South Africa Stays With Indian Self-Propelled Artillery Programme
India is one of the few large armies that lacks a self-propelled gun (SPG) system. For more than ten years there has been a requirement to fill this need with a number of manufacturers jumping at the chance to have their gun system tested and evaluated by the Indian army. As time has passed, so have a number of the companies willing to keep up with the changing requirements for a programme that many are unsure has the funding to complete a purchase once a selection is actually made.
In 1987, in an effort to make use of the large number of Vijayanta tanks and M-46 130mm field guns, the two were mated and the resulting SPG became known as the Catapult. From here the Indian requirement asked for an existing gun system to be mounted on the Vijayanta tank chassis. Several companies participated in that evaluation that was ultimately replaced by a requirement that the turreted-gun system be mounted on the indigenously built T-72M1 chassis.
While this option initially seemed to bode well, as it would allow some local participation in the manufacturing, operationally it was a failure. The T-72 powerpack was not substantial enough to handle the combined weight and suffered from over-heating. VSEL of the UK, GIAT of France, Karmetal of Sloval Republic, and Denel of South Africa all took part in the exercise. From here the Indians turned to the much heralded, much-troubled Indian Arjun tank programme for a possible solution. The attempt by the Indians to develop their own main battle tank (MBT) has had disastrous consequences for the Indian Army tank acquisition programme as a whole. While the story of the Arjun MBT is a story unto itself, the role it plays here is that the Indian Army now wants the future SPG to be mounted on the Arjun chassis.
When it turned to the manufacturers, all but Denel's LIW turned away from the programme. That was in 1998; in 1999 a new round of testing is due to begin in the near term - again with just LIW's T6 turret participating.
The T6 turret, while similar to the well-known South Africa G6, also made by LIW, it is actually quite different. The wheeled G6 is a purpose-built SPG with the turret and chassis optimized for each other. The T6, on the other hand is built around a 155mm 52 calibre gun (although the chamber volume of 23 litres is similar to the 45-calibre G6 version) in a new turret. The earliest version of the T6 did mount the standard 45-calibre gun system. The current turret is larger and built with the idea in mind of mounting it to other MBT-type chassis to form a new SPG so it houses its own APU and ammunition stowage.
The recoil system has also been improved by using two diametrically opposed buffers, similar to the single one in the G6, but using integral oil replenishers. The barrel and cradle design have also been modified to allow the barrel to be changed out from the front.
The gun system has been authorized to fire all NATO standard ammunition including High Explosive (HE), Smoke, Illumination, and Red Phosphorous. However, it is the use of mainly South African designed modular charges and base-bleed rounds that give the guns their well-known long-range advantage. Onboard stowage should not change from the T6 on the T-72 chassis to the Arjun, however, some sources noted that as many as six projectiles and ten charges are stowed in the T-72 hull. If just the turret stowage is counted, the T6 has forty projectiles and thirty-two charges.
The turret is traversable through 360 degrees and reportedly can fire through that entire arc. Elevation is between plus seventy and minus five. Electrical power is supplied through the APU centrally mounted in the turret bustle. It is not clear whether the Indians will opt for the air conditioning pack and over-pressurization system if a deal is completed.
Rate of fire is believed to be two rounds per minute, with a burst rate of three rounds in fifteen seconds. An automatic transfer arm can be fitted, which would improve the rate of fire and also reduce crew fatigue over an extended firing period.
India and South Africa have a close relationship and both sides seem eager to pursue it further. India is also close to Russia and now leans more towards it for its major equipment items. One option open, although to date untested, would be the Russian-made 2S 19 SPG (and South Africa is also hopeful that India will consider the outright purchase and/or coproduction of the G6). Manufacturers have been down this road before with India, but South Africa and Russia have both signed deals by staying with the project from start to finish.
Does India Have other Options?
India has long been a customer of Russian equipment, especially the land forces in recent years. This would make the acquisition of the 2S19 (shown to the left above) seem possible. India is in the middle of making a decision on the purchase of several hundred T-90 MBTs, and they have been manufacturing T-72M1s locally for years. They have also just brought Tunguska 2S6M air defence vehicles into operational service.
On the other hand, India recognizes the power of the South African G6 SPG. One of only two major SPG programmes on a wheeled chassis, the G6 is in service with the South Africans, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman (however, only in the 45-calibre version). JoMO believes that a 52-calibre G6 has field tested and has been offered to the Indians if they will simply purchase the G6 as a package.