After successfully upgrading a Russian-made 130-mm artillery gun to 155-mm capability, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Kolkata is close to bagging an order from the Army to improve these imported weapons in bulk to augment the country's firepower.
"We are eagerly awaiting the order from the Army to upgrade the Russian 130-mm M-46 guns to 155-mm ones with 45-mm calibre. The OFB is hopeful of getting the order, which is at a final stage, to improve these field guns imported between the 1950s and 1970s," S K Singh, Senior General Manager of Jabalpur-based Gun Carriage Factory (GCF) told PTI today.
"GCF, with the help of two ordnance factories in Kanpur, is going to upgrade these 300 guns being used by the Army," the senior official of the GCF, which is over a century old, said.
Upgrading each one of the Russian field guns would cost around Rs 1 crore, he said.
"The order is in the final stage. We will get it in the next one-and-half months. After getting the order from the Army, we are hopeful of completing the upgradation of the guns in four years," said Rituraj Dwivedi, Director of Ordnance Development Centre (ODC) located in Ordnance Factory, Kanpur.
The Army issued a request for proposal (tender) to upgrade Russian 130-mm guns in December 2013. It handed over a gun to OFB for improvement in October 2014, he said.
"Following this, we upgraded the gun indigenously and our internal and the Army's trials took place at Pokhran in 2016-17," he said.
"We beat two Indian private companies in partnership with foreign defence manufacturers in the trials. The two companies, too, upgraded as many guns with imported barrels and other components, but failed to pass the muster," he added.
According to Dwivedi, the OFB has upgraded the field gun striking range to 36 kms from 24-25 kms.
He said the upgraded gun barrel and other components have been developed by the Ordnance Factory Kanpur and Field Gun Factory, Kanpur.
Earlier, an Israeli company- Soltam- had upgraded around 180 Russian-made 130-mm guns to 155-mm in GCF. But midway, the project got embroiled in controversy over several issues, including certain technical deficiencies, defence sources said.
The Army had been desperately looking for 155-mm howitzers for more than three decades after the Bofors gun deal ran into controversy.
"Recently, India's first indigenous, long-range artillery gun 'Dhanush' has passed its final test at Pokhran, paving the way for its induction into the Army," a senior official said.
The OFB has developed howitzer Dhanush, which will be manufactured by GCF, he added.
According to defence experts, the 130-mm field guns have almost become obsolete the world over as they have been replaced by 155-mm howitzers.
Experts say the Army needs a large number of artillery guns of different types, and Indian firms, some in partnership with foreign manufacturers, are in the race to fulfil the demand.