“Ultima Ratio Regum” used to be inscribed on French canons on the order of King Louis XIV, which literally translates to “ The final Arguments of Kings”. Rightly said, for artillery was, remains and will continue to be one of the most important aspect of any battle.
Since the Bofors Scam, no artillery piece was ordered for approximately 3 decades, and in that time our Artillery arm suffered to horrendous degrees, our SPG capabilities were completely demolished while towed suffered, although due to indigenous productions of a few light canons, our artillery capabilities wasn’t completely obliterated.
One of the workhorse of the Field Artillery arm, is the IFG/LFG or Indian Light Field Gun 105mm. Used en-masse by the army in past conflicts like Kargil , the gun maintains its dominance even now, it was introduced in 1980s and is considered one of the best in the world in terms of weight and its range which even surpasses Russian equivalent 122-mm D-30 field guns. Kargil was limelight of Bofors but in the shadows lurked the IFG providing suppressive fire support to the Infantry and, well remained the most used one in the war.
IFG/LFG has some serious advantages in northern and NE borders albeit the fact that it causes less damage than an 155mm against well protected structures like steel reinforced bunkers . The mountainous terrain allows only light guns to be transported there. Only other gun which can be airlifted there with helicopters is M777 ULH and the possible ULH designed by Kalyani Group. But IFG/LFG still has more ways to reach desired position than the ULH. And due to limited numbers and large size of the M777, this gun still will be required to cover the entire Indo-Chinese border and northern borders with Pakistan.
The Gun in itself has a very rugged design coupled with light weight (lighter than M777) makes it much more suitable for deployment through various mediums which might have stopped the others. The gun can be easily broken down and transported through mules, can be airlifted by almost all the helos in our inventory, towed by a GP. It can be broken down and air dropped too, and thus are also used by Artillery wing of Airborne troops.
The Biggest Point that makes the gun still relevant is the fact that it is present, available in large numbers, easy and cheap with almost no logistical issues. We can rely on it in times of need.
3 decades since the Bofors scam, 3 decades since this gun was originally inducted it doesn’t seem to slow down, a replacement, if found would take around a decade to replace this gun completely. Yet in these 3 decades, the gun has gotten a little old and could use some upgrades. In this piece, we’ll look at some prospective upgrades, which could make any future guns complement this one rather than replace.
One of the most important aspect of any modern artillery unit involves its FCS or Fire Control System. To bring the gun to the 21st century, a digital FCS is imperative, for Digital FCS is effective even in worst weather conditions, can take care of variables like air density and wind speed and even take notice of wearing of barrel and distortions due to heat. Now, BEL has designed an indigenous FCS for FH-77B Bofors guns, which proved their worth during Kargil, accurately eliminating targets over greater range but none such system exists for the IFG/LFG. Bringing such large number of field guns to a modern standard in terms of firing capabilities should be a priority.
A notable feature of the 105 IFG/LFG is its large range, 17.4 km(E1) 17.2 km(E2), compared to contemporary guns, like British M119/L119 105mm having a max range of 13.7 km for Charge 8 and 14.5 km for a standard M760 HE round, Russian D30 2A18 122 mm 15.4 km on an HE round. A common practise among artillery units to increase range of the guns without any major changes to the gun itself, is use to range increasing ammunition like Extended Range 105mm Base Bleed projectile or a 105mm Rocket Assisted Projectile (RAP).
Base Bleed rounds can have significant impact on increment of range (upto 30%), increasing the IFG/LFG’s solid range of 17km to 22-27 km category. I don’t need to tell you how significant this is. A RAP round is also very effective in increasing range, A D30 2A18 can shoot upto a 21.9 km using a RAP, compared to original 15.4 on a HE. M119 uses a M913 HERA (High Explosive Rocket Assisted) to significantly increase its range from 14.5 to 19.5 km. HERA rounds are not only common in 105mm category, almost all NATO armies field HERA rounds to increase their 155mm to shoot 30 km. An indigenous production line of HERA rounds could not only help in increasing 105 mm’s range but also of any other 155mm we may procure (For eg, India bought 145 M777 ULH from US, it was reported that India would be using indigenous rounds in the gun, and since they are meant for Mountain Strike Corps, such rounds can increase the area of influence of any gun ). A RAP could indeed increase the IFG/LFG’s range to 22 kms. OFB as of now, produces 155 mm HEER Base Bleed rounds but not for 105mm.
With increased range, Accuracy or CEP(Circular Error Probability) becomes an important viewpoint to judge the capability of gun. Unguided shells are good for raining hell on enemy defences or static positions but in times of limited intel and/or close proximity of friendlies and enemies, guided shells become the deciding factor. As of now, we don’t manufacture any guided munitions of 105mm, so procuring Precision Guided Kits is an option. These kits transform unguided shells in to guided ones, a similar tactic we used during Kargil with the Laser Guided Bombs kits. These kits are cheaper than the guided rounds themselves. These kits can reduce CEP drastically, for eg For an unguided shell, like M549A1 at 30km has a CEP of 260 m while with a PGK it becomes a mere 10m. An HMG post at the end of a street will no longer be problem to hit, for an artillery unit. One such possible which India can procure is a system developed by IMI with a CEP of 10 m at 23 km which works out pretty well, for an upgraded IFG/LFG.
There is also a completely revamped version of IFG/LFG offered by Kalyani Group in co-op with Mandus Group. The Garuda 105mm Ultra Light Field Gun has many commendable features like it weighs around 900 kgs compared to 3 tonnes of IFG/LFG, it can be fitted on any light vehicle, it has less parts than the original gun, features a soft recoil tech and best of all, it features a digital FCS. Most recently the Garuda 105mm was spotted in 5th Bhartiya Vigyan Sammelan, Pune 2017. Kalyani Group has tested new mechanism of pistons which absorbs shock and 40% reduction in recoil in Garuda 105. Complete gun mount weighs only 1500 kgs. Can be mounted on armoured vehicles. Only new mechanism is tested till now. No requirements yet from the army.
The last order of the IFG/LFG was for about 150 guns for Mountain Strike Corps, while the deal for 155mm M777 was being worked out.
“If you don’t have enough artillery, quit.”
– General Richard Cavasos
And we have enough of this artillery. With about 2400 units of the gun in service, it would be foolish to ignore its upgrade potential as proper upgradation can act as a force multiplier and the gun could continue to serve.
This article was written with inputs from Mr. Kunal Biswas and his thread on DFI on the same topic.
By- Shwetabh Singh