The Indian Army has been in the quest for a new artillery gun for its inventory for many a year. The spectre of BOFORS did cause delays; however, things moved on and we have recently had trials (after due process) of the 155 mm guns offered by French Nexter systems and Elbit from Israel. Further evaluation of the same is in progress.
Concurrently DRDO was in the process of designing a 155-mm gun. And it was a ‘PROUDLY INDIAN’ moment when the DRDO designed gun manufactured majorly by two Indian companies (assisted by other private players) TATA Power SED and Bharat Forge underwent two weeks of successful engineering trials of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), from December 13-22, at the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) ranges in Balasore, Odisha. The immense success of the trials prompted the Ministry of Defence to order the two prototypes involved, in the trials, to be wheeled in to Delhi to participate in the Republic Day Celebrations on 26 Jan 2017. All the objectives of the trials were fully achieved in the first go itself and in this way; it was a major milestone for the project, said Dr S V Gade, Programme Director, ATAGS. Chairman DRDO and Dr. K.M. Rajan, DS & Director ARDE, Pune were also present at the trials.
A senior Army observer said “We are on track in designing and building an international quality gun through the ATAGS project. If it continues like this, India will be a major gun supplier in the world market, instead of a major buyer”. The army is usually restrained in its endorsement of on-going DRDO projects.
ATAGS is a fully indigenous towed artillery gun system project undertaken in mission mode by DRDO as a part of the Artillery Modernization programme of the Indian Army. Pune based Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE); a premiere R&D establishment of DRDO is the nodal agency for design and development of the ATAGS where majority of the work is being carried out in conjunction with partners from the private industry. OFB, IRDE, VRDE, CAIR, DEAL, DMRL and PXE are also development partners to provide solutions in specific areas.
The project which commenced in September 2012 has the basic objective of developing indigenous advanced gun system. The armament system of the ATAGS which comprises 52 calibre Gun Barrel with Breech Mechanism, Muzzle Brake and Recoil System has been designed and developed to fire 155mm calibre ammunitions. Initially Four (4) Guns are to be developed under the project and upon successful user trials, 150 guns will be initially inducted into the services.
This project is a great example of jointmanship between the Army and the DRDO in terms of formulating the QRs and giving the necessary impetus to the project. All specifications and operational requirements were mutually agreed to thus leaving no ambiguity.
In this project Make in India came to the fore with Bharat Forge Ltd and Tata Power SED, the two development partners showing keen interest in the project. They established infrastructure, plant and machineries for the project. The two companies were involved in each phase of development right from the inception of the project. They have worked hand in glove with DRDO team and helped in realizing a fully integrated system expeditiously. The system integration was carried out on a fast track mode by both these firms and the fully integrated systems were deployed at PXE Chandipur in Dec 16 for proving the mission objectives.
The programme envisaged development and integration of various advanced technologies. The system will achieve firing ranges of the order of 35 km for Boat Tailed & 45 km for Base Bleed ERFB ammunition. It will also have the capability to programme and fire future Long Range Guided Munitions (LRGM) to achieve precision and deep strike
The system is configured with an All Electric Drive technology, a first in the world, that will ensure maintenance free and reliable operations over long periods of time. The automation will enable six round auto MRSI, automatic operation of shell and charge loading, ramming & gun deployment. The automation also facilitates a higher rate of fire, fast coming in-to/out of action in a war scenario. The gun has an Integrated Fire Control system consisting of Inertial Land navigation based Automatic Gun Alignment and Positioning System, Muzzle Velocity Radar and Ballistic Computer to carryout online computation. In addition to the above, the gun system is integrated with a Thermal Imager to impart night firing capability in direct fire mode. It is also equipped with an advanced Recoil system for compactness and suitable gun barrel coating for enhanced fatigue life. These enhanced performance attributes have increased the weight of ATAGS, marginally heavier than comparable towed guns.
The system is configured with a Battery Command Post (BCP) that will command and control a battery of six to eight guns over radio and line. The integration of the gun battery with BCP would be as per ACCCS Shakti network.
Recoil System, Breech Mechanism and Muzzle Brake have also been successfully proved corresponding to the highest pressure. The ordnance and recoil system have met all design objectives including assembly and integration with ATAGS.
This fully integrated gun system would increase the Artillery’s Area Neutralization capability, Battle command compatibility, mobility, awareness, sustainability & combat effectiveness.
The armament system for ATAGS test fired and proved right the first time itself on 17 Jun 2016 is, which is an extra ordinary achievement in itself. To facilitate this feat, DRDO had developed and commissioned in Jan 2016 a highly specialized, robust Fixed Firing Mount for carrying out such critical dynamic tests at PXE Balasore.
The first fully integrated gun system will be ready for User assisted technical trials by Jun 2017 and thereafter for full scale user trials after which the system is likely to be inducted into service, said Dr S Christopher Secy DD R & D. ( The gun is expected to be inducted in the 2019- 2020 time frame as per procedural estimates).
Salient features of ATAGS are: -
• Range – upto 45 km
• Rate of fire:-
• Burst – 6 rds in 30 secs
• Intense – 10 rounds in two minutes
• Sustained – 75 rds in 60 mins
• Automated gun deployment.
• Automated laying System.
• Digital fire control system based on Inertial Navigation System.
• Capability of rapid delivery resulting in better First Salvo Effectiveness (FSE).
• Capable of moving under its own power for short distances at speeds of 10 to 12 km/hr. This provides the gun with shoot and scoot capability.
• Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) capability.
• Better night vision system.
• Positional Navigation System.
• Higher shelf life and higher reliability of the systems.
The entire ATAGS project was divided into Work Packages (WP) which were awarded as contracts to the industry for development and manufacture. Starting with ballistics in WP1 and ending with design development and manufacture of Fixed Firing Stand in WP 9, there were nine work packages to develop the system successfully.
ATAGS is potentially the DRDO’s biggest indigenous project, aiming to meet the army’s need for more than 1800 towed artillery pieces in the coming decade, generating indigenous manufacture of over Rs 30,000 crore.
At first look, ATAGS appears similar to the Bofors FH-77B – the famous “Bofors gun” that India bought 410 of in the 1980s. In fact, the ATAGS, a 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun-howitzer (guns fire at low angle, howitzers at high angle, while ATAGS does both) is significantly bigger than the 155-millimetre, 39-calibre Bofors. 155-millimetres is the ‘bore’ of the gun or the width of the gun barrel. Calibre relates to barrel length; the higher the calibre, the longer the barrel, and the longer its range. A third parameter is chamber size, which determines how large a projectile can be fired from the gun.
While most globally available 155-millimetre guns, including the French Nexter and Israeli Elbit guns which the military has evaluated, have a chamber capacity of 23 litres, ATAGS will have a 25-litre chamber. That would let it fire more high explosive onto the target with each round. In addition, this makes the ATAGS’s range noticeably higher, especially while firing “extended range full bore” (ERFB) ammunition, with which the range goes up to an astonishing 45 kilometres.
The ATAGS is the world’s only gun with a six-round “automated magazine”, which lets it fire a six-round burst in just 30 seconds. Most other 155-mm, 52-calibre guns have three-round magazines, which must be reloaded after firing three rounds. Since most casualties are caused by artillery in the initial burst of fire, when enemy soldiers are caught in the open (and not after they dive into their trenches), a high “burst fire” capability is an important attribute.
Traditionally, indigenous weapon projects have been dominated by the DRDO as the design and development agency with the DPSUs /Ordnance factories as the production agencies. In ATAGS, however, the DRDO functioned as a Project Manager and Overall Designer, while private firms with strong systems engineering strength merged into the project at the initial technical readiness level.
The two major players Kalyani Group and TATA Power SED have indeed done yeoman service. Their contribution in brief: -
Tata Power SED
Tata Power SED stands out for its capability in system engineering, integration of various systems and subsystems, and production setup. TATA Power SED bid for and was awarded contract for design and development of the Fixed Firing Stand, Automotive System, Gun Automation and Gun structures. This was in addition to Build to Print of Recoil System and Breech Mechanism. Tata Power SED commenced design activities based on concept and technical specifications provided by ARDE. Complete design and development including detailed analysis – a critical aspect, was carried out in-house by Tata Power SED. Design and manufacturing of electronic modules and development of software to operate the modules was achieved through in-house capability. TATA Power SED’s gun therefore, is truly Indian. The ATAGS was successfully integrated in the TATA Power SED’s facility at Bengaluru in the first week of Dec 2016. The first prototype was ready by 07 Dec 16 when it was shipped out to Balasore for engineering firing. During trials the gun achieved all the parameters specified by ARDE.
Kalyani group has carried out ab initio design of various systems by its competence and experience in manufacturing technologies, quality control system, and process control systems which have proved crucial. The existing quality related processes within the group have made the ATAGS to reach a new level of excellence in similar weapons systems.
With the successful initial firing trials, Kalyani group has become a reliable development partner with full knowledge in design and manufacture of 155 mm gun systems. The competence and knowhow base with infrastructure has provided the company confidence for participation in on-going “Make in India” initiative. The ordnance has successfully undergone proof firings last year in PXE Balasore at extreme high pressure which is the highest pressure recorded for artillery gun systems in the world. This required manufacturing of special steel and intricate knowledge of the metallurgy. The barrel and breech developed by Kalyani group is also being used for other industry partners.
The mechanisms are driven by a military 24VDC system and have three degree of redundancy and No-back technology is used for on field manual operation in case of emergency. This is an added advantage, since it provides truly “Silent Watch Operation “.
An Advanced Electronic Steer by Wire system to provide ideal mobility for Towed Guns to synergize the shoot and scoot capability has been designed. The same was developed in house using all the resources available within the group. This drive endorses high-end dual redundant encoders with electronically controlled hydraulic pumps and traction motors. In-house developed axle for 4x4 drives provides independent suspension and articulation to mitigate toughest terrains. ATAGS can speed more than 20 kmph in autonomous mode and above 70 kmph, while being towed by a truck.
The ATAGS will face a stiff regimen of trials before entering service. In June, “range and accuracy trials” will be conducted to evaluate its accuracy and its effect on the target. Its performance will be evaluated in varying terrain conditions, like deserts, plains, mountains and high altitude; both in summer and winter. The gun’s mobility, and that of the Ashok Leyland tractor that tows it, will also be evaluated. Maintenance evaluation trials (MET) will follow.
The induction of ATAGS into the Regiment of Artillery will start in 2019-20 to meet some of their requirement of about 1800 Guns.
While the ATAGS will come in after two years, it would be only be in the fitness of things, if the company chosen from amongst Nexter Systems and Elbit are not given the short shrift by ignoring them because of the enthusiasm that ATAGS has generated. They have already gone through a protracted and tedious process. We could take a part of our overall requirement from them and not send a wrong signal to the global industry.