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Indian Firms Tapped for Howitzer Trials

May. 21, 2013 - 06:42PM   |  
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NEW DELHI — For the first time, Indian defense companies have been selected for trials in a howitzer gun tender.

The Indian Ministry of Defence has failed to buy a single howitzer gun in the past 13 years because the global competition for a variety of 155mm/52-caliber guns was aborted over the blacklisting of an overseas competitor on charges of corruption.

Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which has tied up with South Korean company Samsung, and state-owned Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. (BEML), which has partnered with Slovakian company Konstrukha, are competing with Russia’s Rosoboron export for the tracked gun tender.

The Indian Army wants to buy 100 tracked guns valued at more than US $750 million.

The tender issued in 2011, which was a rebid of a 2007 tender, went to India’s Tata Power SED, Larsen & Toubro, BEML and Rosoboronexport. Tata Power SED had tied up with Huta Stalowa Wola HSW of Poland.

“The selection of a domestic defense company in the howitzer gun tender will encourage more tie-ups with overseas defense companies in tapping the howitzer gun market in India, valued at over $5 billion,” said Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst based here.

As part of the Indian Army’s plan to replace all of its field guns, named the Field Artillery Rationalization Plan, the Army would buy a mix of around 3,600 155mm/52-caliber guns by 2020-25.

In the past 13 years, the MoD floated tenders for 1,580 towed guns, 100 tracked guns, 180 wheeled and self-propelled guns, and 145 ultra-light howitzers. So far, not a single gun has been bought.

Since 2005, when India banned South African company Denel, the MoD also has banned howitzer competitors ST Kinetics of Singapore, Israel Military Industries and Germany’s Rheinmetall Air Defense from doing business in India for 10 years.

The blacklisting resulted in termination of the procurement process and rebids of the tender.

The overseas companies were blacklisted on charges of corruption, and the government’s anti-fraud agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, is probing the charges.

An L&T executive said it has built a tracked version based on the portfolio of its partner, Samsung, which he said would be a homemade advanced version of Samsung’s K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer.

Earlier, BEML had developed a tracked gun with a fully autonomous turret developed by Denel. After the blacklisting, BEML teamed up with Konstrukha, a BEML executive said.

The Indian Army’s artillery consists of 155mm/39-caliber Bofors FH-77B howitzers bought in the late 1980s, and only 200 of the 410 guns are functioning. In addition, the Army uses 105mm field guns and Russian 130mm guns.

India has negotiated the purchase of 145 155mm/52-caliber guns from the US subsidiary of Britain’s BAE Systems on a government-to-government basis.

As part of the homemade initiative, the state-owned Ordnance Factories Board has developed prototypes of 155mm/45-caliber Bofors-type howitzers based on the blueprint of 155mm/39-caliber guns.

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