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Guns on shopping list for Saturday

The government is likely to take a call on Saturday on a $750-million procurement of ultra-light howitzers and armed drones from the US.

  • Published 24.06.16

New Delhi, June 23: The government is likely to take a call on Saturday on a $750-million procurement of ultra-light howitzers and armed drones from the US.

Should the defence acquisitions council chaired by minister Manohar Parrikar approve the acquisition, it would be the first howitzer deal the government would be going ahead with since the Bofors guns in 1986. The council is scheduled to meet on Saturday.

The ultra-light howitzers that can be heli-lifted to the frontier with China were first proposed to be bought from BAe Land Systems about 10 years back. The acquisitions council is now understood to be considering a government-to-government mechanism with the US.

The mechanism would involve a US government guarantee and transportation of readymade flyaway kits of the guns from BAe Land Systems' facilities in the US and the UK to a Mahindra facility in Maharashtra. The guns would then be prepared for delivery to the army by the Mahindra factory under a system called AIT - Assemble, Integrate and Test. The Indian Army has projected a need for 145 of these guns under its field artillery rationalisation programme.

The Indian Air Force has projected a requirement for armed drones - this could be of the Predator series that the US has been using in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The requirement is also understood to have been stated to the US during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington. The procurement of the drones is said to be simpler now with India getting the nod from the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Apart from the M777 programme for the army the council is also likely to consider a procurement of 44,500 close-quarter battle carbines from Israel. The army's acquisition of a short-range surface-to-air missile is also due for a decision. The government would have to take a call on whether to order Syder systems from Israel or wait for the full development of the indigenous Akash system by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

For the navy the council is likely to reconsider the acquisition of two special operations vessels (SOVs) with six swimmer delivery vessels (SDVs) for marine commandos. The government had approved the acquisition of these midget submarines, also called 'Chariots', in October. But the process of acquisition from the defence public sector Hindustan Shipyard may have to be tweaked for the Rs 2,000-crore project.

The navy's shopping list for the council includes six next generation missile vessels to replace its Prabal-class missile boats that were procured in the 1980s and 1990s from Russia. The new 1,250-tonne vessels that would be armed with surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-surface missile and close-in weapon systems is estimated to cost Rs 13,000 crore. The government has designated this as "buy Indian" under the defence procurement policy, meaning tenders will be given to Indian shipyards for the ships.

In addition, the navy wants to order six sets of Brahmos missiles for its Delhi and Talwar class of destroyers and frigates. This would cost around Rs 2,700 crore.

Hindustan Shipyard has also sought clarity on a Rs 9,000-crore order for five fleet support ships. The defence shipyard proposes to build them with technical knowhow from South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries. But the South Korean firm is understood to have sought an inter-governmental agreement for the order.

The Indian Air Force's proposed acquisition of S400 Triumf missile defence systems from Russia is also likely to figure in the council meeting. Russia has so far not exported the latest version of the system. In April this year, however, it made a formal offer to India. The value of the deal could be as much as $6 billion.