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India’s big-bang shopping gun booms

New Delhi, April 4: India has reopened an artillery competition for global armament manufacturers for an order that could be worth more than Rs 15,000 crore.

The defence ministry has re-floated two global tenders — called Requests for Proposals (RFP) — inviting bids from 12 makers of 155mm/52 calibre self-propelled guns, a source told The Telegraph here today.

This signals the beginning of a fresh round of big-ticket defence procurements for Indian military orders running into billions of dollars. An RFP for 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force (for an order that may run upwards of $9 billion) was expected by March 31. It is now said to be likely in June.

The self-propelled guns — to be mounted on truck or tank chassis — are part of an artillery modernisation programme that also includes towed guns.

An RFP for the towed guns of the same calibre is also likely to be re-floated shortly because Bofors had emerged as the single vendor for the towed gun. The Bofors gun — currently a product of Bae Systems Land and Armaments Division — is also competing for the self-propelled version.

The first of the tenders is for wheeled guns — for which an RFP was floated in early March. It was sent to makers and prospective competitors.

The second tender was floated last fortnight for tracked guns.

The source said the offers would be evaluated in accordance with the new procurement policy. A small number of guns would be bought off the shelf — the effort is to get them by 2008.

The defence ministry will assess the offers for not just the price quoted at face value, but also for the licensed production arrangements, spares support and spin-offs (offsets) for domestic industry.

The defence ministry re-floated the tenders after the cabinet committee on security concluded that:

a) A single-vendor situation must be avoided (as with Bofors for the towed artillery)

b) There have been technological developments in heavy artillery in the five years since the first tender

c) The defence procurement policy has been revised

d) The standards for the selection of the guns also needs to be revised

e) Denel, the South African gun maker, that had emerged as the single vendor for the tracked version, was blacklisted in 2005 on another deal involving anti-materiel guns.

Among the competitors in the fray are many of the original bidders — such as Bofors and Soltam of Israel but also new entrants like K-9 of South Korea. The US was also nudging the Indian defence establishment to try out its Paladin M109A that was studied by the Indian Army during the 2003 war on Iraq.

Bofors is likely to compete for the order with a variant of its FH 77B mounted on a 6X6 wheeled Volvo truck chassis. Israel’s Soltam had offered the Atmos 2000 last time and claimed that it could be mounted on a 6X6 Tatra truck that is manufactured by the public sector Bharat Earth Movers Limited.

France’s Nexter (originally called Giat) is likely to bid with the Caesar GCT AUF1. The army chief, General Joginder Jaswant Singh, is understood to have been given a demonstration of the gun during a visit to France last year.

The decision to re-float the tenders conforms to policy and is also politically convenient to the Congress-led UPA government. Only last month, the Bofors controversy re-surfaced with the detention of Ottavio Quattrocchi — suspected of being the middleman in a 1997 deal — in Argentina.

The wheeled guns would be mounted on truck chassis. The tracked guns would be mounted on caterpillar tracks — like those of a tank. The Indian Army proposes to initially buy 180 tracked and 220 wheeled systems.

The two RFPs have been issued after the General Standard Quality Requirements were revised. The guns will be evaluated on the basis of performance in extremes of climate and terrain — in Rajasthan and Ladakh — and their performance for target acquisition, firing rate, command and communication will be assessed. Among the other bidders in the fray are likely to be Kerametal of Slovakia, now a division of Rheinmetall with its Zuzana howitzer.

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