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Bofors trial scrapped third time

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By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 25.07.10
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New Delhi, July 24: A.K. Antony’s defence ministry has cancelled a competition of artillery guns for the third time for a multi-million dollar Indian Army order after a gun made by BAe Land Systems, the current owner of the Swedish-origin Bofors AB, emerged as the only contender in the fray.

The Telegraph reported on July 14 that the army had stalled the summer trials in the Rajasthan desert of the long-range towed heavy artillery guns and had sought directions from the defence ministry after Bofors’ competitor, ST Kinetics of Singapore, sought more time.

The artillery upgrade programme has been held up since 2002. For 23 years now, the army has not added a single big gun to its arsenal since the Bofors FH77B02, contracted by the Rajiv Gandhi government, raised a row over kickbacks.

The old guns are now rusty and the artillery regiments often resort to cannibalisation to keep some of them firing. The worth of the heavy artillery in recent years was proven in the 1999 Kargil war, and time and time again before the 2002 ceasefire with Pakistan on the Line of Control in Kashmir.

The re-tendering that is imminent means the programme has been set back by at least another three years.

No official reason has been given for the cancellation of the tender but the ministry has quietly put up a Request for Information (RFI) on its website. An RFI is a precursor to an RFP (Request for Proposals or global tender). Even the RFI was wrongly worded.

The first draft called for “towed/self-propelled” guns. Towed guns are pulled by vehicles. Self-propelled are mobile in themselves. The RFI has now been corrected for “towed”.

The Bofors FH77B05, now owned by BAe Land Systems, and the Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) iFH 2000, were the only two guns in the competition for the 155mm/52calibre howitzers.

STK has been blacklisted following a CBI investigation but it thrice requested deferment of the trials on technical grounds. But BAe has said its gun is in India and is ready for the trials.

“BAe Systems has acted in accordance with all elements of DPP (Defence Procurement Procedure) ’08 on this programme. As it has since the start of the competition in 2008, the company stands ready to continue to the competition’s field trial phase. The company is confident that the FH77B05, a modern, more powerful, and significantly upgraded version of the gun that performed so admirably during the Kargil conflict, will meet the Indian Army’s urgent requirement for artillery,” the company spokesperson Guy Douglas said.