Almost three decades after Swedish-made Bofors Howitzers were inducted into the Indian Army, the force has received the first two units of its newest batch of 155mm/39 Caliber Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH) from BAE systems. The complete induction of the 145 guns is expected to be completed by June 2021.
India plans to equip 169 regiments with 3,503 of these guns by 2020. There is a huge importance of artillery in border warfare, especially in the mountainous kind that we share with both Pakistan and China. The M777 guns procured by India will fire Indian ammunitions and be able to strike targets anywhere between 24-40 km. While optimised for Indian conditions, guns of this make have already proven battle effectiveness in Iraq and Afghanistan. As many as 25 guns will arrive ready for induction while the remaining 120 will be assembled in India by BAE’s partner Mahindra Defence as part of the offset agreement. The US-made C130J Super Hercules aircraft can transport two M777 howitzers at once. The gun weighs around 4.2 ton, which is roughly a third of what a normal 155mm howitzer weighs. This explains the ultra light tag.
Some of the notable artillery guns in India’s arsenal include:.
155mm Field Howitzer 77B: This gun from Bofors was originally built as a replacement for the French Haubits F serving in the Swedish Army. Sweden exported 410 of these guns to India and at the moment, there are at least 200 still in service. It fires three rounds in eight seconds and six rounds in 25 seconds. The FH77B can strike targets as far as 27 km away.
180 mm Gun S-23: This gun is the product of cold war era USSR. It is a heavy gun designed by NII-58 and later shipped off to India. There are 100 of these in service in the Indian Army right now. It is a towed artillery gun with a length of 10.48 metres. The barrel itself is 8.8 metre in length. The gun weighs a mammoth 21.45 tons. It fires not more than 1 round per minute but has an effective range between 30km and 43 km.
88mm 25 Pounder: This is a pre-World War 2 weapon. It has been in service for over 75 years and is a dual-use field gun and howitzer. This howitzer is commonly found in arsenals of Commonwealth countries owing to its British origin. The 87.6mm gun weighs 1.6 tons, is 4.6 metre long with a 2.47 metre long barrel. It fires high yield anti-tank rounds weighing 11.5 kg. It has a max strike range of just over 12 km.
FV433 Abbot SPG: The self-propelled artillery variant of the British Army FV 430 series is currently in use only in the Indian and British Armies. There are around 80 units in service with India. The vehicle weighs just over 16.5 tons and a crew of 6 travel inside it. It is protected with 12 mm plate armor and is armed with 105 mm L13A1 gun with 40 rounds, L4A4 MG with 1,200 rounds and also smoke dischargers. It travels at a maximum speed of 47 km/h and has a huge operational range of 480 km.
For hundreds of years, artillery has ruled the battlegrounds. At first, it was a way to break enemy defenses including walls and castles. The projectiles changed from burning hay balls to those made of stone, iron before explosive shells were introduced. Artillery changed shape from catapults to guns with rifling. With range, the lethality increased and hence the dispersion of units as well.
From congested battlegrounds, it converted the fights to strategic strike and defense positions. War manuals of American civil war generals kept the division spread to a 5X5 km zone. Now it has spread to at least 40X40km. In World War 2, two sides would rain hundreds of thousands of shells within a span of hours, sometimes it would go on for days. A large portion of the war casualties were, therefore, caused by shell shrapnel.
Artillery is crucial in such places where air reach is minimal and rockets give away positions. Air missile strikes are not as effective in such mountainous terrains. In such times, artillery saves lives. A glaring example of the utility of the howitzers was seen during the Kargil war in the Battle of Tololing when India rained at least 10,000 shells on Pakistani positions using howitzers.