BY NEELANSHU SUNIL
Artillery is an integral part of the armed forces as it is used to suppress the enemy positions before the infantry assault.
The newest member of the Indian Armed Forces, Dhanush 155mm towed howitzer, entered into series production in June 2016 with orders for 144 units at an estimated cost of 1260 crore with option to extend the deal to 414 units. The OFB(Ordnance Factory Board) plans to build 414 units by 2020 in an attempt to bridge the huge gap in the Indian Artillery regiment, thanks to the infamous Bofors scandal of the 1980s which implicated the then PM Rajiv Gandhi after which the Army was unable to acquire advanced artillery systems until 2015. This was when the Indian Govt. placed an order for 145 ultra-light M777 howitzers from the BAE Systems through FMS for an estimated 5000 crore along with clearing the Dhanush for serial production. As part of the deal, 25 guns will be bought in flyaway condition while the rest 120 will be produced domestically in India. Even after Bofors scam, the artillery modernization has been plagued due to corruption scandals in the subsequent tenders in 2005 denel arms deal and in 2009 against Singapore Technology Kinetic’s, the result of which was, scrapping the 145 ultra-light howitzer deal worth $ 1.5 Billion. Due to this, the army was unable to acquire any artillery systems for nearly 30 years.
As only 200 units of the original 410 units acquired between 1986-1991 were operational and due to lack of any modern artillery system, OFB turned its face towards the design of the gun which had proven its mettle during the Kargil War, the Bofors FH77 whose designs were given to India as the Transfer Of Technology(ToT) which was a part of the Bofors deal. OFB started the work on designing Dhanush and test fired the 1st prototype in 2011, though there was a setback in 2013 when the barrel of the 4th prototype exploded during testing. Further investigations revealed that the shell used for testing was 12 years old. By 2015 OFB had produced 6 prototypes. Coming to the technical aspects, Dhanush is basically an upgraded version of FH77 as it is a 155/45 calibre howitzer compared to 155/39 calibre of FH77. It also has an increased maximum firing range of 38 km compared to 24km of Bofors FH77, thanks to its higher calibre which increases the effectiveness of the round, while needing smaller crew of 6-8 compared to 9 to 14 for the Bofors. Dhanush also boasts of firing 3 rounds in 15 seconds in burst, 15 rounds in 3 minutes in intense mode and 60 rounds in 60 minutes in the sustained mode. It also features an electronic suite for enhanced firing and auto laying.
Dhanush also known as ‘Desi Bofors’ has been so successful in the field trials that DRDO has started working on a new prototype which would be 155/52 calibre and has an increased range of 45 km although the sustained fire rate would be decreased to 30 rounds in 60 minutes. It was first publicly showcased on 26th January 2017. According to sources, M777 Howitzer would be used on the Chinese front due to the terrain while the usage of Dhanush is still unpredictable.