communication and navigation tools, allowing the crew to precisely determine their geographical coordinates while inside the vehicle. In simpler terms, this means that the artillery team inside the machine always knows exactly where they are located on the map, which enhances their accuracy and effectiveness in targeting. This is why the crew can efficiently operate their weapon, having ready access to ammunition within the same installation. This approach is highly effective and secure, and ensures optimal efficiency in combat operations.
Although these self-propelled artillery systems are notably more expensive than conventional towed guns on two wheels pulled by trucks, the investment is justified due to the significantly enhanced survivability and effectiveness they offer. According to Kornev, the ongoing military operation has demonstrated that the decision to prioritize self-propelled artillery units as the primary artillery choice for numerous armies worldwide is well-founded.
Artillery Guns from Russia Currently in Use
Kornev disclosed that, among the Russian artillery systems, the Msta-S, a self-propelled gun with a 152-mm calibre is likely the primary installation. Kornev emphasized that the Msta-S system benefits from the T-90 tank’s cross-country capabilities, as its modern chassis derives from this tank. Consequently, it can navigate terrain much like a tank, surpassing the mobility of most towed artillery units and many other self-propelled guns. This system can receive target information through communication channels, including secure radio transmissions. Additionally, the artillery gun stores all its ammunition and, if needed, it can be resupplied with ammunition from the ground.
Kornev also revealed that the Russian arms firm, Uralvagonzavod, was nearing the conclusion of its efforts on the Coalition artillery system. This self-propelled unit will incorporate the strengths of the Msta-S, including an upgraded T-90-based chassis and a new artillery module. The Coalition system is expected to match Western equivalents in terms of its performance attributes.
What Proposition Moscow Has Made to Delhi
When questioned about India’s potential interest in acquiring artillery guns that Moscow is effectively utilizing in Ukraine, the military expert pointed out that the most appealing export choice for New Delhi would be the Coalition system. He said this would be advantageous for India as it has a history of collaborating with Russian tanks.
New Delhi has manufactured T-72 tanks and operates T-90 tank variants dating back to the late-1990s and early-2000s. India has the capability to manufacture self-propelled guns of the Msta-S type, albeit with advancements, and one of their requirements is self-assembly. Alternatively, they can readily assemble the more advanced Coalition type, which surpasses the Msta-S in terms of sophistication, Kornev explained.
Kornev pointed out that both systems share virtually identical chassis, a similar body and numerous interchangeable components. Therefore, this would be a highly efficient solution, and it is probable that Rosoboronexport—the sole state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports/imports of defence-related and dual-use products, technologies and services—is, indeed, presenting this particular option to India.
Kornev highlighted that Russia has maintained a longstanding partnership with India in the field of armoured vehicles for several decades. Given the cost-effectiveness and familiarity of the equipment to the Indian military, they could rapidly acquire expertise in production and assembly, the expert observed.
Russia’s Extensive Use of Long-Range Artillery
Meanwhile, Major-General (Retd) Sanjay Soi, who had an over-three-decade stint in the Indian Army, emphasized to Sputnik that Russia has always been using artillery guns as its primary weapons system for many decades. Even in previous wars, including World War II, the Russians used artillery deployment to good effect. In general, the Russian armed forces employ intense artillery barrages against enemy frontlines to inflict substantial damage on the adversary’s military capabilities—whether in defensive or offensive operations. Thanks to its extended range, the Russian forces can effectively target deep within enemy formations, enabling them to provide crucial support for infantry and armoured units in capturing territory.
Artillery Guns Played Decisive Role in Kargil War
Like Russia, India has extensively employed artillery in its military operations. Throughout past conflicts, artillery has been a pivotal factor in shifting the course of battles in India’s favour. As an illustration, in the Kargil conflict with Pakistan, the Bofors artillery guns held a significant position in the recapture of numerous strategic heights, including the famed Tiger Hill.
This is possibly the reason behind India choosing to procure 400 self-propelled artillery guns, with the aim of bolstering the firepower of the Indian Army, particularly in light of the current border conditions with Pakistan and China. In this context, the nation’s highest-ranking military officials have been emphasizing the modernization of the armed forces by procuring various weapon systems, including fighter aircraft, submarines, tanks and aircraft carriers, among other equipment.
India’s Decision Inspired by Russia’s Ukraine Advances
Soi mentioned that, in the realm of artillery, India has already introduced a wide range of domestically manufactured weapons, such as the Dhanush howitzers and K9 Vajras, while also upgrading older platforms. The K9 Vajra is a self-propelled howitzer in India, offering mobility and firepower with a 155-mm/52-calibre gun for artillery support. The K9 Vajra is a self-propelled howitzer designed for mobility, while the Dhanush howitzer is a towed artillery piece, making it less mobile but cost-effective.
The K9 Vajra is manufactured by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in India in collaboration with a South Korean defence company, Hanwha Defense. The Dhanush howitzer is manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) in India. The design of the Dhanush howitzer is based on the Bofors FH-77B howitzer, which India acquired in the 1980s.
The former veteran of the Indian Army contended that India’s recent decision to acquire 400 artillery guns has been shaped by Russia’s achievements in the Ukraine conflict. Soi concluded that Russia’s ability to maintain its presence in Ukraine for over 20 months is attributed to its domestic production of artillery guns, which have inflicted significant damage on enemy forces.