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Auto rivals gear up for defence order

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Tatas and the Mahindras will square off with one another for Indian Army’s Rs 2,000-crore order for about 20,000 station wagons tailored specifically to the needs of the military.

The army held rigorous trials of the variants of Tata Safari Storme and Mahindra Scorpio in the deserts of Rajasthan and eastern Himalayas in Sikkim. It is expected to announce its preferred vehicle and place the order later this year.

The entire army will use the new vehicle, which will replace their current fleet of Gypsies and Mahindra Jeeps. The Tatas are tipped to be leading the race, but the deal could be split given the huge size of the order.

Indian Army wants the vehicle to have a 120-brake-horse-power diesel engine in line with the rest of its fleet and be fuel-efficient. The 1960’s Nissan Jonga, which was the army “motorised horse” before it bought Gypsies and Mahindra jeeps in the 1980s, has remained a favourite with the force for its ruggedness and ability to function in difficult terrain.

However, the army has now split its requirement into three — a station wagon, which will be a basic people mover, a light armoured specialist vehicle that can have weapons such as a machine gun mounted on it and a light-armoured multi-role vehicle, which will have a blast-proof underbelly to protect it from mines.

The Mahindras will also be bidding for the second category — a 4-5-tonne light specialist vehicle — for which a tender is expected in March this year. The Mahindras will use the Axe platform for the vehicle.

Col. Sukhvinder Hayer (retd), senior general manager of Mahindra Defence Land Systems, said, “We have developed our own vehicle for this category and it will be competing with the Tatas here.” The market for the various kinds of specialist vehicles required by Indian Army is estimated to be worth $10 billion.

A version of the light specialist vehicle will be made bullet-proof for para-military duties. The Tatas have developed for the military market a light armoured military vehicle, which can at top gear run at 105 kmph and has under-hull blast protection from mines and light armour. The Tatas are also eyeing exports to the armies of Afghanistan, Nepal, Uganda, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

“We have been exporting about Rs 100 crore worth of vehicles to foreign defence forces out of sales worth Rs 1,000 crore annually we have also received orders for a UN peace keeping force,” said Vernon Noronha, VP of Tata Motors’ defence business division.

 
 
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