Ladakh: Army To Induct Loitering Munition, Deploy More K-9 Vajra Howitzers And Pinaka Rocket Systems Along LAC With China

Swarajya Staff

Sep 28, 2022, 03:47 PM | Updated 08:03 PM IST

India has deployed a regiment of K-9 Vajra howitzers in Ladakh.
India has deployed a regiment of K-9 Vajra howitzers in Ladakh.

With no movement towards de-escalation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in sight, the Indian Army is looking at adding more firepower to the region, including systems capable of targeting enemy positions at long distances, to deter Chinese misadventures.

The Army will soon induct explosive-armed kamikaze drones, called loitering munition. These systems are capable of destroying high-value enemy targets in the battlefield by crashing on them.

The procurement, the Times of India reported, will begin under an emergency procurement contract signed with a Isralie-Indian joint venture.

The Army had signed a contract with a joint venture between India's Alpha Design Technologies Limited and Israel's Elbit Systems for the procurement of 100 SkyStriker light munition systems last year.

SkyStriker, its marker Elbit Systems says, can be used for long-range precise tactical strikes. Fully autonomous, it is capable of acquiring and hitting operator-marked targets.

SkyStriker can cover a distance of 20 kilometers in 10 minutes. It can loiter and pursue a target up to 2 hours when carrying 5 km warhead and for up to one hour when fitted with a 10 kg warhead.

Elbit Systems SkyStriker
Elbit Systems SkyStriker

The system also has a 'strike abort' function, which allows the operator to cancel a mission up to two seconds before impact. The operator can also direct the loitering munition to re-engage a target or direct it to a safe location for recovery via a parachute/airbed function.

Additionally, a loitering munition developed by Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) has successfully demonstrated its ability to strike targets during tests at Pokhran recently.

Called ALS-50, the system hit the designated ground target accurately during trials, a report in the Economic Times says, adding that it will be inducted by the Army soon.

The system is capable of Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL), which means it can take off and land like a quadcopter. This will allow the user to operate the system from areas with limited space, like narrow valleys in eastern Ladakh and Arunachal.

It had demonstrated its ability to operate from high-altitude areas during trials in Ladakh earlier this year.

To add firepower, Army is also interested in aquiring 100 K-9 Vajra 155mm/52 calibre tracked self-propelled howitzers. Initially meant for the armoured divisions responsible for the border with Pakistan in Rajasthan and Punjab, the K-9s were deployed in eastern Ladakh amid a tense military stand-off with China.

To make them suitable for operations in Ladakh, the guns were modified in the field by engineers from L&T Defence. Special kits were added to allow operation in low temperatures, and the range tables and the software that guided these guns had to be modified due to the high altitude.

The K9s have a range of 28-38 km and are capable of firing three rounds in 30 seconds in 'burst' mode, 15 rounds in three minutes in 'intense' mode, and 60 rounds in 60 minutes in 'sustained' mode.

Indian Army's K9 Vajra during an exercise Ladakh.
Indian Army's K9 Vajra during an exercise Ladakh.

The Indian Army currently has five regiments of K9 Vajra. Each regiment has 18 guns and two units in reserve.

Before the deployment of a regiment of K-9s in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army had transferred three units to the region to assess their suitability and efficacy for deployment in the high-altitude area where the temperatures can fall well below minus 30 degree Celsius.

Earlier this year, a report in India Today said, the Ministry of Defence "has begun moving files" for the procurement of additional K-9s and a deal could be signed with Larsen & Toubro at Defexpo 2022.

The Army will also receive six Pinaka regiments to add to the four that it already has. The multi-launch rocket system, which has a range of 38 kilometer, will add more firepower and give the Army the ability to target enemy positions from long ranges.

To add more muscle to the system, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has also developed rockets with an extended range of 45 km and a guided rocket which can hit enemy targets with high precision at a range of up to 75 km.

Apart from K-9 howitzers and Pinaka systems, the Army will also get the indigenously developed 155mm/52 caliber advanced towed artillery gun systems (ATAGS).

The gun has been designed by the DRDO jointly with two private players, Bharat Forge of the Kalyani Group and Tata Advanced Systems. In August 2018, the Defence Ministry had approved an in-principle purchase of 150 of these guns for the Indian Army.

However, the programme suffered a major setback in 2020, when the barrel of one of the guns undergoing trials burst during test fires at Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan. This pushed back the programme as the gun had to undergo design changes before being ready to fire again.

The Times of India report cited above says that the gun is undergoing environment and maintainability tests, after which negotiations will begin for the procurement of 150 guns. The order, which is estimated to be worth Rs 3,365 crore, will be split between Tata and Bharat Forge.

Over the last two years, the Army has put in place the infrastructure needed to operate these systems in the high-altitude region.

Speaking at a seminar earlier this month, the Army Chief General Manoj Pande had revealed that India has built "significant level" of border infrastructure in the region, including habitat for 35,000 troops, and bases for 450 tanks and 350 howitzers and artillery guns.

Also Read: This Is How The Modi Government Has Enabled The Army To Gear Up For The Chinese Threat In The Eastern Sector

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