Dhanush: The Powerful Indigenous Howitzer

Artillery is one of the most important arms of a modern army, in the age of laser-guided airstrikes it’s the old school shelling that often gives the extra push; even though modern ammunition now come with their own guidance systems. Artillery is a class of large military weapons built to fire munitions far beyond the range of normal or small weapons. It is important part of any army or armed force as artillery not only supports ground troops but also helps in destroying enemy strongholds.

For the Indian Army, its artillery has been in hibernation state for years, we all know why. 105mm IFG and the 105mm LFG have been the workhorse of the army and of course the big guy, the infamous howitzer the Bofors FH77. It’s the hero of the army’s equipment which proved its worth in the Kargil War. Finally, after years of “playing it safe”, the request of the army for new guns has been taken into consideration. Consideration would be an understatement; the army and the government are gearing up to go on a buying spree of various artillery systems, all of them likely to be produced indigenously. All the new artillery systems will be different calibre of 155mm guns.

#OFB Dhanush: Now we move on to the local talent, 155x45mm caliber Dhanush which is made to replace the FH77 and even outperform it. And outperform it does, in the earlier stages not a lot of people had a faith in this system and thought it would go down the same road as the Bhim SPH, but despite all odds Dhanush is ready and in fact has undergone several field, weather, mechanical tests and passed them. The range of the Dhanush is 38km far greater than the 27km of FH77, but it’s not just the range that makes it special but the degree of automation in both fire control and laying that makes things easy.

The original Bofors gun used by the Indian Army is a 155x39mm caliber gun with a range of 28km. The Dhanush developed by OFB is 155x45mm caliber gun with a range of 38km. Caliber of a howitzer signifies the length of the barrel of the gun, a gun with a bore diameter of 155mm and a barrel length of 155x39mm will be equal to 6,045mm. A 155x45mm caliber gun will have a barrel length of 6,975mm. The longer barrel length helps the shell of the gun to travel longer distances.

Equipped with computerized fire control system, the Dhanush can fire 8 rounds a minute. It has a very high indigenous content with the barrel being made by OFB. Six prototypes of the guns have been produced. It has screw type breech mechanism, Electro-rheological/Magneto-rheological recoil system, elevation is -3 to 70 degree and traverse by +/-25. It can fire 3 rounds in 15 seconds. It has thermal sights at gunners display. Along with electronic gun-laying and sighting systems and other features, the indigenously-developed gun has an enhanced 11km range as against the gun range of 27km of the imported Bofors.

An important feature which help the desi Bofors score over the original version include ‘modified double baffle muzzle brake and a modified loading trough to accommodate Bi Modular Charge System (BMCS).” Some of the salient features of the Gun is its capability to target at long ranges, it incorporates autonomous laying features with the most sophisticated suite of electronic and computing algorithms in the world. Overall the indigenous composition of the gun is an impressive 87 percent, a clear sign that skillful planning & dedication can bring about amazing results in the areas of indigenization and self-reliance in the defense sector.

#Trials: The Dhanush was first test fired in December 2011. The trials saw some 2,000 rounds being successfully fired from the howitzer in different climatic conditions in snowy, desert and hostile areas. The Dhanush has been tested in the deserts of Rajasthan for the summer trials where the temperature was 50 degrees Celsius and in Sikkim for the winter trials where the temperature was -15 degree Celsius. In trials it came out better by 20 to 25 percent than the bofors in parameters like range, accuracy, consistency, low and high angle of fire and shoot-and-scoot ability.

However, Dhanush suffered a temporary setback in August 2013 when the barrel of the fourth prototype burst during tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan. Investigations revealed that the reason was not due to any problems with the quality of the barrel but due to the defective ammunition that was fired. The shell used for that test was 12 years old.

Indian army had stationed a special team of officers at Jabalpur's Gun Carriage Factory (GCF) to help monitor the progress, coordinate proof resources and provide guidance regarding the qualitative requirements vis-a-vis the gun system from the user's perspective.

"While three guns would be delivered for user exploitation by 30 June, three more will be handed over by September end. DAC also cleared bulk production of 18 guns to enable better exploitation and setting up of indigenous production," an officer said. Three Dhanush guns have been handed over to the Indian Army for user trials on July 2016. The DAC noted the "satisfactory progress" in manufacture of indigenous Dhanush guns, also known as Desi Bofors. Army planned to induct 414 numbers of Dhanush howitzer by 2020.

Dhanush as an artillery system has proved to be one of the best howitzers in the world. The test results are testimony to this fact. Costing about Rs 14 crore a piece, Dhanush is comparable to most current generation weapons systems which are in use by different countries. Things are looking brighter with the Dhanush clearing trials. Work on version 2 of the Dhanush is already in progress.

#DRDO ATAGS: ATAGS is fully indigenous towed artillery gun system project. The project is part of the artillery modernization programme of the Indian Army. The ATAGS is the highly advanced version of Dhanush. It is going to be an upgraded version from the current 155x45mm caliber to 155x52mm caliber. This is a parallel program that the OFB has undertaken on its own and will compete with the Advanced Towed Artillery System which is a 155x52mm caliber howitzer which is being developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) in association with Indian private sector companies. As per generally accepted gunnery rules; its proven that a 155x52mm caliber is an optimum technical configuration in achieving maximum range targeting with highest accuracy. Though it is just in the prototype stage, it is likely when ready it will also be inducted in greater number. The first fully integrated gun system is likely to be ready for user (Indian Army) trials by the first half of 2017.

The project is part of the artillery modernization programme of the Indian Army. We take a look at 4 key facts about the new towed artillery gun:

  • With a firing range of 40 km, the gun boasts of advanced features such as quick deployability, auxiliary power mode, high mobility, advanced communication system, automatic command and control system with night firing capability in direct fire mode.
  • ATAGS comprises of a breech mechanism, barrel, muzzle brake and recoil mechanism to fire 155 mm caliber ammunition. It has longer range, accuracy and precision and provides greater fire power, claims DRDO.
  • The system is configured with an all-electric drive. The idea is the manufacture the gun in a way that it is maintenance free and offers reliable operation over a longer period of time.
  • DRDO aims to develop the artillery gun system with participation of private industry. Establishing indigenous critical defence manufacturing technologies, is one of the key focus areas of the project.

DRDO hopes to do this with the participation of Ordnance Factories, DPSUs and private industries including Bharat Forge, Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division and Mahindra Defence Naval System.

Giving the ‘Make in India’ initiative for the defence sector yet another boost, DRDO successfully conducted the proof firing of armament system for 155x 52mm caliber Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS).