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Philippine Army's Interest in Getting Indian ATAGS 155mm Towed Howitzer

Artillery pieces come as an essential component in fielding a land-based army, of which it coincides with platoons of infantry and armor that carry out an objective specific to each unit mentioned. For the personnel that is assigned to artillery units, this means carrying out a purpose of targeting and pulverizing enemy positions with guidance from frontline troops through an encrypted communication channel.

For the Philippine Army, it aspires additional towed howitzer to carry out its core mandate, aside from its successful use of self-propelled howitzer platforms like the ATMOS 2000 from Elbit Systems and its plans of acquisition of both rocket artillery and coast-based anti-ship missile systems as the entire armed forces shifts to external defense.

ATAGS, TATA Advanced Systems, India, Philippine Army, PA, Towed Howitzer
India’s ATAGS 155mm howitzer deployed in position during an exercise.
Image Source.

Bilateral relations between countries usually involve matters relating to trade, tourism,  and better terms that bring benefit to the citizens of both countries that undertook a formal diplomatic approach, of which this can broaden more into matters related to national security and enhanced defense cooperation especially if both countries belong in the same region. This can get an extra mile for both countries that are like-minded and share a similar stance on security and principles like the one surrounding democracy.

This is exactly what happened to the bilateral relations between the Philippines and India in the recent visit made by the latter’s foreign minister to Manila in March 2024, whereby the Foreign Minister conveyed India’s support on the Philippines’ national sovereignty against an ever-assertive China, as both countries share common concerns regarding the red country’s territorial assertiveness, which is the West Philippine Sea for the Philippines and both the Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh for India.

At the backdrop of all current developments involving the ever-increasing diplomatic ties and cooperation between the Philippines and India that include matters regarding national defense, the former is actively seeking military hardware that actively in production in the latter’s military industrial facilities, of which this points to the Philippine Army’s full interest in getting the ATAGS 155mm towed artillery gun. The artillery pieces share almost the same 155mm caliber with the ATMOS 2000 SLPH that the Philippine Army has.

This interest comes as the Philippine Army desires to increase its involvement in the national government’s policy push into external defense posture, as the ideal supplementary requirement that the ATAGS 155mm towed artillery pieces can help augment the needed tools for shore-based defense application. While this is an interesting push, the preference of the land service branch of the Philippine Armed Forces primarily focuses more on both shore-based missiles and rocket artillery for this initiative.

The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND), in context, is pushing for the approach for external defense called as the ‘Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept’ or CADC, whereby its primary focus is on the Philippine military and other relevant agencies plus instrumentalities to gear up into bringing additional capabilities intended for the country’s territorial defense, push through the Re-Horizon 3 phase. The Philippine Army’s push for coastline missile platforms and artillery is in line with this initiative.

Aside from the ATAGS 155mm towed artillery pieces, the Indian government has provided the Armed Forces of the Philippines some military hardware that really helps push the current initiative of the government for territorial defense posture, with the BrahMos anti-ship missiles being the highlight acquisition project that is a starting signal of the increased cooperation for both countries regarding national defense. In context, the Philippine Marine Corps expects to receive it in the year 2024.

With the increasing bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and India comes in the spotlight, this article will delve more into the military hardware itself, with the details coming into the classic approach the website discusses, with understanding and faring the platform’s specifications to the other ones that the Philippine Army operates being the primary aim, with development history and company background comes as additional information into this comprehensive entry.

ATAGS, Howitzer Cannon, 155mm Howitzer, Philippine Army, ATAGS Towed Howitzer
The 155mm ATAGS howitzer cannon is in position.
Image Source.

The ATAGS 155mm howitzer system, or Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems as it stands for, comes as an indigenously developed and produced a system that is part of the Indian government’s desire to produce its own military hardware in line with their policy initiative called “Make in India”, enabling the country to become a manufacturing hub of varying products for both internal usage and export. In terms of military hardware, this means enabling the country to export and gain a foothold in the global defense market.

India’s development of various military hardware, like the BrahMos missile systems, the Akash air defense missile system, and the ATAGS 155mm howitzer system are under the management of India’s DRDO or the Defence Research and Development Organisation. 

For the Indian-made howitzer system, DRDO made its partnership with a local Indian firm named Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and Bharat Forge Ltd, intended to modernize the artillery units within the Indian Armed Forces.

The development of the ATAGS 155mm howitzer by the Indians started in the early 2000s, whereby the Indian military took initiative into modernizing its armed forces, specifically the re-fleeting and reorganization of its artillery units. The Indian Army, based on their fully ambitious Field Artillery Rationalization Plan or FARP, aims to purchase at least 1,580 units of 155mm towed artillery gun systems, aside from other artillery of various configurations such as self-propelled ones, and calibers aside from the 155mm variant.

DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment or ARDE division started the needed feasibility study and other preparation for the eventual design development of the ATAGS 155mm towed artillery gun system in the year 2009, of which it continued along the year 2012 when the overall development and design mission module of the project gets sanctioned to the ARDE. Further development carried out by the two aforementioned local Indian firms, in a partnership setup.

First firing tests took place in the year 2022, whereby the activity took place in the Pokhran Field Firing Range in a trial procedure, as part of the steps needed in ensuring the product’s compliance to the safety and end-user requirements before entering serial production and eventually entering the Indian Army service once the orders booked in. Initially, the Indian Army ordered at least 307 155mm ATAGS towed artillery gun pieces, after continuous development that came from 2013 to 2017.

Speaking of the phase of design development, while the feasibility and other preparations for the design development started in 2009, it is actually between 2013 and 2017 where design development gets actively materialized by the two local Indian firms that put extensive work into the project, again being the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and Bharat Forge Ltd. Each of the components of the ATAGS 155mm towed artillery gun system comes at each responsibility of a firm, like Bharat Forge’s development of the gun barrel.

As the development and production of the ATAGS 155mm towed, artillery platforms will go with the two aforementioned Indian firms to supply the requirements set by the Indian Army and eventually to boost export prospects as part of the country’s “Make in India” initiative by actively marketing the artillery pieces to countries like the Philippines, the next discussion point delves more with the basic background of the two companies involved, and how this project cements their reputation as arms exporter later on.

Tata Advanced Systems, Philippine Army, ADAGS 155mm Howitzer, Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System
The website screenshot of Tata Advanced Systems, one of two Indian firms that produces the ADAGS 155mm.
Website link here.

For the development of this project regarding the modernized variant of the Indian ATAGS 155mm howitzer system, it has identified that there are at least three (3) entities involved in the organization and improvement of the platform, of which it includes India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation. 

With the Indian premier research and development agency already covered in a separate article on the other offer that India has to the Philippine military, this portion will talk more about the two other firms involved.

The first among the two Indian firms involved is the Tata Advanced Systems Limited., as described on its website, that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons and is the strategic Aerospace and Defense arm of the Tata Group. TASL, as abbreviated, is an entity that is both an operating and a holding company. The Tata Group, in its entirety, is a well-known Indian firm that comes as an essential value-creation entity that generates a portion of the Indian economy.

In context, the Tata Group has subsidiaries that, aside from the already-mentioned Tata Advanced Systems Limited, also owns Tata Motors, of which it produces vehicles of multiple types from passenger cars to trucks and buses that caters to the needs of the Indian automobile market. 

Another entity that Tata owns is India’s own flag carrier Air India, of which it has privatized from what was once a state-owned company after a successful sale made in 2021 and a year-long transition process that has followed.

Aside from the ATAGS 155mm artillery system produced by this Indian firm, Tata Advanced Systems Limited also produces the Akash Ground-based Air Defense System of that the Indian government has already presented its offer to the Philippine Navy’s Shore-based Air Defense Systems Acquisition Project, the ‘Pinaka’ multiple-launch rocket launcher that is an Indian-made MLRS similar to the ones offered to the Philippine Army’s Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems project, and C4I systems suites and solutions.

Another Indian firm to mention that provides a significant contribution to the development and production of the ATAGS 155mm howitzer system is the Bharat Forge, whereby like Tata Advanced Systems Limited, is also the one that provides multiple defense and security solutions that adheres to the requirements set by the Indian military. The company’s subsidiary that has the responsibility for defense development and solutions is the Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd or KSSL.

As Tata Advanced Systems Limited belonging to the larger umbrella of the Tata Group, Bharat Forge in itself is an entity that oversees its diversified business chains, whereby its products include essential subcomponents for power companies to ensure uninterrupted power supply that forwards a country’s economy, essential subcomponents for drilling and extracting oil and gas that caters to the needs of businesses centered into this business, and auto components that the likes of Tata Motors benefited.

Both companies serve as a primary workhorse in India’s manufacturing industry‌, with Tata Group comes with multiple conglomerates that include Tata Advanced Systems Limited, which oversee production of military hardware for Indian military requirements that are proudly made in India, while Bharat Forge deals primarily in producing steel-forged subcomponents that comes essential for the needs of different industries mentioned, aside from providing essential subcomponents for the ATAGS 155mm howitzer. 

ATAGS, Tata Advanced Systems, Bharat Forge, Philippine Army, Indian Army, 155mm Howitzer
The specific caliber of the ATAGS howitzer is 155mm x 52 caliber.
Image Source.

The specifications of the Indian ATAGS 155mm howitzer system provide a fully comprehensive view regarding its capabilities, especially when taken side by side to another type of howitzer artillery piece that the Philippine Army currently possesses in its inventory. 

At its overview, the primary giveaway regarding its capabilities is that it can fire a 155mm caliber artillery shell, a NATO standard artillery round that comes according to the NATO Joint Ballistics Memorandum of Understanding.

Aside from the ATAGS 155mm howitzer, other artillery platforms within the Philippine Army that employ the 155mm caliber artillery shell are the Elbit Soltam M71 155mm towed howitzer artillery system, the United States-produced M114 155mm artillery platform, and the Elbit ATMOS 2000 self-propelled howitzer system

These units are usually in complement with the service branch’s other artillery platforms that employ the 105mm artillery shell, notably the M101, M102, and M3 artillery that came from the United States.

Other technical specifications and features found within this Indian-made howitzer artillery system include an Automatic Ammunition Handling System (AHS), Zero Backlash Electrical drives - Electric gun system, Zone 7 charge fire ability, 80 kilometers per hour maximum speed upon towing mode, an elevation of 5° to 75° with the speed of 5°/sec, and traverse of 30° right and left. 

This means that it has features meant to ensure constant reliability and assured performance of the platform in terms of accuracy, precision, and firepower.

Talking about the dimensions of the platform, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) 155mm caliber howitzer system has the mass of 18 long tons and 20 short tons, barrel length of 8060mm for the 155mm artillery shell to propel into its intended target, and requires at least six (6) to eight (8) personnel to man and operate the artillery platform. In terms of its firepower, the platform comes with a rate of fire of 5 rounds burst in 60 seconds, 10 rounds intense in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and 60 rounds sustained in an hour (60 minutes).

In comparison, the Elbit Soltam M71 155mm caliber howitzer system comes with an elevation of -3° to +52° and a traverse of -+35° left and right. Another thing to point out is the difference on the caliber and the length of the gun barrel, as the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System of India comes with 52 caliber while the Soltam M71 comes with 39 caliber, making the former more capable of firing an artillery shell at longer distances because of having a longer barrel and larger chamber as compared to the Israeli-made towed artillery platform currently serving in the Philippine Army.

Another comparison to point out is the difference of the Indian-produced howitzer platform to the iconic M114 155mm howitzer from the United States, as this Second World War-era artillery still serves the Philippine Army, even though it sees eventual replacement with newer versions of 155mm artillery aforementioned in the article. 

The artillery’s barrel is shorter at 3.79m, capable of firing 155mm L/24.5 caliber munitions and it has a fire rate of 4 rates per minute maximum, 40 sustained rounds per hour, and a range of 14.6 kilometers maximum.

In the entirety, the Indian Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System or ATAGS 155mm howitzer platform presents as the one that can fire a caliber higher than the two other towed howitzers mentioned, especially that it comes with a longer barrel that gives it increased range and precision for the artillery shell to reach its target. 

As the Indian Army sets to receive its first orders of their indigenously built platform and countries like Armenia eyeing it, the platform offer to the Philippine Army may get a bit of traction, depending if it adheres to the end-user’s requirements.

Philippine Army, Soltam M-71, Elbit Systems Ltd., ATAGS 155mm Howitzer, Tata Advanced Systems Limited, Bharat Forge, Howitzer Project
The Philippine Army has a handful of Soltam M-71 howitzers in its inventory.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Philippines and India have seen recent developments regarding the ever-increasing vibrance of its bilateral relations, so much in an essence that both countries share similar concerns relating to the ongoing aggressions and assertiveness that a neighboring country like China comes in territorial spats. whereby economic and defense or national security ties get strengthened. It adds further that the latter succeedingly exports the former its BrahMos supersonic missile system for the Philippine Marine Corps. 

Aside from the BrahMos, the Indian government provides many military hardware that the Philippine Armed Forces and other agencies, such as the Philippine Coast Guard, may consider. Such systems include the Akash ground air defense system for the Philippine Navy’s shore-based air defense system, HAL Dhruv Helicopters and Dornier 228 aircraft for the Philippine Coast Guard’s helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft requirements, and the main topic, which is the ATAGS 155mm howitzer platforms for the Philippine Army

With the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines being with the national government’s push for improving the country’s capability for territorial defense as part of the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept or CADC of the Department of National Defense, it is understandable for a like-minded country like India to take part in any of the acquisition projects that the Philippine military has under the Re-Horizon 3 phase, as any contract awards secure means a lot for their Make in India's export initiatives.

The ATAGS 155mm howitzer platform comes as a latest deal offer from the Indian government, whereby others like the LCH Prachand attack helicopters and HAL Tejas fighter aircraft also come as offers that they have for the Philippine military to consider, although it remains to see as equivalent units for the mentioned platforms already comes within the inventory of the likes of the Philippine Air Force, such as the T-129 ‘ATAK’ Attack Helicopter from Turkey, and the preferred platforms under the MRF project.

To recall, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System or ATAGS comes with a caliber and barrel length that differs from other platforms that the Philippine Army has, such as the Elbit Soltam M71 howitzer, as these factors play a significant role to the overall capabilities of the howitzer platform regarding its firepower, of which the accuracy and precision of an artillery shell fired plays a role in carrying out its functions as designed that determines an overall outcome of the conflict.

Artillery platforms such as the ATAGS 155mm howitzer comes as an essential component for the coastal defense of the Philippine military, as this complements other artillery types such as guided missile systems and rocket artillery, whereby it comes with the deterrence of providing maximum damage to enemy vessels and amphibious platforms that might pose a direct threat to the country’s national security and territorial integrity. These, in which, give the Philippine Army an active role for territorial defense.

In an ending note, the Indian government presents the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System or ATAGS 155mm as a military hardware option that the Philippine Army considers, although it is at the leadership’s discretion whether this platform comes appropriately to the requirements and plans that the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines have with its overall approach. With this platform in consideration, it signifies the country’s desire to invest in its defense, while improving ties with like-minded nations.

(c) 2024 PDA.




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