Firepower and Artillery : A Futuristic Perspective by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Part 1 : Preamble

This is the first in a series which I had outlined in my article on Gunners Day on the Future of Artillery

Winston Churchill famously said that ‘Renown awaits the commander who first restores Artillery to its prime importance on the battlefield’. There is a converse to it. Infamy awaits those who relegate Artillery and Firepower on the battlefield by neglecting it. The Kargil War reinforced what Churchill had said seven decades back. It applied to Pakistan and India in equal measure. At the beginning of the Kargil war, it was discovered that Pakistan had brought up British era 5.5 inch guns near the LC in difficult mountainous terrain. They modified the gun pits to enable them fire in high angle. They used these vintage guns and ammunition imaginatively to destroy the Kargil ammunition dump and interdict National Highway 1A. Later as the battles progressed, the Pakistani Artillery lost steam. Not because their Gunners were not gallant or imaginative but because the guns besides being of vintage were not in adequate number. They had neglected their Artillery in the larger scheme of things. In the initial stages we undertook assaults against well entrenched Pakistanis. These headlong assaults  with inadequate firepower led to failures and unnecessary casualties. All seemed lost. Many of those who savour the victory of Kargil these days often forget the despair of initial losses which were heavy.  The tables turned when we reinforced the battlefield with overwhelming firepower  through the then modern 155mm FH 77B (commonly known as the Bofors Gun) and GRAD BM21 rockets. These enabled us to employ artillery inmassed role to destroy the Pakistanis by direct and indirect fire. After that it was game set and match to India. The difference between Indian victory and Pakistani defeat was Firepower. The Pakistanis gained renown when their Artillery was used imaginatively and prime on the battlefield. They achieved infamy when they ran short of firepower. We gained infamy initially when Artillery was inadequate and relegated to a side show. It was only when Artillery was restored to its prime importance on the battlefield that India could gain renown. It was this significant experience which led to the evolution of the Artillery Modernisation program at the turn of the century. 


However as time has passed the value of firepower has diminished in military minds. This has been so for many reasons. The LC has gone relatively quiet barring sporadic firing by Artillery. This has led to people forgetting the violence and effect that firepower generates. Secondly we have had an overdose of counter insurgency operations. As a result,  a large number of capable senior military officers have grown up with outstanding credentials to handle such situations. They have rendered yeoman service to the nation. Unfortunately  the circumstances under which they operated and grew professionally limited their ability to visualise and build capacity for modern warfare which has gone beyond the Revolution in Military Affairs into Disruption in Military Affairs through disruptive dual use technologies. It is not their fault but of the circumstances. However that counts for little against the Chinese along the LAC if we are ill prepared.  Another major problem has been the mistaken belief that conventional war has limited space and low thresholds in a nuclear environment. This national myopia has led to less than optimal preparation for conventional operations. The offshoot of all these issues is that ‘Artillery’ and ‘Firepower’ have been reduced to numbers and data. I have seen a gradual side-lining of Artillery and Firepower since Kargil days. Infamy awaits the nation if this is not set right.  


When the CDS of the nation spoke of ‘IAF being a support force to the Army just as Artillery, Engineers and signals are’, the distinct feeling in the environment was India is preparing for  the last war. The two major purveyors of firepower in land battles are Air Force and Artillery. If they are to be consigned to support roles then the nation needs to be concerned. Modern firepower has gone beyond the traditional roles. Even the CDS has recognised this in some manner when he stated that there is a necessity of Rocket Forces for India. Till recently, the Artillery modernisation programme was on track and the induction of Rafales was afoot. We were progressing on track to have a very strong firepower mix along the LAC. Things would have auto corrected once the right firepower mix was in place. However the Artillery modernisation has hit a few hurdles. Our response to those hurdles has been less than optimal. Our response will be correct only if firepower is thought of beyond the ‘support’ function. Luckily for India we are at a turn where corrections are possible. If these are not undertaken in the correct frame of mind we might be in big trouble when the situation arises. However the million dollar question is – what is the correction that is required? The correction that is required will come out of a holistic analysis of our terrain and operational  scenario when seen in the context of modern firepower and its roles and requirement. Before one gets into the nitty gritty of modern firepower, it is important to understand the Sino-Indian politico-military dynamic since it will have a great impact on the futuristic development of our military capability in general and firepower in particular.   

India and China are the two most populous nations with political systems vastly different from each other. While China is already a great power, it is set to decline in future. India is a rising power of the future. The unsettled border, the history of past military conflict and ideological differences portend  animosity and competition between the two for a long time ahead. Further, a matter of concern is that,  China has turned course to hard left. It has gone into a back to the basics of communism and has embarked on a revisionist path.  In this journey it is helmed by a leader more intent on personal glory for life. The emerging China is one where ideology and nationalism will trump economic development and progress hereafter. The internal political and societal churn of revisionism in China will force it to externalise the situation militarily.


As events have unfolded in the recent past, China has two active military priorities. Its first core  priority is to annex Taiwan. Part of that is to blunt US military capability from interference. The second priority is to militarily force India into submission. As per its concept, this can be achieved by capturing a key target, which could be full or part of an area it claims as its own. Alternately it could achieve this by inflicting a military humiliation on the  Indian Armed Forces similar to what it attempted to do in Galwan last year in Eastern Ladakh. At that time it also emerged that Chinese military power had severe limitations in Himalayas. The Chinese themselves have realised this. Its feverish preparations indicate that it is offsetting its deficiencies to be fully prepared , for the next time , an opportunity presents itself. It is also worth noting that the difference in military priorities between Taiwan and India is a matter of opportunity, political timing and decision. The priorities only indicate the current political importance and level of preparations and not the sequence in which conflict can occur. Chinese preparations against Taiwan are almost time specific (2025 or thereabouts). On the other hand, its preparation against India is elastic. It is preparing for the long haul whilst being responsive to its short term political aspirations.


Last year, the Chinese philosophy in Eastern Ladakh was ‘Belligerent War Avoidance’. From all indicators that has changed. Hereafter, we should expect China to be aggressive and opportunistic to achieve its objective though military conflict. Towards this end, news reports indicate that China is  rapidly building up military capabilities along the LAC. These activities include tank drills, firing exercises, construction of new airfields, setting up of empty border villages (presumably to base troops during hostilities), deployment of surveillance assets and increasing firepower capability. The operational thought in PLA places great importance on fire power and destruction. Accordingly, the  PLA has been inducting long and medium range firepower assets in great numbers into the Tibetan Plateau. There is a well-considered plan unfolding which must be suitably countered.  


On our side, we have recently rebalanced a Corps to the North. We have also shifted the majority of the 155mm FH77B Bofors and ULHs into High Altitudes. The Rafales, as they are being inducted will also be  oriented northwards. A common theme between India and China is that both are placing importance on firepower. However the roles envisaged for firepower and its application are seemingly  different. We are preparing for the close battle and China is preparing for the deep battle. There is a dichotomy.         


In this context it is important for us to examine Chinese operational concepts and their likely use of firepower. This must be followed up with an analysis of the Himalayan terrain which places important demands and simultaneously imposes peculiar restrictions on operations and firepower. In this broad operational framework we need to understand the role of modern firepower and what is expected out of the Regiment of Artillery. Based on this, we need to dissect and outline the future course to develop India’s tube and  rocket Artillery so that they can meet the futuristic operational requirements. Being an old time Gunner, I will lay the facts as they are in a series of articles for those in the military and larger defence establishment to reflect upon. Thereafter they can take action as they deem fit in best interests of the nation.


At any and every stage a feedback is welcome. 


5 responses to “Firepower and Artillery : A Futuristic Perspective by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Very appropriate. Let’s hope we continue to maintain the focus and momentum on this dimension.

  2. SirWell articulated.The aspect of PSDA must be inherent to the whole concept and not looked as detached as we did for ISR

  3. Why is thearmy dragging its feet on the ATGS and Dhanush, While hoping to get 400 isreali howetzers (i agree they are cheaper)If we are aiming for perfection before placing orders , we might be shooting ourselfs in the foot.

  4. Thank you General for highlighting the central role of artillery in winning wars and in the Indian context in particular. Don't you think Chinese have a natural terrain advantage in massing artillery than us in Eastern sector?

  5. as a 2nd gen gunner, my heart sinks when someone says arty is a supporting arm

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