The MoD has not responded to a request for comments.
The ATAGS has been designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in a public-private partnership with the Kalyani Group and Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division). The latter is now a part of Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), the Tata Group’s principal defence company.
“We cannot understand why the government is facilitating the import of artillery when our indigenous guns are doing so well in development,” says an official associated with the ATAGS programme.
Superficially, the ATAGS resembles the infamous Bofors FH-77B, which India bought 410 of in the 1980s before scandal derailed indigenous construction. In fact, weighing in at 19 tonnes, it is two tonnes heavier than most contemporary towed guns. A key reason for its extra weight is the ATAGS’ all-electric drive — another unique feature of the gun.
The ATAGS has performed well in high altitude trials in January 2018 at the12,000-foot-high Menla Firing Range in Sikkim. However, when the gun went for trials in September, a gun barrel burst while being fired.
This is not an unusual event while developing an artillery gun. Business Standard has learnt that a multi-agency Failure Investigation Committee had determined that the accident was caused by defective ammunition, and the gun has been found fit to continue trials. That is likely to be scheduled soon, based on the availability of firing ranges.
In successive rounds of testing, the ATAGS has fired shells out to a world-record distance of over 48 km. This was achieved using special, long-range ammunition called “high explosive — base bleed”.
In comparison, most contemporary 155-mm, 52-calibre guns in service worldwide, including the Israeli Elbit Systems gun, achieve a maximum range of 40-45 km with this ammunition.
The ATAGS also possesses the unique capability of firing five-round bursts, which overwhelms the target with a large quantity of explosive before enemy soldiers can take cover inside their trenches. Other contemporary guns are designed to fire three-round bursts.
The longer range of the ATAGS comes from its larger chamber, which houses a larger quantity of high explosive propellant that shoots out the warhead further. The ATAGS chamber volume is 25 litres, compared to 23 litres in other 155-mm, 52-calibre towed guns, such as the Israeli Elbit and the French Nexter guns the military has evaluated.
In referring to a 155 mm, 52-calibre gun, the first figure denotes the “bore” of the gun, or the width of the gun barrel. The calibre relates to barrel length. The higher the calibre, the longer the barrel and the greater the gun’s range.
A third parameter is chamber size, which determines the quantity of propellent that can be used and the size of the projectile that the gun fires. A larger projectile causes more damage on the target.
The ATAGS has a major place in the army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, which envisages the acquisition of about 3,000 155-mm, 52-calibre guns. In addition, the Corps of Artillery is purchasing 155-mm, 39-calibre ultralight howitzers from BAE Systems for use in the mountains. Meanwhile Larsen & Toubro is building South Korean K-9 Vajra 155-mm, 52-calibre self-propelled artillery guns for use with tank columns.
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