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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The Indian Army has launched a tender for 155mm towed howitzers, with suppliers able to register to compete for a contract by March 8.

The move follows an acceptance of necessity, approved by the Defence Acquisition Council on Nov. 30, for the towed gun systems.

The Defence Ministry last year stated the weapon would “become a mainstay of artillery forces of the Indian Army.”

According to the tender document, the Army plans to buy 52-caliber, 155mm artillery weapons under the Buy Indian-IDDM acquisition category. That process requires the participation of an Indian vendor that indigenously designed, developed and manufactured its product with at least half of its content, in terms of cost, domestically sourced.

The towed gun systems are to be no heavier than 15 tons, and they must be able to fire existing 155mm rounds to a distance of 40-plus kilometers (25-plus miles). Its minimum service life must be 20 years, including a minimum barrel life of 1,500 equivalent full charges.

The Army’s quest to field several thousand new artillery systems under its 1999 Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan has taken a long time to gain momentum. But retired Lt. Gen. J.P Singh, a former deputy chief of the Army Staff for planning and systems, and an adviser for the government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, told Defense News the modernization program is “picking up speed.”

Local media reports estimate the Army could buy approximately 1,200 towed gun systems, but that an initial order would likely involve 400 howitzers worth about 65 billion rupee (U.S. $783 million).

Potential competitors

Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd., a subsidiary of private business Bharat Forge Ltd., could offer the 13-ton Bharat-52 as well as the 8-ton Mountain Artillery Gun-Extended Range weapon. The latter is considered an ultralight howitzer that can provide maneuverability in mountainous areas.

State-owned Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Ltd. could pitch its 14-ton Dhanush howitzer. The organization modified the 45-caliber system to meet 52-caliber specifications with a 42-kilometer range.

It’s also possible industrial conglomerate Tata could strip down the 18-ton Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System to create a lighter variant for the competition. Incidentally, Tata and Kalyani are each competing for a contract award to provide the military with 307 ATAGS weapons.

Foreign collaboration is permitted under the Buy Indian-IDDM category, which could open the door for partners Adani Defence and Aerospace and Israeli firm Elbit Systems to offer the Autonomous Towed Howitzer Ordnance System, or ATHOS.

Singh said there had been “a positive response from numerous companies” in recent competitions for light towed guns and truck-mounted howitzers. As for India’s ability to produce artillery at home, he said industry gained experience “during the successful design and development of the state-of-the-art ATAGS.”

“The manufacturing skills are very much prevalent in the public and private sectors. Metallurgy requirements for indigenous manufacturing are available, [though] software requirements for subsystems are not available indigenously,” he added.

India is also looking for vehicles to tow the artillery system, with local manufacturer Ashok Leyland likely to supply them.

1 The Indian Army needs to modernize its fleet of existing Bofors FH-77B 155mm towed artillery pieces, such as the example pictured here. (Gordon Arthur)

2 This photo shows a Dhanush 155mm L/39 towed howitzer, which AWEIL has since developed into a 52-caliber gun as a contender for the TGS requirement. (Gordon Arthur)

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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