|The Dhanush at the DefExpo in Delhi earlier this year|
Thursday, June 19, 2014
The Desi Bofors nearing a major milestone
If all goes well over the next few days, the Indian Army's prayers for a towed artillery gun looks set to be answered soon.
The summer trials of 'Dhanush' a 155-mm, 45 calibre gun built by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), a defence Public Sector Unit, are slated to begin at the Pokhran firing ranges from Friday, highly placed sources told me. The winter trials, a prerequisite along with summer tests, was carried out in the high altitude areas of Sikkim in the winter of 2013.
If the gun, based on the design and manufacturing technology provided by Swedish gun maker Bofors AG in the late 1980s, passes the test in the week long trials in the heat of Rajasthan desert, the OFB is likely to get the final clearance for manufacturing the desi but improved version of the original Bofors gun (the earlier version was of 39 caliber and hence had a shorter barrel) and fill a critical gap in India's artillery arsenal. Manufacturing could start as early as end-2014.
For more than 15 years, the Army's artillery modernisation plan has suffered one way or the other, the tendering process getting embroiled in allegations of manipulation and corruption at various stages. At least two foreign manufacturers have been blacklisted in the process. The Army, which needs over 1500 towed artillery guns at an estimated cost of over 10,000 crore rupees, is desperate to get new guns since no new guns have been inducted after the Bofors joined the Indian Army in the late 1980s.
The Army has given an initial indent of 116 guns to the OFB, with an option to increase the order to 416 pieces of artillery. The OFB gun, with its electronic sighting and laying system (Ballistic Control System or BCS) for aiming the gun at the target, will be a major improvement over the Bofors' manual system. More importantly, the Dhanush is likely to be priced at Rs 14 crore apiece, less than half of a similar gun manufactured abroad. While the original Bofors gun has a maximum effective range of 27 km, 'Dhanush' can fire a salvo up to 38 km in the plains, those who are involved with the gun's manufacturing said.
If the trials go off smoothly and the Army then gives the final clearance, the OFB has plans to double its manufacturing capacity from the current 18 guns a year.