New Delhi: That the Indian Army's artillery regiments are in desperate need of a makeover is well known. But the process of modernisation and upgrade has moved at a glacial pace. The only new weapon in sight is the M777 light howitzer which has been cleared for procurement from BAE Systems in the US. The DRDO has now stepped in, reviving an old artillery project that had been shut down some years ago owing to the Army's lack of interest in an indigenous project.
Working this time with the Army's full backing, the DRDO has begun work on a new 155mm 45-calibre gun that could take a decade to develop and field. Dr S Sundaresh, head of the team for the new artillery project, said in an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN that the gun would comprise certain high-end technologies that could require a foreign collaborator.
ON THE NEW GUN
We are proposing to develop a futuristic gun in consultation with the Army. We are in dialogue with the Army for some of the new technologies we are proposing to introduce into this gun, for example a special coating for the barrel to enhance its life, the smart recoil system with rheological fluid or an electrical drive to elevate and traverse the gun. We are in dialogue with the Army to finalise the Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) hopefully in the next couple of months. We have already started design work and will modify the design to suit the PSQR.
Since these are new technologies, we expect in about four to five years time we should be ready with a prototype for user trials, followed by summer and winter trials. Production could commence in about nine to 10 years' time. So the development cycle is 5-7 years including evaluation by the Army.
ON NEW TECHNOLOGIES
We want to try new technology in the area of recoil. The standard recoil systems are hydro-pneumatic but we are looking at an electro rheological liquid which has adaptive viscosity characteristics. So it will have adaptive damping, you will get a smooth consistent recoil no matter what the weight of the shell and what range you are firing at. That makes for a more reliable recoil system. The PSQRs demand new technology such as barrel coating. So the plan is to first build the barrel using current technologies and then try coating. Once that barrel development technology has matured, we can add new technologies and improve its performance. A number of foreign firms are willing to offer the coating technology. We are in dialogue but nothing has been firmed up yet. In order to cut down on time, we may get the technology from abroad, especially about the barrel coating and the recoilless system.
ON TANK GUNS VS ARTILLERY GUNS
Basically, both tanks and non-rocket artillery have rifled guns but when you look at the length of the barrel, the artillery gun barrels are much longer than tank barrels. The artillery shell is heavier, so the force of recoil is heavier. Accordingly, you require a proper recoil mechanism and a muzzle brake system.
ON LONE RANGER EFFORT
Nobody else in the world is developing a new gun. BAE Systems Bofors, Denel and Singapore Technologies have developed technologies for the guns they built. Nexter of France has also done the same but no serious development is taking place in terms of new guns. All guns are being produced with existing technology, so we will be the only country taking up this development. We have a large requirement and even if we take up development today, we can meet our requirements 10 years from now for a state-of-the-art gun system.
The Ordnance Factory Board is working on a gun based on the ToT documents received from Bofors. So they will be building a 155mm 39-calibre gun as well as a 155mm 45-calibre one. DRDO is helping them with the 45-calibre barrel design and external ballistics.
ON SELF PROPELLED GUNS
Self propelled guns are now at the RFP stage and we have teamed up with BEML for the Army tender. BEML is taking the turret from the Czech firm Zusana and the same will be integrated on the Arjun tank chassis. Hopefully trials will commence within a year.