New Delhi: Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) with private firms Bharat Forge and TATA Power SED will next month begin confirmatory desert trials of the indigenous Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS).
According to sources in the ATAGS development programme, after the summer trials this year, orders can be placed in the industry, following which the system will become operational in the armed forces. They said the validation trials at high altitude areas, including mobility trials in hilly and mountainous terrain have been completed.
The ATAGS is part of the Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, which had been drawn up in 1999. According to this plan, the Army is supposed to have different kinds of artillery, including the towed system, which is meant to be a 155mm x 52 caliber.
Defence sources said that the development of ATAGS has been completed and is presently under PSQR (Weapons procurement and qualitative requirements) trials to finalise the final configuration of the gun system.
With the global procurement plans for a towed gun faltering despite multiple attempts, the project for ATAGS was rolled out by the DRDO around 2010. The ATAGS, which is being developed by the DRDO with the two private firms, fired for the first time in a fully integrated model in 2016. This development came even as the Army has been pursuing a separate process for procurement of towed guns from abroad under the ‘Make In India’ initiative. The gun that has finally emerged as the lowest bidder for this process was the ATHOS of the Israeli firm Elbit, in 2019. The deal was for the supply of 400 guns and indigenous production of another 1,180 guns by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), under a full Transfer of Technology (TOT) process. A final decision on ATHOS is still pending.
However, with change in plans by the Army to procure only 400 of the ATHOS and the DRDO objecting to it, the competition between ATAGS and ATHOS has intensified. According to DRDO, the ATAGS is the weapon of the future and better despite Army’s concern on few issues like extra weight, gun barrel burst during trials and the rate of firing. Moreover, the cost factor will also come into play now considering ATHOS is cheaper than ATAGS. One area where the ATAGS outguns other systems is the range. The ATAGS’s range with Extended Range Sub-Bore Boat Tail (ERFB BT) ammunition is 35 km and with ERFB BB (Base Bleed) ammunition is 45 km. The ATAGS has actually fired at a range of 47 kms in 2017.
ATAGS programme sources said that though weight may be an issue, it can be resolved through using other systems like Dhanush gun and light weight howitzers along with the indigenous towed system. Moreover, in weight category it is comparable with other comparable gun systems in the world and the self-propelled mobility of this system is high and it is capable of crossing all Indian bridges and terrain. According to the industry sources, the most significant achievement during the second phase of PSQR Winter Trials was moving the guns to the Northern-most point of operational area (Lukrep) in the Plateau areas of North Sikkim and the ATAGS (Bharat Forge) demonstrated efficient towed movement in the treacherous terrain climbing altitudes up to 15,500 ft. The Bharat Forge Gun could traverse the complete stretch with ease, thus proving the ability of the Guns to move into the remotest of places, in any type of terrain.
The summer trials results will set the ball rolling for the indigenous towed system and decide its future as Army will have to finally decide whether to go with indigenous ATAGS or ATHOS or both.