File picture of a Bofors gun
New Delhi, Jan. 1: The government has authorised an outright purchase of 145 ultra-light howitzers from the US, a highly-placed defence ministry source said today.
The ultra-light howitzers are for the mountain artillery divisions of the Indian Army to be used in high-altitude frontiers opposite Pakistan and China. They can be transported slung from some helicopters.
The defence acquisitions committee has decided to take the foreign military sales route. Foreign military sales is a US programme of government-to-government sales of military hardware bypassing a lengthy system of competitive bidding. But bidders who lose out to foreign military sales orders allege that the system lacks transparency.
We will also look at other options, defence secretary Pradeep Kumar said.
The Indian Air Force has taken the foreign military sales route to contract six Lockheed Martin-made Hercules C130J air lifters and the army did the same to buy artillery fire-finding radars.
Two brands of ultra-light howitzers were initially in contention for the Indian Armys estimated $2.5-billion artillery modernisation programme ST Kinetics Pegasus and BAE Land Systems M777 made in the US.
BAE Land Systems has bought over the erstwhile Swedish firm Bofors that sold 410 155mm howitzers to India in 1986. The army has not bought a single big gun since the last of the Bofors howitzer was delivered in 1987, 22 years back.
ST Kinetics was blacklisted this year after the company figured in investigations into the deals struck by the former director general of the Ordnance Factory Board in Calcutta. The government has lifted the bar on trials in multiple-vendor situations.
If the government takes the foreign military sales route, the order is likely to go to BAE Land Systems. The source said the defence acquisitions council authorised the foreign military sales route before Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs visit to the US last month.
The army wants to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers, 158 towed and wheeled, 100 tracked, and 180 wheeled and armoured guns in the first phase as part of its field artillery rationalisation plan, the programme to upgrade its artillery divisions.
Defence secretary Pradeep Kumar said the government has speeded up the buying of military hardware. Between 2007 and 2009, a total of 465 contracts have been signed. These are worth more than Rs 1,35,000 crore.
He said in 10 years, the defence ministry had doubled the capital expenditure for new acquisitions. The acquisitions were worth Rs 62,272 crore between 1999 and 2004. They total Rs 1,37,496 crore between 2004 and 2009. In the current year (2009-2010), Rs 41,000 crore was being spent on direct capital acquisitions.
The acquisitions have included Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems, Sukhoi 30MKI fighter aircraft, aircraft for VIPs, missiles of different types and tanks.