It was in March 1994, that Indian Army (IA) HQ formulated the GSQR for tracked self-propelled howitzers (T-SPH) SP by using the 152mm 2S19M1/MSTA-S T-SPH as the baseline performance parameter benchmark. In response to an RFI, proposals were received in December 1994 from five OEMs and subsequently, field mobility-firepower trials on a no-cost no-commitment basis of four different hybrid T-SPHs (from France, the UK, Russia and South Africa) were conducted between April and July 1995. During these trials, the option of using the T-72M hull for mounting the turret-mounted howitzer proved to be a failure due to powerpack-related mobility deficiencies and thus IA HQ rejected all four offers.
In mid-1996, Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp and Ekaterinberg-based Uraltransmash proposed to co-develop with the DRDO a hybrid 2S19M1/MSTA-S T-SPH that combined the hull of the T-90S MBT with a turret containing a 155mm/52-cal barrel that was to be jointly developed by Bofors AB and Volgograd-based Barrikady State Production Association. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and IA HQ both ignored this offer due to its techno-economic complexities. In May 1997 it was decided by IA HQ that the AS-90 turret offered by UK-based VSEL and the T-6 turret of South Africa-based DENEL Land Systems ought to be mated with the hull of the CVRDE-developed Arjun Mk.1 MBT and both these hybrid T-SPH options ought to be evaluated through fresh field-trials.
Only DENEL accepted this offer, with VSEL declining to take part in the competition. In the meantime, IA HQ had amended its GSQR in March 1998 that now specified the requirement for both tracked and wheeled self-propelled howitzers of 52-calibre—the desired quantities being 120 and 814, respectively under the 10th Army Plan.
After conducting trial evaluations from July to September 1999, IA HQ in September 2000 recommended the induction of the hybrid T-6 T-SPH, known as BHIM, into service. In October 2000, the MoD’s Department of Defence Production & Supplies (DDP & S) nominated the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) as the nodal production agency for indigenous manufacture of the BHIM in collaboration with DENEL. However, in March 2002 this decision was reviewed and the MoD-owned Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) was nominated as the nodal production agency even though BEML had no expertise in the field. As such, BEML was not even prepared for submitting its production plan within the stipulated time. The Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) in June 2002 accorded approval in principle for the acquisition of 120 BHIM T-SPHs. Thereafter, in the same month, RFPs were issued to DENEL and BEML. Based on their commercial proposals, the MoD’s price negotiations committee (PNC) began negotiating with both between August 2002 and December 2003. In December 2004, the MoD decided to submit the BHIM’s procurement plan for CCNS approval. However, due to the blacklisting of the entire DENEL Group by the MoD in June 2005 due to the former’s alleged involvement in making illegal payments to certain agencies as commissions relating to another procurement (that of DENEL-built NTW-20 anti-materiel rifles), all contracts and negotiations with DENEL were abruptly cancelled.
In June 2006 the MoD’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cancelled the earlier hybrid T-SPH solution and instead approved the procurement of an integrated T-SPH system under the ‘Buy Global’ category with the stipulation that various T-SPHs be trial-evaluated in-country on a no-cost no-commitment basis. The RFP was issued in May 2007 to 29 OEMs worldwide, but finally only one OEM (South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin, formerly Samsung Techwin) offered a techno-commercial offer and thus the RFP was retracted as it was a single vendor situation. In February 2008, the DAC once again reiterated its preference for an integrated T-SPH system, following which an RFP was issued in August 2008 to 11 OEM s for submitting techno-commercial offers. Yet again, only Hanwha Techwin responded in March 2009 and hence the RFP was again withdrawn. However, on the request of some OEMs, the date of submission of bids was extended by eight weeks i.e. up to June 25, 2011.
Four companies, including TATA, the OFB and the BEML, bid for yet another new RFP that was issued in January 2011. Along with Hanwha Techwin teamed with Larsen & Toubro (L & T) that offered the K-9 Vajra-T, an upgraded version of OFB’s offer—the 152mm 2S19M1/MSTA-S—participated in the field evaluation trials held from March to August 2013 at the Pokhran Field Firing Range in Rajasthan. Subsequently, the K-9 Vajra-T (Thunderbolt) was shortlisted for acquisition in late September 2015 following extended field0trials that were concluded in early 2014. The MoD thereafter began price negotiations with L & T. On December 22, 2015 the MoD opened the techno-commercial bid of L & T as it was found to be the only T-SPH to comply with all the specified techno-operational parameters of the IA.
However, it was only on March 30, 2017 that the CCNS accorded its approval for the Rs 4,875-crore ($750 million) contract (to be inked next week) that now calls for the procurement of four Regiments each with 18 K-9s and four K-10 tracked ARV/ammunition re-supply vehicles (88 vehicles), plus 10 K-9s and two K-10s, with an option for procuring another three K-9 Regiments and 12 K-10s. The first 10 K-9s and four K-10s will be supplied within 18 months of contract signature, with the balance following in the next two years.
L & T will licence-build 13 major sub-systems (including the fire-control system, ammunition handling system, muzzle velocity radar, and the NBC filtration system) of the K-9 Vajra-T at its facilities in Talegaon and Powai, with final-assembly of the semi-knocked-down kits supplied by Hanwha Techwin taking place at Talegaon.
L & T will also procure (from Russia’s JSC V. A. Degtyarev Plant) and install the NSV 12.7mm heavy machine guns on the K-10s, and will also equip all vehicles with the BEL-supplied FOG-based autonomous land navigation system, IRDE-developed driver uncooled thermal imagers, and STARS-V Mk.3 radios for communicating with the IA’s DRDO-developed ‘Shakti’ artillery fire-assault direction system.
To be attached to each K-9 Regiment will be an OFB-supplied Carrier Command Post Tracked (CCPT), plus BEL-supplied motorised medium-range battlefield surveillance radar (BSFR-MR) and its motorised communications vehicle.
It is very likely that the K-9 Vajra-Ts will be operated by the IA Western Command’s Ambala-based 40 Artillery Division, which in turn will come under the command of the Ambala-based II Corps (which includes the Patiala-based 1 Armoured Division, Dehra Dun-based 14 RAPID Division and the Meerut-based 22 Infantry Division). This is because the IA believes that even though it will make serious attempts to ensure that the next round of high-intensity conventional hostilities remains confined to the mountains of Jammu & Kashmir and PoK, there could well be a spillover to the plains of northern Punjab. In any future limited high-intensity war that India’s armed forces will be called upon to fight in the mountains, gaining, occupying and holding territory and evicting the enemy from Indian territory occupied by the enemy (i.e. PoK) will continue to remain a critical military aim in both mountains and the adjoining plains along southern Jammu (i.e. the 116 sq km Chicken’s Neck area). And consequently, only massive asymmetries of manoeuvre warfare backed up by pulverizing fire-assaults in-depth through a joint Air-Land campaign will possibly achieve the desired military objectives within a 72-hour period. A combination of rocket-based and tube-based field artillery assets, accompanied by survivable airborne reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) force-multipliers will enable the IA to simultaneously fight the contact, intermediate and deep battles. In offensive operations on future battlefields, the IA’s field artillery Divisions will therefore be required launch fire-assaults through ‘attack by firepower’ concepts in conjunction with other ground combat echelons (armoured and mechanised infantry formations backed up by Army Aviation-operated attack helicopters—all consolidated into Integrated Battle Groups, or IBGs) to shape the battlefield and, ultimately, create suitable conditions for the decisive defeat of the enemy. Precision field artillery firepower will therefore be required to systematically degrade the enemy’s preparations for the attack from the concentration area onwards by undertaking effects-based operations (EBO). The concentrated application of massed tube/rocket artillery firepower will thus seek to disrupt the enemy’s combat cohesion throughout the defensive battles.
In theory, mechanised infantry, self-propelled tube/rocket artillery, and armoured forces are mutually supporting: while artillery rains destruction to the front and flanks as ICV-mounted infantry protects main battle tanks (MBT) from hostile guided/unguided anti-armour weapons. Simultaneously, the MBTs protect the ISVs and the follow-on APCs from hostile armoured forces and static, dug-in strongpoints. In practice, though, both ICVs and APCs will have problems keeping up with the fast-moving MBTs during the main attack; their armour protection will be insufficient to survive at the point of the attack (thanks to the availability of tandem warheads for ATGMs whose engagements ranges keep on increasing; and consequently all the battle drills between friendly armoured forces and mechanised infantry (practiced in peacetime) will frequently break down if there is a lack of sufficient team-training prior to combat. The solutions therefore have to be technological, tactical, and structural.
In order to provide a lethal, integrated combat team whereby each system (armour, mechanised infantry, field artillery and army aviation) provides mutual support, any offensive by an IBG will have to be a highly orchestrated and synchronised lethal ballet built around a manoeuvred firepower schedule where fire-assaults will have to be fired in pre-determined phases, with the T-SPGs advancing behind a wall of sizzling shrapnel precisely in accordance with those phases. The T-SPHs will accompany the combined armoured/mechanised infantry attacks and provide direct fire-support on resisting enemy strongpoints. Here, even multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) like the Pinaka-2 equipped with terminal-guidance sensors for precision strike will be used in direct fire-support against a particularly stubborn enemy.
In order to develop mature IBGs that excel in mutually supportive combined-arms warfighting and that never slows down and loses the momentum of the attack, the need of the hour now is to acquire few select force-multipliers (the weakest existing links in the chain) that will enhance the IA’s real-time RSTA capabilities, as well as ensure the survivability of MBTs through armed armoured vehicles that are built like MBTs and which can provide mutual close-combat support for infantry-laden ICVs. In other words, they should provide protection against hostile ATGMs, dismounted infantry, static strongpoints, attack helicopters and fixed-wing combat aircraft. They will need to be an integral part of the armoured formation, but at the same time it should not be a vehicle with five turrets and multiple weapons.
To be concluded