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Thursday, September 3, 1998

Army to upgrade anti-aircraft guns

Sandeep Unnithan  
BHUJ, Sept 2: The Indian Army's L-70 anti-aircraft guns will be upgraded with night fighting capabilities after the addition of thermal imaging sights and night vision devices.

According to senior officials from the army's Air Defence Artillery (ADA), the 40 mm anti-aircraft guns, which make up roughly half of it's inventory, will be fitted with night vision devices of western origin. The equipment will be ready over the next three years. The sights will later be manufactured in India under a transfer of technology package.

Meanwhile, ADA Director General (DG) Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) A Mukherjee, confirmed that a further upgradation of the L-70, the ADA's mainstay, was on the cards.

He was informally speaking to newspersons after addressing officers and men of the 45 Air Defence Regiment on their Golden Jubilee Celebrations on Tuesday.

The DG indicated that possible upgradations would include the acquisition of Proximity Fused Pre-Fragmentation (PFPF) shells. These `smart shells' have in-builtsensors which explode near enemy aircraft, rendering them inoperable.

Earlier this year, India signed a contract with an Italian firm to supply the L-70 with advanced ammunition. The mainstay of air defence forces all over the world, the Swedish-built L-70 was first inducted into the Indian Army in the late 1960s to replace it's World War II origin L-60 guns.

In 1995, the L-70 was upgraded by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), who replaced it's analog fire control system with a digital system. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) then increased its rate of fire from 240 to 300 rounds per minute.

As with the Indian Air Force's workhorse, the MIG-21, further upgradations to the L-70 could well extend it's life into the next century.

Indigenisation Drive

The indigenisation and upgradation drive seems to have been spurred by the prohibitive costs of imported Air Defence (AD) systems. Last year, the army purchased a regiment of 12 Tunguska self-propelled gun missile systems fromRussia for a staggering Rs 1,500 crore. Such astronomical costs have prompted a rethink on the acquisition of ultra-sophisticated Russian AD systems like the S-300, the `Buk' and `Tor.' ``We not only have to pay for the systems but their development costs as well,'' Lt Gen Mukherjee said. Upgrading the L-70, therefore, is an economical alternative.

``Phasing out the L-70 is an unaffordable proposition, it will remain the central piece of the ADA until around 2020 AD,'' a senior defence official said.

In three decades of service, the gun has become as much a part of the 45 AD Regiment's lore as it has of the Army. The guns have been deployed to guard vital installations and airfields from enemy air attacks all over the country.

In the ferocious Battle of Basantar River during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the regiment's gunners tore marauding Pakistani jets out of the skies over the Punjab. It earned one Vir Chakra, five Sena medals and two mention-in-despatches while three soldiers sacrificed theirlives.

The regiment also used the guns in their first-ever surface role, defending armoured formations.

The regiment has the distinction of participating in almost all of Independent India's wars since it's inception on September 1, 1948 at Range Hills, Jhansi.

During the liberation of Goa in 1961, Lt Colonel B K Nair led the regiment, which overan a Portuguese garrison of over 200 soldiers. In the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the regiment shot down 13 Pakistani fighter jets in the Punjab.

``If the enemy attacks again, 45 AD will exceed its kills in the '65 and '71 wars,'' Lt Gen Mukherjee told the regiment personnel at a simple but impressive ceremony held to commemorate the Golden Jubilee.

Pakistan protests Akash tests

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday protested a missile test by India, warning that such weapon programmes could provoke a new arms race in South Asia, a foreign office spokesman said in a statement in Islamabad.

On Tuesday, India test fired a short-range ground to air `Akash'missile, designed to carry conventional weapons, as part of its ongoing missile development programme. In response to this development, the Pakistan foreign office said ``Pakistan has repeatedly drawn attention to the security implications of the Indian missile programme.''

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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