Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Can ATAGS give India's military a much-needed boost? The answer is yes

The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System, developed indigenously, is a 155/52mm Towed Gun suitable for all climate and terrain systems and is built to replace an aging inventory of multi-caliber guns currently with the Indian Army

Manu Balachandran
Published: Jun 16, 2023 11:23:12 AM IST
Updated: Jun 16, 2023 11:29:02 AM IST

Can ATAGS give India's military a much-needed boost? The answer is yesATAGS broke the record for longest-range artillery gun when the system fired standard high explosive-base-bleed (HE-BB) ammunition to a range of about 48 km
India will soon add some serious homegrown firepower to its military.

The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) built by the DRDO in partnership with private sector defence manufacturers Bharat Forge and Tata Advanced Systems Limited will see as many as 307 units being procured for the Indian Army after the country’s Defence Acquisition Council gave its approval for Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the procurement in March this year. AoN essentially is usually the first step towards procurement and means that the government recognises the need for an equipment.

India wants to quickly ramp up its artillery gun stock and had last purchased 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers worth $750 million in 2016. That purchase had reportedly come after almost three decades and the ATAGS, developed indigenously, is a 155/52mm Towed Gun that’s suitable for all climate and terrain systems and is built to replace an aging inventory of multi-caliber guns currently with the Indian Army.

The ATAGS project was started in 2013 by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to replace older guns in service in the Indian Army with a modern 155mm artillery gun. The Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), an arm of DRDO, had partnered with Bharat Forge Limited and Tata Advanced Systems Limited for the manufacturing of the specialised gun in the early stages itself, and by 2022, for the first time, was part of the Independence Day celebrations.  
ATAGS are designed for high mobility and quick deployment and feature an advanced communication system, automatic command, and control system with night capability for direct and indirect fire.

Why is it relevant?

“The induction of ATAGS is relevant, as the system is designed to be compatible with the Indian Army’s Shakthi Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS). For a brief period in 2017, the ATAGS broke the record for longest-range artillery gun when the system fired standard high explosive-base-bleed (HE-BB) ammunition to a range of about 48 km,” says Abhijit Apsingikar, defence analyst at London based-consultancy firm GlobalData.

ATAGs is a state-of-the-art artillery system and uses an electric drive system for elevation, as compared to conventional Hydraulic Drives Systems, which helps in enhanced and better reliability on the battlefield.

ATAGS has a firing range of up to 48km using Extended Range Full Bore (ERFB) and Base Bleed (BB) Projectiles and fire a burst of 5 rounds in 60 seconds. It can fire at a sustained rate of up to 60 rounds in 60 minutes. The gun system has been under trial since 2016, particularly in Pokhran, Sikkim, and Balasore among others, and has been tested under extreme weather conditions with temperatures ranging from over 50°C to -15°C.

“As such, having already cleared high-altitude trials at an altitude of 15,000 ft, the ATAGS platform, with its standard HE-BB ammunition, offers the Indian Army a reliable means to outrange Pakistani and even standard Chinese artillery guns,” says Apsingikar. Currently, teams from ARDE, IIT Madras, IIT Kanpur, and Research Centre Imarat (RCI) are working on modifying the existing 155mm shells to incorporate RAMJET, which will help the ATAGS gun to engage targets in excess of 60 kilometres.

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How did involving the private sector help?

Unlike before, the private sector was part of the development phase itself and not just production. “With the private sector now producing artillery guns, these guns are likely to be mass-produced much more efficiently with a greater level of quality control,” says Apsingikar.

The ATAGS is anticipated to come in two variants. A towed version with limited mobility can be towed by a truck, and a High Mobility Vehicle (HMV) Mounted Gun System (MGS) version will be self-propelled. “The MGS mounted on the HMV platform will enable the gun system to be easily deployed in high-altitude areas much more rapidly and allow guns to shoot and scoot to new firing positions before the counter-battery fire is directed at them,” says Apsingikar.

Is there a big export opportunity also?

ATAGS cleared all its field trials in May 2022 and is now ready to ready to enter serial production before being inducted into the Indian Army. But even before that, ATAGS had already secured export orders from Armenia.

“The private sector, led by TATA and Kalyani, has a distinct opportunity to pitch ATAGS as a viable alternative to the now obsolete Soviet-era D-30 towed 122mm howitzers and the increasingly aging 2A65 Msta-B 152mm towed howitzers. The gun can also be offered as a replacement for the 2A36 Giatsint-B 152mm howitzers. All these aging artillery systems are in service with various countries across the globe,” says Apsingikar.

Already, India’s defence exports have reached record levels at approximately Rs 16,000 crore, recording a 10-fold increase since 2016-17. The ATAGS could make an interesting buy for Saudi Arabia, which had earlier shown interest in acquiring Bharat-52, a competing gun system from Bharat Forge. “The ATAGS has better specifications in terms of greater range, mobility, and rate of fire compared to the Bharat-52,” says Apsingikar.

Then, there is the massive opportunity across African nations including Algeria, Egypt, and Angola, among others. “They could also be pitched to Central Asian and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) states, all of which continue to operate aged Soviet-era artillery systems in fairly large numbers,” says Apsingikar. “Its lower price tag compared to Western systems, coupled with a relatively long range, can be potentially appealing to several cash-strapped countries.”

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Can the private sector participate beyond ATAGS?

Apart from the ATAGS programme, the private sector is being roped in for the fabrication of Pinaka MLRS and rocket ammunition production, the production of K-9 Thunder Howitzers, and the Sudarshan land-based Close-In Weapon System (CIWS).

“Private sector strengths in optimising production processes and ensuring efficiency in manufacturing defence equipment will lead to stringent quality control and on-time deliveries of the contracted units,” says Apsingikar.

India currently exports defence goods to over 85 countries and in 2020, the Narendra Modi government announced a target of Rs 35,000 crore in defence exports, as it turns its focus on indigenisation and on making in India. “India, which was known as an importer about eight years ago, exports major platforms like Dornier-228, 155 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Guns (ATAGs), Brahmos Missiles, Akash Missile System, Radars, Simulators, Mine Protected Vehicles, Armoured Vehicles, PINAKA Rockets & Launchers, Ammunitions, Thermal Imagers, Body Armours,” the defence ministry had said in March this year.