NEW DELHI — India’s Defence Ministry has been severely criticized for buying 10,000 Konkurs-M anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) from Russia despite having a licensed production facility for the missiles at state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).
The latest report of the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG), placed in the Indian Parliament recently, said, “Failure of BDL to supply the missiles intended by the Indian Army resulted in conclusion of a contract for import of 10,000 missiles at a cost of $188 million defeating the very objective of avoiding dependence on foreign supplier for the ammunition.”
A source in BDL said the Russians failed to transfer the technology to India, which kept BDL from absorbing the information on time and led to production delays. However, a Russian diplomat here said all promised technologies for the advanced Konkus-M missile have been transferred to BDL.
However, the CAG report said BDL was slow in enhancing the production base for the Konkurs-M missiles.
“The Hyderabad-based defense public sector unit BDL planned to increase its production capacity from 3,000 to 4,500 missiles per year by 2012, and up to 6,000 missiles by 2013. In reality, the capacity was augmented by only 500 missiles per annum until February 2013.
“The delay in supply created a capability gap in the Army to fight tanks fitted with [explosive reactive armor] panels, thereby impacting its operational preparedness,” the CAG report said.
“Production of missiles is a complex challenge for India, which includes transfer of technology, absorption, acceptance of the missiles by the services and finally serial manufacturing the same based on the demand by the armed forces,” said Rahul Bhonsle, retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst. “The failure of the BDL, which has been touting Konkurs as one of its products for long, could be due to glitches in this entire cycle, thus its inability to deliver missiles to the Army has led to large deficiencies forcing the government to import the same.”
Another retired Indian Army officer said the delay by BDL led to a shortage of ATGMs, which finally led to purchases from Russia. “An inquiry should be held to find if the delays by BDL were intentional and meant to benefit the Russians,” he said.
On the delays in production, a BDL official who did not want to be identified said there were delays in transfer of technology, but added there was also a delay in giving orders to BDL from the service headquarters.
An Indian Army officer said the best option is to buy fully formed missiles from original equipment manufacturers, rather than from BDL, to meet operational requirements.
When asked about BDL’s performance, the Army official said BDL’s monopoly should be broken and the MoD should identify another agency, preferably in the private industry.
Former Indian Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh had warned of the shortages of ammunition, including Konkurs-M missiles. The November purchase of the 10,000 Konkurs-M missiles was a desperate reaction to Singh’s warning, an Indian Army source said.
With the serious concerns raised by the CAG regarding BDL’s production capabilities, alternatives will have to be explored to meet the Army’s requirements. “India has to address the entire missile-production cycle in BDL on priority or look for alternate foreign sources until BDL provides assured delivery,” Bhonsle said. “The large requirement means that only the US or Russia will have production facilities to provide thousands of missiles that are required by the over 400 battalion foot and mechanized infantry and approximately 70 tank regiments.”
An MoD official said the Army’s initial requirement is about 24,000 ATGMs to arm its 356 infantry units, adding that this procurement will be completed by the end of the twelfth plan period in 2017.
India has also been negotiating with the United States for the purchase of Javelin ATGMs and with Israel for Spike ATGMs. MoD sources said the negotiations with the US have been stalled over technology transfer, while negotiations with Israel on the Spike are also on hold, but gave no reason.
The purchase of new generation of ATGMs worth $3 billion could be re-floated as a separate program by the end of the year, the source said.