July 21, 2011

Pakistan’s Commanding Lead

While the Indian Army continues to wait in vain for even its 130mm M-46 towed howitzers to be upgraded to 155mm/45-cal standard, the Pakistan Army is quietly but swiftly replacing its 400 Type 59-1 towed howitzers (a clone of the M-46 built by China North Industries Corp, or NORINCO) with the GM-45, developed in the early 1980s by the 123 Factory, 127 Factory, and 674 Factory of China’s 5th Ministry of Machine-building and Beijing Univeristy of Science and Technology in cooperation with NORICUM (now Voest-Alpine Stahl AG) of Austria. The 155mm/45-cal GM-45, also built by NORINCO, is a conversion of the Type 59-1 (M-46) to accommodate the ordnance of the standard production NORINCO 155mm/45-cal WA-021 howitzer. The firing rate 4 rounds/minute. Recoil is variable and loading and breech operations are manual. To increase the rate of fire a flick rammer has been installed on the left side and hydraulically operated wheels have been added to each trail assembly to ease the opening and closing of the trails. The GM-45 also has a two-wheeled dolly, which is attached under the rear of the closed trails. According to NORINCO, when firing an ERFB 155mm projectile, the GM-45 has a maximum muzzle velocity of 897 metres/second. It can also fire NORINCO-built 155mm laser-guided projectiles.

With this latest acquisition, the Pakistan Army will continue to maintain its commanding lead over the Indian Army when it comes to field artillery assets and capabilities. The Pakistan Army’s field artillery enhancement efforts began in 2008 when its Chief of the Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited Beijing in September 2008 and inked a contract to procure an initial 36 A-100E 300mm multi-barrel rocket launchers and two SLC-2 active phased-array weapons locating radars. This followed a round of competitive evaluations conducted by the Pakistan Army of the A-100E (built by CPMIEC of China) and the competing AR-2, another 300mm MBRL built by NORINCO. Also expected to be procured in the near future from China are approximately 190 SH-1 155mm/52-calibre motorised howitzers. The A-100E, developed by CPMIEC, comprises a 300mm 10-tube launch vehicle, reloading vehicle and command-and-control vehicles, all of which are mounted on the WS-2400 8 x 8 wheeled chassis. All 10 rockets can be fired within 60 seconds, and it can be reloaded in 20 minutes. The NORINCO-built AR-2 MBRL, on the other hand, has 12 launch tubes from which rockets armed with a wide variety of warheads are fired. The warhead options include fragmentation sub-munitions warhead, anti-tank mine scattering warhead, shaped-charge fragmentation submunitions warhead, separable HE-fragmentation warhead, fuel-air explosive warhead, and HE-fragmentation warhead.

The NORINCO-built SH-1 motorised 155mm/52-calibre howitzer underwent extensive mobility and firepower trials in December 2007 in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, and underwent similar field trials in June 2008 in the Cholistan Desert. The SH-1 can fire rocket-assisted V-LAP projectiles out to 53km, as well as laser-guided projectiles like NORINCO’s ‘Red Mud’ and KBP Instrument Design Bureau’s Krasnopol-M2. The SH-1 can also fire base-bleed 155mm rounds out to 42.5km, and its truck chassis houses a fibre-optic gyro-based north positioning-cum-navigation system, battlespace management system, autonomous orientation-cum-muzzle velocity radar, gun loader’s display-cum-ramming control box, ammunition box housing 25 rounds (of seven different types) and their modular charges, and a network-centric artillery fire direction system. A complete SH-1 Regiment comprises 24 SH-1s, four Battery Command Post vehicles, one Battalion Command Post vehicle, one road-mobile CETC-built JY-30 C-band meteorological radar, four 6 x 6 wheeled reconnaissance vehicles, and an S-band CETC-built SLC-2 artillery locating-cum-fire correction radar.
On September 9, 2008 the Pakistan Army accepted at its Nowshera-based School of Artillery the first of twelve 18-tonne T-155 Panter 155mm/52-calibre towed howitzers from Turkey’s state-owned Machines and Chemical Industry Board (MKEK), along with the Aselsan-built BAIKS-2000 field artillery battery fire direction system. The Panter was co-developed in the late 1990s by MKEK and Singapore Technologies Kinetics. For producing the 155mm family of munitions, Wah Cantonment-based Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) has teamed up with South Korea’s Poongsan and on April 12, 2008 Gen Kayani symbolically received the first lot of licence-assembled K-307 BB-HE and K-310 155mm BB dual purpose improvised conventional munitions (DPICM) Ammunition from POF. On the other hand, Nexter Munitions of France has provided the licence to POF for manufacturing 155mm smoke and illuminating rounds.

On the other hand, the Indian Army’s field artillery rationalisation plan, especially its M-46 upgrade component, continues to languish, despite an assertion by the then Indian Army’s Chief of the Army Staff Gen Deepak Kapoor in January 2010 that the M-46 upgrade project will be re-launched towards the end of the  11th (2007-2012) Defence Plan. This may sound extremely depressing, but there is a reason why the upgraded M-46S 155mm/45-calibre towed howitzers have gone missing from the Republic Day and Army Day parades since 2007. One may recall that in 1990, the Indian Army firmed up its plans for upgrading the M-46s and a year later the Ministry of Defence (MoD) approved the plan. In-country field trials of the upgraded prototypes were carried out in 1993, but the MoD took another five years to sanction the funds. Between 1993 and 1994, the MoD had purchased 480 M-46 130mm towed howitzers worth Rs100,000 each, of which 100 howitzers come from the Czech Republic, and 380 from Russia, to add to the 550 M-46s purchased in the 1970s. During firepower trials conducted at the Pokhran Field Range in 1997-1998, one M-46S upgraded by SOLTAM Systems (but utilising the carriage and recoil system of the original gun) to the 155mm/45-cal standard was test-fired using extended-range base-bleed ammunition out to a range of 39km. In March 2000, SOLTAM Systems won a contract (after bidding against four other contractors) worth $47,524,137 for upgrading 180 M-46s to 155mm/45-cal M-46S standard. A follow-on deal was optioned for, under which SOLTAM was required to provide kits to OFB further retrofit another 250 M-46s. On November 29, 2001 the MoD confirmed that the OFB’s Jabalpur-based Gun Carriage Factory had started receiving 180 M-46S howitzer upgrade kits from SOLTAM. However, the project was temporarily suspended by the MoD in mid-2002 because of quality problems centered on the barrels and breech blocks of the guns. In July 2003, successful user trials of a re-engineered M-46S were conducted. On paper, 430 upgraded M-46S 155mm/45-cal towed howitzers (for 20 Regiments) were to be supplied (since 2002) by the state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) under licence from Israel’s SOLTAM Systems, making the M-46S the Army’s tube artillery system with the longest reach, being able to fire ERFB-BB rounds out to 38.5km and VLAP rounds out to 42km when using bi-modular charges.

In fact, so upbeat was the OFB about this upgrade programme that it even began showcasing it at international defence expos, starting with the IDEX expo in Abu Dhabi in March 2003. The upgraded M-46S, labelled by the OFB as Metamorphosis IOB M46 FG, came fitted with a large double baffle muzzle brake and a 23-litre chamber, with the ordnance having 48 grooves and a 1-inch/20-cal rifling rate (right-hand constant twist). According to the OFB, no modifications are made to the existing breech block, while failure of self-sealing systems during combat was overcome by the use of a stub cartridge case obturator similar to the obturating system of the original M-46. Conversion lead time was said to be minimal as there was no modification to the breech block mechanism and no change in the travel lock, cradle and recoil systems of the original M-46. The only modification to the horizontal sliding breech block was a widening to allow for the insertion of larger-calibre 155mm rounds. The split-trail carriage, elevating mechanism, shield and two-wheeled limber of the original M-46 were also retained. When travelling the Metamorphosis IOB M46 FG was to be withdrawn to the rear by the standard chain mechanism located on the right side. The original two-wheeled limber was retained, and to reduce operator fatigue, a three-cylinder telescopic rammer with eight-bar nitrogen gas pressure and pneumatic circuit was fitted, as was an in-built safety mechanism.

The bad news is that the M-46S programme was terminated after only 40 howitzers were modified, this being due to a fatal barrel explosion taking place in 2005. Army HQ subsequently asked the MoD to terminate this project for good and initiate legal proceedings against SOLTAM and seek liquidated damages. Things subsequently moved at a glacial pace and it was only on February 19, 2010 that bthe MoD’s Additional Directorate General of Weapons and Equipment issued an RFI for upgunning the M-46, for which once again there were five bidders, including SOLTAM Systems and Holland-based Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij (RDM). However, till today, no RFPs have been issued for this programme, while the DRDO continues its once-failed efforts to revive its Metamorphosis IOB M46 FG proposal.
Prasun K. Sengupta

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