Indian Artillery — An Appraisal

This is to reappraise the role of Artillery Division given the ongoing transformation of the combat forces from Divisions to Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), the changing nature of threat from across the borders, defence of Island territories and theaterisation.

Issue 4 - 2021 By Lt General Dushyant Singh (Retd)Photo(s): By NorthernComd_IA / Twitter
Indian Artillery thundering in the mountains. Role of Artillery is critical in providing long range fire support in the Tactical Battlefield Area.

Introduction

“Artillery is the god of war.” — Joseph Stalin Russia is probably today the leader in Artillery Systems because the US started ignoring the development of Artillery after the demise of the Cold War due to over reliance on Air Force and attack helicopters. The nature of wars fought by it in the past two decades in the Middle East (ME) and Afghanistan were to combat terrorism also contributed to the neglect of artillery by the US. While conducting counter terrorism and military campaigns in the ME and Afghanistan it enjoyed overwhelming air superiority and therefore found it more convenient and effective to employ air power against the adversaries. However, with reemergence of Russia as a threat to the Western interests in Europe and also the belligerent attitude of China in the Indo-Pacific, US is feeling the need to revive the “God of War” the Artillery. The availability of S-400 and S-500 with Russia, China and now even Turkey, a near peer conflict scenario has become a reality. In the case of India, the conflict scenario has always remained near peer and hybrid in nature. Balakot air strike is a recent example of this form of warfare albeit of a very localised nature. Further the mountainous terrain in which we are likely to see conflict either with China and partially along the Pak border necessitates uninterrupted close fire support of a precise, responsive and lethal nature to fill the gap between the Air Power and Integral Fire Support of the ground forces. Availability of Artillery Division perfectly fits the bill to bridge this gap.

Threat Environment

The threat today is rapidly veering towards Grey Zone but the scope for a conventional war continues to remain especially in the case of India-China or an India-Pakistan confrontation. Even if China and Pakistan are indulging in dubious (read grey zone & terrorism) warfare, the Indian response may lead to a conventional or a hybrid conflict be it with China and or Pakistan. While China has the edge over us, we enjoy an advantage over the Pakistanis in overall combat power. But the conflict environment will be near peer with either of them. Therefore, ability of the air power to provide air cover will remain at premium given the contested nature of the air space. Contested nature of air space and the terrain in the Himalayas from Jammu & Kashmir to Arunachal, means the role of artillery would be crucial to success in war especially at the operational level. The threat will be even more complex than in the past due to the hybrid component which will be injected by both the adversaries. Also Indian Air Power is nowhere near the Chinese in terms of numbers. Against a requirement of 42 Squadrons we are holding only 33 Squadrons. Also, over the next decade, 14 squadrons of MiG-21, 27 and 29 will retire from the IAF fleet, leaving only 19 squadrons by 2027 and 16 by 2032. Since the role of artillery will be critical in provision of long range fire support in the Tactical Battlefield Area (TBA), presence of Artillery Division at the theatre level equipped with rockets, short range missiles, Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers and Self Propelled guns (plains)/towed Howitzers of heavy calibre, for the mountains would be essential. Also, speed of operations due to tsunami in warfare technologies, the current and future wars will demand integration of drones, space based surveillance and real time communication systems between the shooter sensor platforms as part of the artillery division. C2ISR systems utilising artificial intelligence will also need to be introduced to take the artillery support to the next level. In order to reorganise and re-equip the Artillery Divisions it would be relevant to examine the status of artillery of major military powers including our adversaries.

State of US Artillery

If there is any country that has grossly neglected artillery support in its organisation, it is the US Defence Forces. Since 2001, it has been involved in wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. In all these conflict zones it relied heavily on air power for surveillance, detection and targeting. Even the boots on ground for close combat with the terrorists were mainly proxy forces such as Iraqi Defence Forces, Afghan Defence Forces, terror groups especially in Syria and Private Military Contractors (PMCs). It has not intervened actively in the European theatre opposing the Russian operations against the East European countries such as Ukraine, Georgia or Crimea thus avoiding direct air combat with the Russians. The US Air Force has unfettered and unhindered access to enemy targets due to lack of adequate air defence systems by their adversaries in other conflict zone. These reasons have led to the US and Western artillery forces becoming a laggard especially in comparison to Russia. For example the US Army is still holding the vintage M109A6 “Paladin”, with a firing range of 22 km with awfully slow firing rate of one round per minute without any simultaneous multi round targeting. On the other hand the latest Russian artillery system, the 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV, has a firing range of 40 km (unassisted) and a rate of fire estimated to be between nine and 16 rounds per minute. This gap in capability can be filled up by some European Artillery systems such as the German PzH2000 and the French CESAR but this is not enough to give it a winning advantage in artillery duals. Fortunately, the planners in the US have realised the yawning gap in firepower capability and are making amends to develop their artillery support both quantitatively and qualitatively but whether they will go in for third line artillery support in the form of Artillery Divisions is not very clear.

Due to number of reasons the Indian Artillery is lagging behind the Pakistani Artillery in terms of numbers and quality especially if we factor the two-front deployment of India

State of Russian Artillery

Russia is probably the world leader as far as modernisation of artillery and rocket support is concerned. Artillery reform in Russia involves an experiment to increase the effectiveness of the Missile and Artillery Troops (Raketnyye Voyska i Artilleriya—RV&A) by developing new artillery models or modernising existing systems as well as restructuring units and integrating these into the unified information space. Some of this process draws on Russian experience of artillery use in Syria and recent tests in September 16-21 strategic-operational exercise Tsentr 2019. Tsentr 2019 focussed on the use of UAVs, modern communication, C2, EW Systems, use of airborne assault forces, strategic mobility and more importantly integration of artillery into Reconnaissance - Fire Systems. The Syrian experience with D-30 and 2A65 Msta-B howitzers validated that towed artillery systems had an edge over those mounted on tracked chassis.

In the Russian Artillery Units, Artillery support involves receiving target information from forward-spotters and UAVs, with all this transmitted in real time using the Strelets intelligence management and communications complex (Kompleks Razvedk i Upravleniyai Svyazi—KRUS). This was tried and tested in Syria. The aim of the artillery support model being developed involves uniting all units and sub-units operating on the battlefield with automated C2 reporting identified targets; the information is gathered from UAVs and electronic intelligence equipment.

As far as equipping of the Artillery forces is concerned, the Russian Army is going in for a mix of new and legacy systems. The new system includes Koalitsiya-SV a self-propelled howitzers, 2S19M2 Msta-S as well as the multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) Tornado-S and Uragan-M. Amongst the systems being taken up for upgrade are: longrange 2S7 Peon and super-heavy 2S4 Tyulpan mortars, 2S1 Akatsiya, 2S3 Gvozdika or the 2S19, MLRS Uragan, Grad and 203mm SP Malka. Even Krasnopol guided munitions which was shelved in the 90s is being reintroduced. Experts and Ultransmash, the company that has modernised and upgraded the 203mm SP (50 km range backed by advanced fire control system) claims that it is the most powerful system in the world.

The Russian Concept of Artillery Fire Support

The concept of new artillery support system that the Russian Defence Forces want to establish envisages, the artillery installations working in a single whole with other artillery systems, with multiple rocket launchers and field artillery systems, (they will) deliver high-precision crushing blows with their entire arsenal.” Gerasimov has explained this concept very beautifully in his address to Academy of Military Sciences in 2018 as follows, “In order to ensure the speed and continuity of the fire impact on the enemy, reconnaissance-strike and reconnaissancefire complexes are being created. The integration of reconnaissance-information and information-control systems with weapons systems of military branches and arms is being carried out,”...At the same time, the accuracy of the strike (using high-precision weaponry) will be 1.5–2 times (better).”

The Structural Modifications

Artillery Regiments are configured in support of Battalion and Brigade level. The structure of the divisions of heavy-duty artillery systems of the Russian Armed Forces will include UAVs. Further, digitisation of highpowered artillery control systems will be an important element in the rearmament of the Ground Forces. The Sensor-Shooter network will be a single system thus reducing the response time by almost three to five times. The Indian Army needs to learn lesson from this as we have recently regrouped the UAVs under from Artillery Divisions to the Aviation Corps which may lead to avoidable delays in artillery fires on enemy targets due to Sensor - Shooter delays caused by possible coordination, communication and allocation issues.

Chinese God of War

If any country that has taken the long range artillery fire power dimensions seriously after Russia that is China. Liu Xuanzun writing in the Global Times on July 28, 2021 has mentioned, “Two of the latest Chinese artillery weapons recently made their exercise debuts in plateau regions organised by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Xinjiang Military Command and Tibet Military Command. The equipment is probably PLZ-07 an armoured, tracked based system and is claimed to be effective in special terrains found in Tibet and Xinjiang. The other weapon is probably similar to the PHL-11 self-propelled multiple rocket launcher system, as both use a wheeled chassis and fire 122-millimetre-caliber rockets type. However, the new rocket artillery only runs on four wheels and has 20 rocket launch tubes, while the PHL-11 runs on six wheels and has 40 launch tubes. Defence analysts are saying that these weapons are particularly effective on the plateau. Which probably implies more trouble for India?

Chinese Artillery Organisational Structure

Chinese Ground Forces had organised their artillery support at three levels. A field artillery unit is affiliated to an Infantry/Mechanised/Motorised Brigade. An Infantry/Motorised/Mechanised Divisions was grouped with an Artillery Brigade. At a Military Region level an Artillery Division was grouped. In 1990, 17 Artillery Divisions were reduced to eight Artillery Divisions. These numbers were further pruned down at various points in time and by 2016 PLA had only six Artillery Divisions, two Rocket Artillery Divisions, two Anti-Tank Artillery Divisions and eight Anti-Aircraft Artillery Divisions. However, after reorganisation of the PLA into Integrated Theatre Commands, the Artillery and Anti-Aircraft Artillery Divisions were most likely disbanded and converted into Artillery and Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigades grouped under each Combined Corps/Group Armies.

Chinese Concept of Artillery Fire Support

The current concept of artillery support of the PLAGF emphasises long-range deployment, firepower operations, and mobile warfare—the key attributes that the PLAA requires in its newest artillery systems. China continues to produce modern artillery systems aimed at advancing the mechanisation of PLAA artillery while integrating information systems to increase lethality and precision. The primary systems are the PHL-03 300mm self-propelled (SP) multiple rocket launcher, the PLZ-05 155mm SP gun/howitzer, and two tracked and two wheeled 122mm artillery systems. These new systems are likely to replace almost all towed artillery. The exception to this modernisation trend is PLAA coastal defence artillery, which will continue using towed Type 59-1 130mm guns and Type 66 152mm howitzers.

The Chinese are backing their artillery system with UAVs, radars and space based systems to provide a responsive and real time shooter sensor link and shorten the OODA (Observe Orientate Detect Act) loop as far as possible. The Chinese have understood the importance that artillery can actually give longer ranges in rarified environment and hence are relying on such systems. On the other hand we are falling short on our requirement of artillery.

Pakistani Artillery System

Pakistani Army artillery concepts, operational philosophy and organisational structures are by and large similar to the Indian Artillery Fire Support Systems. They also have a four layered artillery deployment with an Artillery Regiment affiliated with an Infantry/Armour/Mechanised Brigade, at the Divisional level an Artillery Brigade, reinforcing artillery Brigade at the Corps level and an Artillery Division at the Command level which is normally affiliated to the Strike Corps. Surprisingly though the concept of going in for Artillery Divisions was first adopted by the Pakistani Army. Indian Army followed suit much later. However, due to number of reasons the Indian Artillery is lagging behind the Pakistani Artillery in terms of numbers and quality especially if we factor the two-front deployment of India. The reasons for such a state of affairs are many and include the lack of efforts to indigenise production of the various artillery systems especially the medium and heavy artillery type.

As far as the Pakistani artillery holding is concerned, as per 2017 data, it stood at a total of 3,278 pieces of which, heavy artillery constitutes 422, medium artillery 1,243 and light artillery at 1,613. Pakistan enjoys effective ground superiority in the heavy and the medium category while India enjoys major advantage in the light artillery systems (Field Guns). India also lags behind in Self Propelled systems.

Large-scale exercise code-named Zarbe-Momin (1989) conducted by Pakistan Army in response to Operation Brasstacks helped develop its offensive-defence strategy or Doctrine of the Riposte. Assessments completed after the exercise noted that for the Strike Corps to make a significant breakthrough in the North, Artillery concentrations with adequate logistics were essential. This led to the raising of 2 Artillery Division in the 1990s, under HQ 1 Strike Corps. In the South, 21 Artillery Division came into existence in the late 2000s. This was placed under HQ 5 Corps and tasked to repel enemy offensives with massive artillery firepower. The Artillery Division is currently directly under their two Command Headquarters. The Command has the liberty to allocate it to either a holding or a strike corps.

Artillery Division Structure

The Pak Artillery Division has three Brigades organised as under:

  • 1st Artillery Brigade: 1x Heavy Regiment (203mm towed) + 2x Medium Regiment (155/130mm towed) + 1x Field Regiment (122/105mm towed).
  • 2nd Artillery Brigade: 3x Medium Regiment (155/130mm towed) + 1x Field Regiment (122/105mm towed).
  • 3rd Artillery Brigade: 2x SP Heavy Regiment (203mm SP) + 1x SP Medium Regiment (155mm SP) + 1x Medium Regiment (155/130mm towed).
  • Over and the above there is a Divisional Artillery Component directly under the command of the Divisional Head Quarter comprising the following units :-
  • 1x MLRS Regiment (300mm A-100)
  • 1x MBRL Regiment (122mm KRL 122)
  • 1 x Locating Regiment (SLC-2 radars and UAVs)
  • 1x Meteorological and Survey Battery with Division Headquarter and each Brigade
  • Support units like Signals, Engineers, Supply & Transport, Medical, EME, Ordnance, MP, etc.

Grouping reinforcing artillery in a divisional structure facilitates better flexibility in employment of artillery based on battle plans and progress of the battle. Further it helps in better in-service management of artillery assets and equipment. Availability of adequate artillery support in a near peer environment where the air space is going to be heavily contested, the ground force will have to depend heavily on artillery and long distance rocket and missile support for shaping the battlefield, battlefield interdiction and close fire support.

Indian Army Artillery Support System & Structure

As discussed earlier Indian Army is grossly short of artillery support both in numbers and quality except in the field artillery category. Indian Artillery is lagging behind its adversaries due to decades of policy paralysis, inaction and mismanagement at all levels of the government and the Army. Indian Army’s prolonged involvement in CI/CT operations for the last three decades may be the other reason for our neglect of the Artillery. For example, we need 26 Pinaka Artillery Regiments, however we are procuring only six. Pinaka System is the backbone of our artillery divisions. Even the six which we are procuring will only be available by 2024. Pinaka Regiments are an important component of Artillery Divisions and their numbers need to be enhanced urgently to strengthen our capacities especially along the Northern Borders. The gap in capability may result in the nation paying a very heavy price especially in terms of precious life of our soldiers and people of the country. Fortunately success in development of Pinaka Rockets, Indian Field Artillery Gun, Dhanush, ATAGs, procurement of ULH (Ultra Light Howitzers) and grouping of UAVs with Corps of artillery is giving the right push in development of this key war fighting capability.

Structural Construct

Structurally the Indian Army artillery system is also organised at four levels like the Pak Artillery. At the lowest level a field or a medium regiment is affiliated to an Infantry/Mountain/Mechanised/Armoured Brigade. This artillery unit is part of the artillery brigade authorised to Infantry/Mechanised/Armoured/Mountain Division. Reserve or reinforcing artillery brigade is authorised to the Pivot/Strike Corps. The Artillery Division is authorised to the Strike Corps. India has three Artillery Divisions they are meant to augment the fire support effort to the Strike Corps. However, given the fluidity of battle in the current operating scenario Artillery Divisions would be better utilised if they are placed directly under the Army Command for better and optimal utilisation and management of artillery support especially with the induction of Project Shakti a fairly effective Command, Control System, and UAVs to the ground forces.

Indian Army Artillery Division

In my opinion philosophy behind raising of an artillery division by India is based on three factors. First there would be a greater need for long range fire support and battle area interdiction to shape the battlefield for the ground forces due to the limited availability of air support in a highly contested air space during a conflict with a near peer adversary. Accordingly, availability of an artillery division with the capability to provide long range gun support (35 to 45 km), long range rocket and missile system with a range of 40 to 300 km would be a game changer. In fact the artillery would play a pivotal role in leading the ground offensive at the tactical level. Future wars entail annihilation and not merely neutralising enemy’s ‘area’ and ‘precision’ targets in the combat zone such as concentration of formations, communication centres, bridges, ammunition dumps, radar sites, guns and air defence sites. To achieve such effects in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA), availability of long range weapon systems would be mandatory. However to organise and employ these long range artillery guns, rockets and missiles they needed to grouped under a larger Headquarter such as an artillery division. Many experts are of the opinion that rather than raising an artillery division these long range weapons could form part of Corps Artillery Brigade. However, in such an eventuality there is a danger of critical artillery resources being sub optimally utilised due to delay in concentrating these weapons at the point of decision caused due to movement, coordination and decision making complexities. Second, the method of utilisation of long range artillery system envisages grouping additional support, logistics and administrative elements which would require better command and control. Systems such as Project Shakti (Artillery Command Control and Communication System - ACCCS) and UAVs need to be grouped with long range artillery. An artillery division is better suited to manage the command and control of such a centralized utilisation of artillery over a wider and deeper combat zone. Third, since an artillery division would comprise of diverse weapons and equipment such as medium/heavy gun systems, rocket and tactical level missiles. Hence, a higher headquarter would be in a better position to ensure smooth logistical and administrative support.

Recommendations

Status of Indian Artillery

The Corps of Artillery has lost its numerical and qualitative advantage with its Western adversary due to numerous reasons. Numerically it was always behind the Northern Adversary too. However, due to rapid advancement in artillery, rocket and tactical missile systems the gap has widened further both numerically and qualitatively. India for a considerable period did not make any major effort to bridge the gap. The Government and the Army need to work on a war footing if they wish to firstly cover the gap and secondly lead its attacks and fights its defensive battle with predominance of artillery fire. The concept today being followed by leading world armies is to use artillery as a combat arm and not a support arm. The role of Bofors in the Kargil war is a shining example of this concept of war fighting. The Chinese are planning to lead their attacks by using artillery fire to annihilate the enemy, which is a level above destruction. Mercifully we are now making some progress in the induction of the Artillery systems into the Indian Army.

Reorganising the Artillery Division

The Artillery Division most likely has gun brigades and a composite brigade comprising a mix of Grads, Pinaka, Smerch, BrahMos and a SATA Regiment. UAVs were also grouped with it like the Chinese Army but they have now been taken over by Aviation. This may lead to coordination and delays in the Sensor-Shooter communication which may cause a major delay. It is also contrary to the practice adopted by major military powers such as the US and Russia. Major recommendations to make the artillery cover to the ground forces further effective following measures are recommended. Firstly, the UAVs must be reverted back under the Artillery Division and secondly, the Composite Brigade must be split into Rocket and Missile Brigades. The Rocket Brigade could comprise Pinaka Regiment (Enhanced Range 70 km), BM 21 Grad Regiment, and a Smerch Regiment. The Missile Brigade could comprise the BrahMos Regiment and two Prahaar (150 km) Regiments as and when Prahaar is fully operationalised. The profile would help the Division to influence the battle over an area of 30 to nearly 300 km. This is a tremendous capability enhancement as this would help the Ground Forces to take care of their fire support needs organically. This would also reduce the pressure on the Air Force during the phase of air superiority battle. Thirdly, while we do have three Artillery Divisions, the fourth Artillery Division for the Eastern Sector needs to be raised at the earliest.

Current trajectory of Indian Artillery may be termed as on the path of recovery but there is still a lot of ground to cover if we have to catch up with our adversaries. Operationalisation and induction of Prahaar Missile System and Advance Towed Gun System, induction of indigenous Dhanush and Pinaka Regiments, procurement of Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH) in the desired numbers, regrouping of the UAVs with the Corps of Artillery and incorporation of an effective C2 system to control the artillery fire would make the IA artillery a battle wining factor in any future conventional or hybrid war.