Artillery Gun Trials Deferred Again

By admin • July 27th, 2010

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India Defence Online, New Delhi – Once again, Indian Army’s artillery modernisation programme has suffered a setback due to the cancellation of field trials which were to occur this month. The field trials for the long-range heavy artillery guns have been deferred because the Swedish gunmaker Bofors, presently owned by BAE Land Systems, has emerged as the only competitor.

According to Defence Ministry, the Bofors FH77B05, now owned by BAE Land Systems, and the IFH 2000 by Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) were the only two guns in the competition for the 155mm/52calibre howitzers.

Since the ghost of the Bofors scam in the 1980s looms large over the Congress-led government, the current field trials have been dropped. The Bofors scam involved the then Congress government who were allegedly involved in the kickbacks from the Swedish firm. As for STK which is fielding its IFH 2000 gun, it has also been blacklisted due to its involvement in the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) scam.

The Indian Army, as usual, is bearing the brunt of the situation since the artillery modernisation is already six years behind schedule. Even the field trials have been cancelled three times. The Indian Army has been trying to equip its forces with modern artillery for a long time. The saga of trials for acquiring the 155 mm, 52-calibre towed guns began in 2002 and continued till 2006 with the three key players being BAE Systems of UK, Israeli firm Soltam and South African company Denel. While Denel was blacklisted, the other two firms did not match the expectation of the Indian Army. Later, a fresh tender was floated in 2008 and BAE Systems and STK became the main contenders for delivering the guns.

The Indian Army’s artillery modernisation programme, which involves procuring a mix of towed, ultra-light and wheeled/ tracked guns, is estimated to run into Rs 70,000 crore over 10 years. The current acquisition process for the towed long-range heavy artillery guns is nearly worth Rs. 15,000 crores alone.

The Defence Ministry must now decide how to make the artillery modernisation move ahead. Since the BAE gun FH77B05, an offshoot of the Bofors gun is the only competitor, India must decide whether to go for the Pentagon’s foreign military sales (FMS) route since BAE Land Systems is headquartered in the US, or go for re-bidding.

Both these options are opposed by the Indian Army. Firstly, the Indian Army feels re-bidding will get more competitors implying the whole merry-go-round all over again of leading to further delay in modernisation. Secondly, the Indian Army Chief General V K Singh has conveyed to the Defence Minister A.K.Antony that the major defence procurements from the US through the FMS route have several shortcomings. According to sources, the Indian Army has proposed the appointment of corporate lawyers familiar with international negotiations and contracts to help them assess all future defence contracts in order to avert further inconsistency.

Source: India Defence Online

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