Today, the book Force in Statecraft, An Indian Perspective was released in the National Defence College, New Delhi. The book has chapters on various aspects of utilizing ‘Force’ as an instrument of national power. The panorama is vast and covers various aspects from nuclear to conventional to less than conventional operations in the land air and sea domains. The book relates to application of force, impact, and outcomes in the Indian context. The chapters have been written by eminent personalities who have made a mark in military thinking in India. I was fortunate to be asked to write a chapter on ‘Firepower in the Indian Context’. It was indeed a matter of honor that my contribution was accepted and published. I would urge all those who are interested in military affairs to read this book.
A few days back I started this series of articles on Artillery and Firepower: A Future Perspective. In the previous parts I had examined the effects of firepower in the Himalayas and vice versa and highlighted certain Chinese operational concepts and how the PLA is likely to employ its firepower. From hereon, I will deal with firepower in the Indian context as I had outlined in this book.
In this fourth part of the Firepower and Artillery series, I have dealt with a few basic issues of firepower in the Indian context. Essentially I have outlined the employment of firepower in the evolving battle field and given a brief overview of the evolution of Indian firepower.
Part 1 : Preamble
Part 2 : Effects on Firepower in the Himalayas
Part 3 : Chinese Operational Concepts and Employment of Firepower
Fire and Mov in Balance
‘Fire and move’ is the basis of all warfare. Both are indispensable and complimentary to one another. They must be in harmony and balance on the battlefield. In the Sino- Indian- Pak nuclear triangle, the space for move is restricted. It can only take place during active hostilities. On the other hand, firepower is an implied force during peace and an applied force in war. Its longer ranges, lethality and effect can be implied ab initio from within own territory. It can also promote manoeuvre if used imaginatively. The effects of firepower are force multiplied with technologies related to extending its reach, precision, lethality and networking. An important shift is taking place in this ‘fire and move’ balance. Ranges of artillery firepower are increasing while the space for manoeuvre has reduced. The increasing ranges and lethality of firepower forces dispersion in depth. Dispersed forces rarely manoeuvre.
In the Indian context, battle is most likely in the Himalayan terrain. This restricts the domains through which conflicts will take place even in a multidomain contestation. Also, war as it is understood between nuclear countries is increasingly unlikely. The greater likelihood is extensive military posturing. Limited military conflict within acceptable thresholds of violence can occur. As per past empirical models, the Kargil conflict with Pakistan at one end and the Sino Indian face offs in Eastern Ladakh at the other end represent the likely conflict spectrum. Escalation control beyond this acceptable threshold is risky and dangerous. It is unlikely that this spectrum is breached. However, we need to be prepared for all possibilities. In most eventualities, in tactical, operational and strategic depths, firepower will be used for posturing and muscle flexing constantly. The likely engagement ranges (in Kilometres) of the firepower spectrum are tabulated. These are not the maximum range capabilities of weapon systems but the maximum ranges at which engagements are most likely to take place. Keeping escalation dynamics in view, the chances of using ground-based firepower is far greater than aerial firepower. In a maritime scenario, surface and subsurface firepower will also come into play. However, once fighting actually breaks out, firepower is more likely to be applied at the tactical and operational depths. It is unlikely to be applied at strategic depths. In all cases firepower represented by the Regiment of Artillery will dominate the battlefield in peace and war. In this context it is noteworthy that long range tube and rocket artillery spans the entire battlefield spectrum. It will be complementary to airpower at one end and be directly involved in the contact battle at the other. Long range artillery is a suitable complement for airpower. It compensates for lack of fighter sqns of the Indian Air Force (IAF), which will last for the foreseeable future. It frees up all the available airpower for air superiority tasks. Keeping the aforesaid in view, an examination of various facets of long-range firepower of the Regiment of Artillery are presented in this chapter.
Evolution and Development of Indian Firepower
In the Indian context, use of artillery in battle can be traced back to the Moghul days of Babar or even beyond. Indian Artillery as it exists today is a direct derivative of the Royal Indian Artillery. The derivatives are very clear in terms of organization, equipment, practices, customs, traditions and institutions. Independent India started distancing itself from the British school of thought as it evolved and grew. Also, as India aligned itself geopolitically with the erstwhile USSR, the Russian influence became more discernible. The shift occurred mainly due to adoption of Russian equipment and practices. Further, as India progressed, two developments took place. Technological progress enabled India to design, develop and produce its own fire power. Successful employment of artillery in battles fought by India, enabled development of concepts and processes which are best suited to the Indian context. To that extent, Indian Artillery is the most indigenised arm of the Indian Army as also probably the most indigenised portion of the Indian Armed Forces along with Indian Navy.
Indian Artillery was composed of mainly British equipment of Second World War vintage till the 1962 Sino Indian conflict. The post war expansion started a process of change when the Soviet 130 mm M46 gun with a range of 27 km was introduced in to service. Simultaneously, the 75/24 mm Pack Howitzer, a mountain gun was introduced into service. Significantly, this was the first fully Indian designed gun. It was a complicated, but novel and versatile gun by design. It could be towed, packed on mules, airlifted and underslung, in a helicopter. Yet it was simple to use and robust in action. I have a special corner for it since I have been a GPO , OP officer and Commander of a 75/24 battery in high altitudes at various points of time in service. It could be reliably taken almost anywhere in the battlefield and brought into action in a couple of minutes.
Till 1971, Indian Artillery remained a ‘tube artillery’ force. The first shift happened with the induction of the 122mm Grad BM 21 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) , at the end of the 1971 Indo Pak War. The Grad BM 21 , has been the ‘AK 47’ of rocket artillery. It is now being used extensively by state and non-state forces universally. The GRAD BM 21 marked the beginning of expansion of Indian Artillery into a rocket and missile force. The second shift happened with the induction of the 105mm Indian Field Gun and the 105mm Light Field Gun in the early 80s. Both these guns were indigenous and put us in the forefront of gun development. India went on to establish the Field Gun Factory in Kanpur, solely for producing 105mm guns. The third shift in the Indian Artillery was in the mid 80s, when the highly automated 155 mm Bofors was inducted into service. The Grad BM 21 and Bofors revolutionised thinking and employment of firepower. Terms like ‘Massed Fire’ ‘First Salvo Effectiveness’, ‘Simultaneity’, ‘Non Linearity’, ‘Shoot and Scoot’, ‘Burst Fire Capability’ and ‘Destruction’ entered the lexicon of operational employment and application of firepower. These concepts were successfully implemented during the Kargil War. The 155mm Bofors was to be inducted into service along with technology transfer. 155 mm guns were to be produced indigenously. It should have heralded a new era in firepower. However that did not happen due to the now infamous ‘Bofors Scandal’. The ‘transfer of technology’ could never get operationalised. As a result from being in the forefront of gun technology, where India should have been self-sufficient in producing its own firepower in all dimensions, we went into a frozen state. It broke our design capability which could only be revived three decades later due to concerted and sustained effort. The mid 80s also saw the institution of the ‘Integrated Guided Missile Development Program’. It heralded an era of indigenous design and development of long range rocket and missile systems. India achieved its maiden success in the late 80s, when the ‘Prithvi’ and ‘Agni’ missiles were test fired and later developed into the nation’s strategic force. Along with them, development of an unguided rocket system was undertaken. It has now culminated into the formidable Pinaka MLRS. This century has seen two further developments to extend and enhance India’s firepower. The ‘Smerch’ rocket system was inducted into service (ex-import from Russia). Along with this, the supersonic ‘Brahmos’ cruise missile entered service. Both these have given a new flavour to firepower capability of Indian Armed Forces. The ‘Brahmos’ with its land, air and sea launched versions has significantly enhanced India’s strategic firepower reach. Surveillance and Target Acquisition has kept pace with the evolution of firepower with the induction of Weapon Locating Radars – ANTPQ 37 (ex USA) and Swati (indigenous) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into service. Capability development of firepower floundered till recently. With the induction of the 155mm M777 Ultra-Light Howitzer (ULH) and K9 Vajra (Self Propelled ) guns that hoodoo has been broken. The impending induction of the long range guided Pinaka MLRS will give an added edge in the future battlefield. The future looks promising with more indigenous firepower waiting to be inducted. Along with the evolution of firepower hardware, two other things have happened. Firstly, net centricity of firepower was brought in through the Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS) and Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS). Secondly the integrative power of firepower found expression through the Artillery Divisions. The first Artillery Division was raised in 1997 and was followed by two more. The sum total is that India has tremendous firepower capability, which is often forgotten and underplayed. Hence a look at the operational evolution of firepower is mandatory. That follows in the next article…
 Most facts pertaining to the evolution of firepower have been drawn from two official publications of the Regiment of Artillery. The Gunner: The Regiment of Artillery publication of 2008 and School of Artillery, Alma Mater of Gunners, 2019. this publication.
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