On August 25, India’s Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Indian Minister of Defense Nirmala Sitharaman, approved the procurement of 150 155 millimeter/52 caliber Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGs), currently under development for the Indian Army by the Indian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
“These guns have been indigenously designed [and] developed by DRDO and will be manufactured by production agencies, as nominated by DRDO,” the August 25 MoD statement reads. “They are likely to be the mainstay of artillery in the near future.” Total acquisition cost for the 150 artillery guns is estimated at around $490 million.
No contract for the acquisition of the ATAG has been concluded by the MoD to date.
Development of the ATAG started in 2013 and was completed by March 2017. During the design and development phase, the Indian MoD partnered up with India’s private sector including Bharat Forge Limited, Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division, and Mahindra Defense Naval System under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative.
User trials of the ATAG have been taking place throughout 2017 and 2018. The howitzer gun is capable of firing five rounds in short duration with an effective range of up to 40 kilometers, depending on the ammunition type. Given its light weight, the new ATAG can be deployed to mountainous regions to support mountain warfare operations.
Six prototypes of the ATAG have been manufactured to date. In 2017, during user trials the ATAG reportedly fired three shells out to a record distance of approximately 47.2 kilometers.
The ATAGS was developed to supplement the indigenously designed and manufactured 155 millimeter/45 caliber artillery gun, Dhanush, an improved derivative of the FH-77B 155 mm/39 caliber towed howitzer manufactured by the Swedish defense contractor Bofors (now BAE Systems) of which the Indian MoD acquired 414 between 1987 and 1991.
“[T]he major upgrade in comparison to the Bofors is the larger caliber,” I wrote elsewhere. “Furthermore, the Dhanush reportedly has a new maximum effective range of 38 kilometer in salvo mode compared to the 39-caliber, 27-km range of the original guns. The Dhanush howitzer is capable of firing eight rounds per minutes and needs a crew of six to eight artillerymen.”
After years of development and testing, the Dhanush howitzer has been declared ready for induction in June of this year. However, no contract has been signed so far by the Indian MoD, although the Indian Army has expressed an interest in ordering a first batch of 114 guns this year. (It is expected that the MoD will order a total of 414 Dhanush howitzer guns.)
An upgraded variant of the Dhanush howitzer gun, designated Dhanush Version 2 (v2) with a larger caliber (from 45 to 52 millimeter) and a slightly increased range (38 to 42 kilometers) is currently in development by DRDO. The Indian Army is also in the process of inducting 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers from BAE Systems at a cost of about $750 million.