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April 28, 2015

Trials a hit, desi Bofors outguns Swedish original

 

(timesofindia) :  This is one 'Make in India' defence project that is now finally booming. The desi howitzer, christened Dhanush, can outgun the original Swedish Bofors 155mm artillery gun in range, accuracy, reliability, angle of fire and shoot-and-scoot capabilities.

The Army is now getting set to induct the first battery of six Dhanush guns, which will be the first 155mm howitzers to be acquired by the force since the infamous Bofors scandal torpedoed all its artillery modernisation plans in the mid-1980s.

Recurring scandals in artillery procurement projects kept it derailed thereafter, with the infamous Bofors ghost looming large over attempts to plug the Army's operational gaps in long-range, high volume firepower.

Ironically enough, it's the original Bofors gun that came to the rescue of the beleaguered force. The Army-DRDO-OFB team kicked off work on the long-forgotten original designs, obtained under transfer of technology provisions in the infamous Rs 1,437 crore Bofors contract of 1986, a few years ago. It has led to the electronically upgraded Dhanush howitzer now.




Defence minister Manohar Parrikar told the parliamentary consultative committee on defence on Monday that the 155mm/45-calibre Dhanush howitzers had "successfully met all technical parameters" during the winter and summer trials at Sikkim and Pokhran. Dhanush incorporates "many improved features" over the Army's existing artillery guns, he added.

While the first battery of guns would be ready "in a couple of months", the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is stepping up its manufacturing line for "bulk production" at the Jabalpur Gun Carriage Factory from 2016 onwards.

"The first order for 114 guns worth Rs 1,260 crore, already indented by the Army, would be completed in a three-year timeframe. The production capacity will go up to 30-35 guns a year. The Army has said it eventually requires 414 such guns," said a source.

The desi howitzer has been upgraded to 45-calibre from the 39-calibre of the original Bofors gun to extend its strike range to 38 km with "extended range, full-bore" ammunition. Costing around Rs 14 crore apiece, the Dhanush is about 83% indigenous. "The ore to steel for the gun barrel is made by the OFB. The only imported parts are the auxiliary power units, electronic dial sights and some others," said the source.

There was a major hiccup in the project when a Dhanush prototype's barrel burst during firing trials at Pokhran in August 2013. But a detailed analysis showed the problem was due to the usage of 12-year-old ammunition rather than the howitzer itself. "The trials took around two years to reach this stage," he added.

The Dhanush, however, will plug just a small operational gap. The overall artillery modernisation plan for 155mm/52-calibre guns, worth around Rs 1 lakh crore, envisages the induction of 814 mounted, 1,580 towed, 180 wheeled and 100 tracked guns, among others. 

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