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Accident Further Delays Indian Howitzer Acquisition

Oct. 25, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
An Indian Army truck tows a 155mm Bofors howitzer toward the Pakistani border. (MUSTAFA TAUSEEF / AFP)
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NEW DELHI — Indian Army efforts to acquire howitzer guns from domestic sources received a jolt this summer when the barrel of a prototype Bofors howitzer being upgraded here burst during trials.

An internal committee, which gave its findings to the Indian Defence Ministry this month, said neither the barrel nor its Indian-made ammunition was at fault, an MoD source said.

The upgrade of the howitzer has now been stalled and induction of the 114 guns the Army ordered last year has been delayed.

India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is attempting to upgrade the 155mm/39-caliber guns to 155mm/45-caliber weapons.

The Army has not been able to buy any howitzer guns since the 1980s because the process has been aborted on several occasions when corruption charges resulted in companies being blacklisted. Denel of South Africa was blacklisted in 2005; Rheinmetall’s Swiss arm, Israeli Military Industries and Singapore Technologies were blacklisted in 2009.

OFB began the upgrade two years ago, based on drawings supplied by Bofors in the 1980s as part of the transfer technology arrangement.

MoD sources said OFB does not have the technical know-how to upgrade the guns because the state-owned company produces guns of lower caliber.

A BAE Systems executive said his company is ready to help OFB upgrade the gun. BAE owns the howitzer unit of the Swedish company Bofors, from which the Indian Army acquired the guns in the 1980s.

The Indian Army requires a variety of 155mm guns that will cost more than US $6 billion as it plans to replace all its artillery weapons.

An Army official said the service is disappointed over the delay in acquiring the guns, adding that the effort by OFB to find an alternative appears to have fizzled. The official added that efforts should be made to acquire the howitzers on a government-to-government basis to speed the procurement process.

To tap the howitzer market, domestic private-sector companies have also teamed with overseas companies to make a gun here with indigenous content. India’s private major Larsen & Toubro has joined with South Korea’s Samsung to compete in a howitzer self-propelled tracked-gun tender.

Domestic private-sector Tata Power Strategic Electronics Division has also developed a 155mm/52-caliber mounted gun with a firing range of 40 kilometers. While the company would not officially comment on its foreign partners, sources said help has been sought from Denel.

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