India to finally induct desi Bofors next week to upgrade long-range, high-volume firepower


NEW DELHI: In election season, the Bofors howitzers are all set to boom once again. But these artillery guns are not the original Swedish ones that brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989. Instead, they are the electronically upgraded desi Bofors versions called “Dhanush”.

Defence officials on Friday said the formal induction ceremony for the first five of the 155mm/45-calibre Dhanush howitzers, after initial barrel bursts and protracted trials spread over six years, will finally take place at the Gun Carriage Factory in Jabalpur on March 26.

Recurring scandals in India’s artillery procurement projects, from the Swedish Bofors in the mid-1980s to the South African Denel in 2005 and Singapore Technology Kinetics in 2009, stymied induction of long-range, high volume firepower in the over 13-lakh strong Army for over three decades.

Faced with this major critical operational gap, the combine of Army, DRDO and Ordnance Factory Board almost a decade ago kicked off work on the long-forgotten original designs obtained under transfer of technology provisions in the infamous Rs 1,437-crore Bofors contract of 1986 inked by the Rajiv Gandhi government.

This has finally led to the electronically upgraded Dhanush howitzer, with the 39-calibre of the original Bofors gun being upgraded to 45-calibre to increase its maximum strike range to 27-36 km (depending on the type of ammunition used) from the earlier 24-30 km.

“There were several problems with the Dhanush guns during the trials…but most have been resolved now. The Army had earlier placed an order for 114 of these guns for Rs 1,260 crore. The first 18 guns will be delivered by March 2020. The OFB will gradually step up its production rate. Overall, the Army requires 414 such guns,” said an officer.

The Army last year had finally exorcised the Bofors ghost by beginning to induct the M-777 ultra-light howitzers (155m/39-calibre) from the US and the K-9 Vajra tracked self-propelled guns (155mm/52-calibre) from South Korea.

But though the bulk of the 145 M-777 howitzers for Rs 5,000 crore and the 100 K-9 guns for Rs 4,366 crore will “largely be assembled” in India after initial direct deliveries from the foreign manufacturers, the Dhanush is the first-ever 155mm artillery gun to be developed and produced in India.

The Dhanush is about 80% indigenous now, with only its auxiliary power unit, electronic dial sights and a few other small items being imported. Officials claim the desi howitzer is better than the original Bofors in terms of range, accuracy, angle of fire and shoot-and-scoot capabilities. The Bofors howitzers, incidentally, had also proved their mettle during the 1999 Kargil conflict despite all the controversy engulfing them.


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