Monday, August 24, 2009

Shoot and Scoot : Rs 20k cr deals may end Army's artillery drought



India is now going to float a mega global tender for acquiring 814 motorised howitzers in a fresh attempt to kickstart the Army's long-delayed over Rs 20,000 crore artillery modernisation programme, bedevilled by the Bofors ghost and other scandals for almost 25 years now.

The project will include an off-the-shelf purchase of 200 155mm/52-calibre mounted gun systems from abroad, which will be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 614 such howitzers under transfer of technology. "These 17-tonne motorised howitzers will arm 40 regiments. The project was recently cleared by Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by defence minister A K Antony. The RFP is being issued," said a defence ministry source.

Yet another big project on the anvil is the outright purchase of 100 155mm/52-calibre self-propelled tracked guns for five artillery regiments, the field trials for which will be held around May-June 2010. The 1.13-million Army is keeping its fingers firmly crossed this time about its artillery modernisation programme, which envisages induction of a whopping 2,814 guns of different types.

Not a single new artillery gun, after all, has been inducted ever since the infamous Rs 1,437 crore Bofors contract for 410 field howitzers became a political bogey in 1986. If first it was Bofors, then it was Denel in 2005. And now, Singapore Technologies (ST) is in the dock after the defence ministry put all dealings with it on hold due to the alleged corruption scandal involving former Ordnance Factory Board chairman Sudipto Ghosh.

A worried Army top brass, in fact, has even asked Antony to allow the trials in different categories to go ahead while the CBI conducts its probe into Ghosh's case. The Pegasus gun of ST Kinetics, for instance, was to be field-tested from mid-June onwards in the project to acquire 140 air-mobile ultra-light howitzers (ULHs) for Rs 2,900 crore. Army needs ULHs to ensure artillery can be swiftly deployed in forward, inaccessible areas with the help of helicopters.

ST Kinetics was also a contender in the meandering Rs 8,000 crore project to buy 400 155mm/52-calibre towed artillery guns, which is to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 1,180 howitzers. The other two contenders are BAE Systems and Israeli Soltam.

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