The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian unit in Bofors race
- Upgrade, 18 years on

New Delhi, Dec. 14: The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) has offered to upgrade the Bofors howitzers for the Indian Army in a move that throws up an Indian competitor in a race among international gun-makers for an order to modernise India’s artillery.

The Indian Army is also striving to cope with its shortage of artillery guns ' it is known that the batteries of Bofors guns are below par currently and an average three guns have to be cannibalised to keep one going.

The orders to acquire new guns and modernise the artillery ' that could be worth over Rs 12,000 crore ' have run into problems since South Africa’s Denel was barred from participating following charges against it in another deal.

The OFB’s proposal to modernise the FH 077B 155/39 Bofors howitzers immediately puts the state-owned arms manufacturing outfit in direct competition with SWS Defence, currently the holding company of Bofors.

Bofors was stigmatised after allegations of kickbacks raised a political storm since its howitzers were inducted into the army in 1987, but the guns performed so well in the Kargil war that the army still prides itself on the acquisition.

After the de-facto ban on Bofors, Indian artillery has neither inducted new guns nor upgraded the old ones in 18 years. An arrangement with Soltam of Israel to upgun 130mm guns to 155mm/45 calibre has run into problems with the army’s quality control wing.

The higher the calibre of a gun, the farther its range and lethality. SWS Defence responded to a request for proposal from the army in December 2001 and gave field trials the following year but is not close to bagging the order.

The OFB has now sent a proposal to the army to upgrade the 155mm Bofors guns. It has said that earlier it had problems in acquiring electronic components for the guns. But it was now possible to source these components from public sector Bharat Electronics Limited and private companies in India.

The OFB has said it has already made 45 calibre barrels. The Defence Research and Development Organisation has developed a global positioning system and a navigation system that can be used for the gun.

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