ATAGS: An Impending Success Story
Sub Title : Details of a truly Make in India project
Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 2 May/June 2019
Author : Ashwani Sharma & P Binuraj
Page No. : 58
Category : Military Affairs
: May 25, 2019
The article delineates the details of a truly Make in India project. We are looking at conquering new horizons with the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System being manufactured in India
The modernization of Indian Artillery is aligned to its vision of Arty Profile 2027 and is a major component of Indian Army’s capability development programme. It is one of the world’s most ambitious plans for acquisition and development of field artillery gun systems. The plan created a lot of buzz in the international defence market with a lot of prominent players from across the globe offering their technology and products. The Indian Defence manufacturing industry, both private as well as the OFB have also pitched in to meet the demand. The modernization plan has also propelled various DRDO projects into a higher trajectory with phenomenal success stories emerging in the past two years. 2018 – 19 has seen both indigenous as well as imported gun systems being inducted into the arsenal as well as new contracts getting concluded.
The Indian Army’s quest for new 155mm artillery guns saw the induction of 39 calibre M777 ULH of BAE Systems in collaboration with Mahindra Defence and South Korean SP gun system K-9 Vajra being produced by Samsung and L&T during the past one year. Another important chapter in the history of Indian Artillery was created in April 2019 when the first batch of 155mm/45 calibre Dhanush guns produced by OFB were handed over to the Army. In what can be said to be the largest single contract for artillery guns till now, Israeli Elbit has won the Indian Army’s 155 mm, 52 calibre towed artillery gun contract after outbidding Nexter of France.
Concurrently DRDO was in the process of designing a 155-mm gun. And it was a ‘PROUDLY INDIAN’ moment when the DRDO designed gun manufactured majorly by two Indian companies (assisted by other private players) TATA Power SED and Bharat Forge was wheeled into Delhi to participate in the Republic Day Celebrations on 26 Jan 2017. A senior Army observer said “We are on track in designing and building an international quality gun through the ATAGS project. If it continues like this, India will become a major gun supplier in the world market, instead of a major buyer”. The army is usually restrained in its endorsement of on-going DRDO projects.
ATAGS is a fully indigenous towed artillery gun system project, undertaken in mission mode by DRDO as a part of the Artillery Modernization programme of the Indian Army. Pune based Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE); a premier R&D establishment of DRDO is the nodal agency for design and development of the ATAGS, where majority of the work is being carried out in conjunction with partners from the private industry. OFB, IRDE, VRDE, CAIR, DEAL, DMRL and PXE are also development partners to provide solutions in specific areas.
The project which commenced in September 2012 had the basic objective of developing an indigenous advanced gun system. The armament system of the ATAGS which comprises 52 calibre Gun Barrel with Breech Mechanism, Muzzle Brake and Recoil System has been designed and developed to fire 155mm calibre ammunitions. Initially four (4) Guns were to be developed under the project and upon successful user trials, 150 guns would be initially inducted into the service. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has approved induction of 150 pieces of ATAGS, which can arm seven regiments of artillery with a state of the art equipment as early as 2020. This project is a great example of jointmanship between the Army and the DRDO in terms of progressing the Design and Development project and giving the necessary impetus to the project. All specifications and operational requirements were mutually agreed upon thus leaving no ambiguity.
ATAGS is home grown technology and is a perfect example of successful indigenous capability. ATAGS can be termed as a future battlefield solution which claims to have achieved unmatched performance in terms of range, accuracy and mobility. The range achieved during trials by ATAGS is the highest ever range achieved by any artillery gun in this category. Two prototypes have been successfully tested for firing and mobility as part of internal DRDO testing. ATAGS has been successfully fired in all types of terrain – in ranges at Balasore, Pokhran and Sikkim (High Altitude). The User Assisted Technical Trials (UATT) are likely to commence anytime soon.
The gun has several significant features including an all-electric drive, high mobility, quick deployability, auxiliary power mode, advanced communications system, automated command and control system. Some salient characteristics of the system are given below:-
- Range. ATAGS is far ahead of most of the existing 155mm/52 calibre Artillery gun systems in the world, both technically and commercially. It can fire in excess of45 kms (ERFB BB) and more than 35 kms (ERFB BT) as compared to other towed guns which fire +40 kms (ERFB BB) and +28 kms (ERFB BT).
- Chamber Capacity. ATAGS has a chamber volume of 25 litres as compared to other 155mm / 52 calibre guns having 23 litre chamber which allows higher propellant charge to fire ammunition at longer ranges. The gun has been designed to fire Zone 7 of modular charge system with service pressure of +420 MPa and muzzle velocity of 1000m/s compared to other towed guns which fire maximum Zone 6 and muzzle velocity of 930 m/s.
- Electric Drives. The system has an All Electric Drive configuration, a first in the world, which enables relatively maintenance free and reliable operation over longer periods of time. The wear and tear is less as the number of moving parts has reduced considerably. Also, management of spare parts is easier in case of all electric drives, whereas this becomes a concern for hydraulic and pneumatic assemblies.
- Mobility. With a 110 KW engine, ATAGS has achieved more than 18/19 KMPH in SP mode on road and 10 KMPH whilst moving cross country.
- Burst Fire Capability. The laying speed of ATAGS is 5 degrees per second against the normal 1.5/2 degrees per second of towed guns. The rate of fire in ATAGS is unbeatable due to shell table with 6 shells in comparison with towed guns with a 3 shell table. ATAGS has achieved a burst fire capability of five rounds in 30 seconds. Since most casualties are caused by artillery in the initial burst of fire, when enemy soldiers are caught in the open (and not after they dive into their trenches), a high “burst fire” capability is an important attribute.
- Sighting, Navigation and Fire Control. The gun has an Integrated Fire Control system consisting of an Inertial Land Navigation based Automatic Gun Alignment and Positioning System, Muzzle Velocity Radar and Ballistic Computer to carryout online computation. In addition to the above, the gun system is integrated with a Thermal Imager to impart night firing capability in the direct fire mode. The Electronic Sight has been developed by RCI and INS has been developed by BEL. Both these indigenous units have been tested on ATAGS. At present, the foreign content is minimal and mostly comprises the COTS items. It is compatible with ACCCS. ATAGS can also function as an autonomous weapon system.
- Ammunition System. ATAGS has been designed to fire all current 155mm caliber ammunition in use with the forces. Existing ammunition HE shell M1 ERFB BT/BB has been fired successfully by ATAGS even for Zone 7 with service pressure of + 420MPa (chamber volume 25Ltr). So far more than 500 rounds of Zone 7 with existing ammunition have been fired and there has not been any requirement for any special class/modifications. Both indigenous and imported charge bags and BMCS (M91(I), M92(I)) have been successively and safely fired. It will also have the capability to programme and fire future Long Range Guided Munitions (LRGM) to achieve precision and deep strikes.
In this project, ‘Make in India’ came to the fore with Bharat Forge Ltd and Tata Power SED, the two development partners showing keen interest in the project. They established infrastructure, plant and machineries for the project. The two companies were involved in each phase of development right from the inception of the project. Traditionally, indigenous weapon projects have been dominated by the DRDO as the design and development agency with the DPSUs /Ordnance factories as the production agencies. In ATAGS, however, the DRDO functioned as a Project Manager and Overall Designer, while private firms with strong systems engineering strength merged into the project at the initial technical readiness level.
Tata Power SED
Tata Power SED stands out for its capability in systems engineering, integration of various systems and subsystems, and production setup. TATA Power SED bid for and was awarded contract for design and development of the Fixed Firing Stand, Automotive System, Gun Automation and Gun Structures. This was in addition to Build to Print of Recoil System and Breech Mechanism. Tata Power SED commenced design activities based on concept and technical specifications provided by ARDE. Complete design and development including detailed analysis – a critical aspect, was carried out in-house by Tata Power SED. Design and manufacturing of electronic modules and development of software to operate the modules was achieved through in-house capability.
Bharat Forge (Kalyani Group)
Bharat Forge Limited (BFL) has carried out ab initio design of various systems by its competence and experience in manufacturing technologies, quality control system, and process control systems which have proved crucial. The existing quality related processes within the group have made the ATAGS reach a new level of excellence among similar weapons systems. Kalyani group has become a reliable development partner with full knowledge in design and manufacture of 155 mm gun systems. The competence and knowhow base with infrastructure have provided the company confidence for participation in on-going “Make in India” initiative. The barrel and breech developed by Kalyani group is also being used for other industry partners. Some of the major achievements of BFL are:-
- The mechanisms are driven by a military 24VDC system and have three degree of redundancy.
- An Advanced Electronic Steer by Wire system to provide ideal mobility for Towed Guns to synergize the shoot and scoot capability has been designed. The same was developed in house using all the resources available within the group. This drive endorses high-end dual redundant encoders with electronically controlled hydraulic pumps and traction motors.
- In-house developed axle for 4×4 drives provides independent suspension and articulation to transit toughest terrains. ATAGS can achieve speeds close to 20 kmph in autonomous mode and above 70 kmph, while being towed by a truck.
- The complete ordnance has been made by Kalyani Group, akin to all other successful OEMs who make their own ordnance. As a matter of fact, unless the ordnance of a gun is made in India, you can never claim a gun to be truly ‘Made in India’. This is one of foremost differences between ATAGS and other guns acquired/being acquired by Indian Artillery.
- The prototype developed by BFL has achieved 48,054 metres in zone 7 ERFB BB and 35,074 metres in ERFB BT. The peak pressure was +430 MPa as service pressure, due to 25 liter Chamber and Zone 7. The MV enhancement was 80-90 m/s for maximum charge.
To cater for high chamber pressure, the ordnance has been designed for 25 litre Chamber/Zone 7 and special ESR grade with upgraded mechanical properties has been successfully developed by Kalyani Group. The same has been tested at maximum 599 MPa, which itself is world record for artillery guns developed till now. Recoil System, Breech Mechanism and Muzzle Brake have also been successfully proved corresponding to the highest pressure. The ordnance and recoil system have met all design objectives including assembly and integration with ATAGS. It is also equipped with an advanced Recoil System for compactness and suitable gun barrel coating for enhanced fatigue life.
ATAGS can truly address the challenges of the western and northern borders with challenging mountainous as well as desert terrain that need longer ranges due to less developed infrastructure in these forward areas, requirement of speed of deployment and engagement and high accuracy and rates of fire. The production capability as per industry can be built up as per user’s requirement, with initial capacity of about 100 guns per year which can be further scaled up to 150 guns per year.
ATAGS is potentially the DRDO’s biggest indigenous project, aiming to meet the army’s need for field artillery pieces in the coming decade, generating indigenous manufacture. In the last few years, the gun manufacturing capabilities of industry as well as OFB has grown by leaps and bounds with a new found confidence in own capabilities, courtesy Dhanush and other recently inducted gun systems. The synergy of the user directorate, DRDO and private industry in development of ATAGS will surely make it into a success story for many more future projects to emulate.