The Army, which has been looking for an Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), is likely to take a decision soon on whether to conduct summer trials on the ATAGS offered by the Kalyani group, sources close to the development said Thursday.
The Pune-based Kalyani group, whose flagship is Bharat Forge, had developed the ATAGS in association with the Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), which is a part of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).
According to the sources, the Army had completed the “winter trials” on the ATAGS earlier this year.
“The army prefers to conduct both winter and summer trials on new weapons systems, to ensure that they function as per the army’s specifications. The summer trials are likely to be held in Rajasthan,” the source said.
Apart from Bharat Forge, the DRDO also has a partnership with Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division).
“The tests have to be sought by the client, the Indian Army, or by the DRDO. The Indian Army will place orders only after the ATAGS pass the trials. The biggest challenge for the ATAGS is the stability and consistency of the gun barrels and breeches, which require precision engineering and the ability to fire consistently without melting or the barrel bending out of shape because of the heat generated in the barrel,” the sources said. More importantly, the sources, another area that was intensively scrutinized by the army, through tests, was the recoil of the ATAGS.
Besides the ATAGS, the Indian Army was also looking to buy another gun called the Bharat 52, a 155mm, 52-calibre gun similar to the ATAGS. The army had tested the Bharat 52 in Itarsi, Madhya Pradesh.
The Indian Army has been scouting for an ATAGS because the last major supplier of towed guns had been Bofors, back in 1986, when India purchased 410 guns from the Swedish arms supplier. The purchase later turned controversial with claims that Bofors had paid bribes to senior government figures to win the contract. The Bofors contract cost former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi a second term in 1989.
If the trials are successful, the government is likely tin instruct the Indian Army to procure up to 40 ATAGS to begin with. The procurement of the ATAGS is expected to cost the government well over Rs. 900 crore.
“ATAGS are a critical component of the Indian Army, which has not procured any new towed guns in over 32 years. I think the two Indian companies, Bharat Forge and the Tata group company, will probably be the first recipients of the contract for the purchase of ATAGS,” the sources said.