Indian vendors, like Tata Power, are geared up for the mounted gun project with products like this
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 14
At an apex meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tried to revive the flagging purchase of artillery for an army that has bought no modern guns since 1987, when the procurement environment was deeply scarred by the Bofors scandal.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, chairing his first DAC meeting, sanctioned the start of what could be another tortuous, multi-year procurement of 814 mounted gun systems (MGS) for an estimated Rs 15,750 crore ($3 billion).
These 155 millimetre/52 calibre guns are being bought in the “Buy & Make (Indian)” category of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). In this, Indian companies will establish joint ventures with foreign gun-makers; which will build the guns in India. The DAC ruled that the first 100 MGS can be imported ready-built, while the remaining 714 must be fabricated in India.
Indian vendors have long awaited this tender, with technology partnerships tied up and ready. The frontrunners are: L&T, with French company, Nexter; Bharat Forge with Israeli company, Elbit; Tata Power SED with South African company, Denel; and BEML or Punj Lloyd with a Slovakian gun company.
Over the last two decades, artillery procurement has seen many false starts. Numerous tenders have been floated in five categories of 155 millimetre guns. These include the purchase of (a) 1,580 towed guns; (b) 100 tracked (self-propelled) guns; (c) 180 wheeled (self-propelled) guns; and 145 ultralight howitzers.
This variety caters for diverse operating scenarios. Towed guns are for regular use in plains and mountains; tracked (self-propelled) guns are mounted in armoured vehicles to support tank formations; wheeled (self-propelled) guns are for fast-moving, non-armoured formations; while the ultralight howitzers, which can be lifted by helicopters to remote locations are for mountain divisions. The MGS is a regular 155-millimetre gun fitted onto a high mobility vehicle. This allows it to move and come into action quicker than a conventional towed gun.
Yet these guns have one thing in common: the MoD has not bought a single one. Several gun trials are still continuing.
Separately, the MoD has ordered several indigenous gun programmes. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is supplying 114 Dhanush 155-millimetre/45-calibre guns. These are based on the technology transferred by Swedish gun maker, Bofors AG as part of the controversial procurement of 410 Bofors guns in the late 1980s. If these guns perform well, this order could rise to 414 guns.
Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation is spearheading the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG) project, to build a more powerful 155-millimetre/52-calibre gun, with an ambitious range of 60 kilometres, and a weight of just 12 tonnes. This all-Indian project includes private sector players like L&T, Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED.
The DAC meeting also reviewed, but postponed decision on, the Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal to order 38 additional PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft from Swiss company, Pilatus, which has already won a contract to supply 75 aircraft for Swiss Francs 577 million (Rs 3,727 crore).
While the IAF has pressed hard for exercising the “options clause” on the Pilatus contract, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) told the DAC today that its indigenous project to build the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) is well along, and the home-grown trainer would make its first flight next year.
The DAC also heard that IAF training is continuing on the Pilatus trainers already ordered; the HTT-40 would be maintained cheaply by HAL; the Indian trainer could be armed and sold to buyers like Afghanistan, which cannot be done with foreign aircraft due to “end user restrictions”; and the HTT-40 is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” philosophy.
Furthermore, in 2009, the DAC had itself cleared the purchase of 181 basic trainers in two separate categories --- 75 trainers in the “Buy Global” category; and 106 built by HAL in the “Make Indian” category. The DAC asked why the IAF was now proposing a new “Buy & Make” category procurement to build the Pilatus in India.
The defence minister ordered the IAF to explain this change, which would be reviewed at a future DAC meeting. Parrikar said the DAC’s tradition of monthly meetings did not preclude more frequent meetings for urgent matters.
On November 26, HAL will conduct its first detailed briefing of the new defence minister, where Parrikar will be brought up-to-date with the progress on the HTT-40. HAL sources say the development is complete, the construction of the first trainer is well under way and it will make its first flight by mid-2015.