NEW DELHI — The Indian Defence Ministry is considering changing the categorization of its $6 billion artillery program in order to include domestic defense companies in the heretofore international bidding process, according to an MoD source.
“The complexion of completion for future gun programs could change with tougher competition from domestic companies,” said defense analyst Mahindra Singh, a retired Indian Army major general.
The move to recategorize the project follows a request by domestic private defense firm Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (SED) to allow it to compete for future gun projects, the source said. Tata Power SED announced last month that it has been able to develop a 155mm/52-caliber mounted gun.
Rahul Chaudhry, Tata Power SED’s CEO, said the company has approached the MoD to put its gun to trial and has demanded to be considered for competition in future mountain gun tenders.
In addition to Tata Power SED, private sector firms Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Bharat Forge each has tied up with overseas defense companies to make the 155mm/52-caliber gun in India. The state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation is also developing its homegrown towed howitzer gun.
A senior L&T executive said that company has partnered with South Korea’s Samsung to produce wheeled artillery guns and with France’s Nexter to make mounted and towed artillery guns in India. The company will, however, develop the prototypes only when it is given requests for proposal for artillery projects, the executive said.
Rajinder Bhatia, CEO of Bharat Forge, said it has partnered with Israeli firm Elbit for the towed, mounted and wheeled artillery guns. It also has purchased the plant from Swiss company Ruag Defence for the artillery guns and is developing an indigenous artillery gun, which he said will be ready by 2014.
The Indian Army plans to convert all existing field guns into 155mm/52-caliber guns, and the total demand for the varieties of 155mm/52-caliber guns is worth more than $6 billion, an Army official said.
But efforts to acquire such guns from overseas firms have come up empty. Several tenders were canceled midway after competing foreign companies — including South Africa’s Denel and Singapore Technologies — were blacklisted on bribery charges.
“The overseas defense companies are now forging ties with domestic defense companies to tap into the big-ticket market, as purchasing directly from overseas through competition has not yielded the desired results,” Singh said.
To include domestic companies, the MoD must recategorize the project from “Buy and Make (Global)” to simply “Buy and Make.”
Tata Power SED, meanwhile, says its gun has an indigenous content of 52 percent.