Artillery: Simple Does Not Mean Easy To Copy

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December 14, 2016: India is forced to stay with Russian rocket launcher systems because of continued problems developing one locally that is as effective as the foreign models. In the 1970s India began developing a locally produced Pinaka self-propelled multiple rocket system. It was slow going for what should have been a simple because these systems have been around since the 1930s and Western nations have developed their own in a few years or less. By 2008 the Indian army was finally able to put Pinaka into service and by 2010 two Pinaka regiments were operational. But now there seem to problems with the Indian made Pinaka rockets. There have been some very obvious failures with rockets exploding when launched or in mid-flight. The 12 barrel Pinaka fires 214mm rockets from tubes mounted on a truck. The five meter (16 foot) long Pinaka rockets weigh 276 kg (608 pounds each) and contain a 100 kg (220 pound) warhead. Despite ammunition problems in late 2016 the army ordered equipment for two more Pinaka regiments and expects to have eight regiments in service by 2022. If the ammo problem is not solved orders for new Pinaka systems will be halted. This is embarrassing but common as India continues to try and eliminate its long dependence on imported weapons.

Each Pinaka regiment has three batteries, each having six launcher vehicles plus support vehicles. The current Mk 1 rocket has a maximum range is 40 kilometers but the Mk 2 rocket has been tested and will have a range of 65 kilometers. The Pinaka is to replace similar Russian designed system that fired 122mm rockets and cost a bit more. In 2000 the first Pinaka regiment was organized, but mostly for further testing and publicity, not as a part of the army. Indian weapons development projects have long been criticized for being poorly run, and endless. Pinaka is pretty typical. Pinaka development now concentrates on developing a GPS guided rocket. That’s because the current unguided rockets require a lot of rockets to assure hitting a target. For example it takes a 72 rockets (fired simultaneously by all six launchers in a battery) to assure hitting whatever is in an 800x1,000 meter area 40 kilometers away. With GPS guided rockets it takes one rocket to hit a specific target at any range. The Pinaka rocket reliability problem is seen as a manufacturing, not a development problem.

India should not have problems manufacturing Pinaka rockets because Indian factories have long produced Russian rocket launchers and some older types of rockets under license. India prefers to build Russian equipment itself because the Russians are terrible at supplying spare parts, technical assistance, and honoring warranties. Plus this give Indian firms and works experience with building this sort of thing.

The most recent example of this was the BM-30 (or 9K58) 300mm rocket launcher system. India bought some of these in 2005 and in 2008 obtained manufacturing licenses for them. But there are still warranty problems on some of the systems purchased and some components that are still obtained from Russia. The 9K58 entered service in the late 1980s, just before the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved. Think of this as Russians answer to the American MLRS. Nicknamed Smerch (Tornado), this twelve tube launcher fires 300mm rockets that have a max range of 90 kilometers and weigh about 250 kg/550 pounds (depending on type). A 44 ton wheeled vehicle carries the launcher and the three man crew. The vehicle can be ready to fire in three minutes and can move on within two minutes of firing. All twelve rounds can be fired within 38 seconds. It takes twenty minutes to reload.

Russia has been selling the BM-30 vehicles for about $12 million each (including a supply of rockets and technical support). Russia has about 300 BM-30s. Over 200 have been exported so far and China initially reverse engineered the BM-30 as the A100, which was introduced in 2002. But the A100 was inferior to the BM-30, especially in terms of reliability. China bought a manufacturing license in 2008 so that it could improve the effectiveness of its A100 systems, especially the propellant in the rockets (which the Chinese have had a lot of trouble with). Pakistan builds the A100 under license.

Then there is the U.S. M270 MLRS, which entered service in 1982. This system fires twelve 227mm (295 kg/650 pound) or two 610mm (1.6 ton) rockets. The smaller rockets have a max range of 70 kilometers, the larger ones 300 kilometers. The rockets are carried on a 25 ton tracked vehicle and has a crew of three. There is also a lighter, wheeled vehicle, that carries six 227mm or one 610mm rockets. The MLRS costs about the same as the BM-30 and now has GPS guided rockets, which provides a major advantage over the BM-30.

India is satisfied with its Russian rocket launchers, especially when they, and their ammunition, can be built locally. While India has been tempted to buy the MLRS, especially because of the new GPS guided rockets, Russia responded with promises to eventually provide its own GPS guided rocket that would be cheaper than the American one. Many Indian artillery officers are aware of the success of the American GPS guided MLRS (GMLRS) in Iraq and Afghanistan and would like a similar weapon. So far nothing has happened in that area although India is considering developing its own GPS guided rockets for the Pinaka, perhaps with help from Israel, which also has such technology.

 


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