The focus may have been on the western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, but the Indian Army has been boosting its firepower in the eastern sector as well. The Army has upgraded its vintage air defence Bofors guns, besides bringing in the new Ultra Light Howitzer M777 artillery guns.
Owing to strategic concerns, officers in the Tawang Sector in the Eastern Command did not share the details about the number of such guns available in the region.
Senior officials, however, said the strength of these weapon systems was adequate.
India had bought around 145 M777 guns, the first of which were inducted in 2018. Officials said that starting last year these ultra light weapons have been deployed in the eastern sector. Of the 145 ordered, over half have been delivered. The three regiments they make up are facing the LAC across sectors.
Brigadier Sanjeev Kumar, who heads an artillery brigade in the Tawang sector said the Ultra Light Howitzer has several advantages over the Bofors gun, which has been India’s artillery mainstay since the late 1980s.
Speaking at a forward location at the height of nearly 13,000 feet near the LAC, Kumar said that the foremost advantage it has over Bofors is that due to its weight, it can be deployed in locations where the older, heavier guns are tough to take. He said that using Chinook helicopters they can be taken even to valleys easily, and even further ahead closer to the LAC, depending upon the need.
Additionally, the rarefied atmosphere of higher altitude areas like Tawang offer lesser air resistance, which allows it to increase its range beyond its 40 km capacity. Kumar said that the howitzers are also more accurate than the Bofors guns.
However, the Army has continued with the deployment of Bofors as well in the forward areas of the LAC. The Army has also upgraded them with newer automated systems that not only increase their precision, but also the speed at which they can fire.
Captain Prateek of Bofors Regiment said that a new gun display unit has been “recently brought in the Army which has added speed and accuracy in providing the gun support to the infantry units” deployed close to the LAC. The gun has an effective range of more than 40km.
Another officer said that with new systems deployed for artillery combat and command, what took eight minutes earlier can now happen in a few seconds. “All data can come to the location to engage the target, and the personnel deployed ahead transmit data, which is processed and fired within seconds”. This, the officer said, has “enhanced our capabilities and works as a force multiplier.”
Bharat Electricals Ltd has upgraded the L70 Swedish air defence guns of the 1960s, making it capable of automatically tracking aerial threats including small drones, helicopters and aircraft. Explaining the capability of these guns, 200 guns have been upgraded at the cost of around Rs 575 crore.
Captain Sariya Abbasi said that the “limitations associated with the guns have been overcome by incorporations of state-of-art components, latest technology, making it a potent weapon system against all low level air threats”. The gun, which can lock-in a target and then track it, needs to be fired manually and can shoot upto 300 rounds per minute.
Just months ago some of these guns were deployed nearly 15 km from the LAC, as a first high altitude deployment in the country. With a range of around 3.5 km, they’ve been updated with high resolution electro optic sensors with day, night television camera, thermal imaging camera, muzzle velocity radar to increase its firing accuracy.
All these inductions and upgrades are said to have allowed India much better defensive and offensive capabilities facing China in the east. China too, has been increasing its capabilities in the region. The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that China too has deployed “more than 100 advanced long-range rocket launchers to its high-altitude borders with India, according to a source close to the Chinese military, as the two sides remain deadlocked over their protracted boundary disputes”.
Last month around 200 Chinese troops had crossed into the Indian side of the LAC in Tawang sector in September, but the issue was resolved at the local commander level only within a few hours.