CHENNAI: The department of Aerospace Engineering at IIT Madras is working on developing a next-generation artillery shell that can be used by the Indian Army to hit far away targets with greater precision. Lt Gen PR Shankar, a (retd) Professor of Practice at IIT Madras, whose team had exhibited the theoretical possibilities of the project at the recently concluded Defense Expo in Uttar Pradesh, said that his team is working on an artillery shell that is based on the Ramjet technology.
“This will enable it to travel upto a range of 60 kms and above. Most shells that are in use travel around 30 kms or so. Extending the range of a shell would be highly useful in non-contact warfare scenario, like the situations on the Western border. Some of the current shells can travel upto 24 kms. We could extend the range unto 30 kms by traditional methods, but doubling it to 60 kms is going to be a game changer. Changing the gun would mean a tedious process, but instead we could change the ammunition and improve the performance,’’ he added.
When asked how compatible this new artillery shell would be with current artillery guns used by the Indian Army, Prof Shankar said, “Although we are developing a new kind of shell, we would not be building it from scratch. We are planning to redesign the existing shells using ramjet propulsion technology. The new shells are compatible with all the existing Artillery guns such as Bofors, Dhanush, Vajra and ATAGS. It is a fact that each gun has its own characteristics, but the shell we are developing is of a 155mm calibre. Hence, it would be usable on all Indian or foreign platforms that utilize the 155mm shell.’’
Further explaining how his method is different from the standard range-extension methods for Artillery shells, Prof Shankar said, “Traditionally, we would utilize a method called ‘base bleed’ where a chemical at the base of the shell burns, emits gas to fill the vacuum behind the shell to reduce the base drag force. Base bleed enables an increase of range by 10 to 20 percent. We are aiming to double the range by using ramjet propulsion technology through indigenously developed fuel and an air intake at the front, that helps the shell travel faster and thus enabling it to reach double the range.’’
When asked about the challenges pertaining to maintaining accuracy while aiming to extend a shell’s range, the retired Director General of Artillery said, “When a shell travels for around 30kms, the normal methods of correction are applicable. However when a shell travels 60kms, it would be affected by wind and weather conditions far more. So we would incorporate some kind of system to keep it on intended track. It is called a Precision Guided Kit. We will be developing the precision guided kits specially for such extended ranges.’’
Prof PR Shankar, who has been a Professor of Practice at IIT Madras’ Aerospace Engineering department and is actively involved in applied research, expressed hope that the Indian ordnance factories and facilities will be able to mass manufacture such shells for the Army’s requirements .
“Most of the shells that we need are made here. When we do resort to import it is only restricted to smart ammunitions and precision guided munitions (PGMs). Our ramjet based shell is like any other shell and we would be ensuring that OFB (Ordnance factory board) can manufacture it. Ability to manufacture it is there, but we are working on the design and the technology. That's where IIT Madras comes in, along with IIT Kanpur, Armament Research and development Establishment(ARDE) Pune and Research Centre Imarat (RCI) Hyderabad,’’ he said..
Replying to the question would there be a significant reduction in unit cost due to the indigenous manufacture, Prof PR Shankar added, “Primarily this technology is a first for artillery shells. Being a new product and new technology, they tend to be very costly. But it is certainly less expensive when compared to missiles and other weapons that have a range of over 60kms. There is also a scope for exporting this type of shell to friendly foreign countries.’’
Lt Gen P R Shankar is a retired Director General of Artillery. He has played a vital role in the modernization of Artillery through indigenization. He has deep knowledge, understanding and experience in successful defense planning and acquisition, spanning over a decade. Major 155mm Gun projects like the Dhanush, M777 ULH and K9 Vajra, Rocket and Missile projects related to Pinaka, Brahmos and Grad BM21, surveillance projects like Swati WLR and few ammunition projects came to fructification due to his relentless efforts. He has been a Professor of Practice at IIT Madras’ Aerospace Engineering department and is actively involved in applied research.