New weapons deployed in east to counter China
BUM LA (ARUNACHAL PRADESH): The Indian Army has positioned new weapon systems in the eastern sector to strengthen its posture against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has ramped up military drills across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh amid the lingering border row in Ladakh, officers familiar with the development said on Wednesday.
The new weapons deployed in the sector include the M777 ultra-light howitzers that can be swiftly deployed and redeployed in challenging mountainous terrain using the CH-47F Chinook helicopters, said one of the officers cited above.
The army has also inducted the upgraded L-70 anti-aircraft gun, a legacy weapon manufactured by Swedish arms firm Bofors AB, into the eastern sector to tackle aerial threats. This is the first time the upgraded L-70 gun has been positioned in high altitude, said a second officer.
Both M777 and L-70 guns are held by regiments holding ground near LAC.
“There are many places where heavier artillery guns cannot be deployed because of the terrain. But the M777s can be sling-loaded to Chinooks and swiftly inserted there,” said Brigadier Sanjeev Kumar, the commander of an artillery brigade in Arunachal Pradesh.
The 155 mm/39-caliber M777 howitzers have a range of up to 30km. “But it is capable of striking targets at ranges of more than 40km in some areas where the geography allows the shells to fly in rarified air,” Kumar said at a forward location at a height of 13,500 feet in the Bum La sector.
Their tactical mobility has enhanced the army’s capabilities significantly, he added.
The arsenal in Kumar’s brigade includes the 155 mm FH 77 BO2 guns, better known as Bofors.
“If the enemy were to launch an offensive in this sector, the M777s and the Bofors will play a key role in crushing it,” said an officer whose unit is located barely two km from LAC.
The M777s are also deployed in Ladakh where India and China have been locked in a border row for over 17 months.
India ordered 145 howitzers from the US for $750 million in November 2016.
The M777s are a key component of the army’s field artillery rationalisation plan (FARP), cleared in 1999. The ₹50,000-crore FARP lays down the road map for inducting new 155mm weaponry, including tracked self-propelled guns, truck-mounted gun systems, towed artillery pieces and wheeled self-propelled guns. The plan seeks to equip 169 artillery regiments with a mix of nearly 3,000 guns over the next decade, as previously reported by Hindustan Times.
M777 manufacturer BAE Systems has delivered 25 ready-built howitzers and the remaining 120 guns are being built locally in collaboration with Mahindra Defence under the Modi government’s Make in India initiative.
An M777 howizer weighs only 4,218kg, which is half the weight of conventional artillery guns deployed in the northern and eastern sectors.
The upgraded L-70 guns that have just arrived in the eastern sector are capable of shooting down modern combat aircraft, armed helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and smaller drones.
The guns, upgraded indigenously by Bharat Electronics Limited, have a range of 3.5 km.
“The induction of upgraded L-70s here is an important capability upgrade. The biggest threat we face here is the aerial threat,” said a senior officer, asking not to be named.
The upgraded L-70s have superior target acquisition and tracking capability with high resolution electro-optical sensors consisting of a thermal imaging camera and a laser ramge finder, said Captain Sariya Abbasi, a troop commander with an air defence regiment equpped with the guns.
“The gun is also equipped with a new radar for enhancing fire accuracy. It can be integrated with tactical and fire control radars for more flexibility in deployment,” she said, during a demonstration of the gun’s capability at a forward location near LAC.
Abbasi said the legacy gun was now a sophisticated air defence weapon.
On Tuesday, Eastern Army commander Lieutenant General Manoj Pande said new equipment deployed in the Ladakh sector was being simultaneously inducted in the east, with focus on enhancing mobility, drone and counter-drone systems, precision-guided ammunition and surveillance systems.
He also said the army had strengthened its deployment in areas where it was previously thin, and adequate forces were deployed to deal with any contingency.
Soldiers on the ground are prepared for any eventuality and train hard daily to succeed in assigned missions.
“Our defences and preparations are such that any misadventure by the adversary will be thwarted, no matter where he comes from,” said Major Rufus Johnson, a company commander of 18 Kumaon deployed at a height of 15,500 feet near LAC.
Rufus is in charge of a location that forms the first line of defence against the Chinese near Bum La. There are scores of such locations along LAC in Arunachal Pradesh (the army calls them ‘integrated defended locations’) that have the responsiblity of thwarting adventurous moves by the enemy.
At Johnson’s location, one of the many forward locations that HT visited on Wednesday, drills have been structured to instil aggression in soldiers.
They follow something called Plan 190, as do other forward-deployed soldiers umder Tawang-based HQs 190 Brigade. It involves aggressive training, vigorous exercise, and meditation.
“To deal with a wicked enemy and to carry out our unique operational role, it’s critical to instill aggression in soldiers. It prepares them to fight in a treacherous environment,” Rufus added.