ATAGS Barrel Brust - Setback to Army's Howitzer Program

Development of the advanced towed artillery gun systems (ATAGS) suffered a setback after barrel of 1 of the pieces undergoing trials burst during test fires at Pokhran target range in Rajasthan on Saturday.

The system which is of 155x52 mm calibre has been designed by Pune’s Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), a laboratory of DRDO. The guns are made by Bharat Forge and Tata Power’s Special Equipment Division (SED). The barrel in both the guns has been made by Bharat Forge.

It is learnt one among shells burst within the barrel, damaging the gun. This is expected to throw back the whole process. A similar incident happened thrice with Dhanush— the 155x45 calibre gun made by ordnance factories on the lines of the Swedish Bofors— and also in one among the M-777 guns that were brought from US.

An officer of project director’s level within the ARDE contacted by TOI refused to comment saying the matter couldn't be discussed publicly forum. A spokesperson of Bharat Forge said none of the guns made by the corporate had been damaged in any of the incidents.

TATA Group also declined to discuss the report. Sources conversant in the matter, however, said, it’s a development process where multiple players are working together. They are committed to finding the cause and building the gun.

A senior DRDO scientist, who is conscious of the event , said, “The incident happened when the last round was fired. Before completing any trial, the gun is thoroughly checked. In this case too it must have been done. This was not the first trial. It has performed remarkably well in high altitude trial in Sikkim. The gun has met all parameters thus far during previous trials. If there's any minor defect, it are often addressed easily.”

It is also being argued that faulty ammunition may have led to the incident. The ammunition has been supplied by the ordnance factories.

Another DRDO scientist requesting anonymity said, “This isn't the primary time such an event went on with any gun. It would be difficult to pinpoint the precise cause until the thorough investigation is completed .” DRDO will form an expert committee which might examine quality of ammunition, condition of barrel, and aspects like deviation in handling of the barrel during trial. Sub-standard ammunition has often caused problems during trials, the source said.

ATAGS is a complicated version of the Dhanush howitzers. The 155x52 calibre ATAGS has a higher range. The same ATAGS had achieved a record range of 48 km during trials in 2017.

Leaders in ordnance factories unions have said, like Dhanush, even the ATAGS should be put to tough scrutiny. “Why a problem is made as long as an ordnance factory product suffers a setback,” asked Mukesh Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).

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