NEW DELHI — In a move aimed at becoming more self-sufficient with multi-barrel rocket launchers, the Indian Ministry of Defence has floated a big-ticket bid to buy six regiments of homemade Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers for $2 billion. The order for the acquisition is expected to be placed within 18 months.  

Last December, the ministry placed an order for two regiments — one regiment is 18 systems — totaling a $350 million order for the Pinaka rocket launchers. Industry sources say India is now contemplating exporting the Pinaka.

The order will be split between the prime state-owned contractors Bharat Earth Movers Limited and the Ordnance Factories Board, or OFB, and private sector defense companies Larsen & Toubro and Tata Power SED. Under the contract, BEML will supply the vehicles for the rocket launchers; L&T and Tata Power SED will supply the launcher systems; and OFB will supply the rocket ammunition .

L&T and Tata Power SED have designed and developed the Pinaka system with the Defence Research and Development Organization, or DRDO. The Indian Army currently operates two regiments of the Pinaka systems.

"The indigenous rocket launcher system is required to meet Army's operational necessities and also to reduce dependence on foreign sources and replacing the Russian Grad BM-21 and Smerch rocket systems," an Indian Army official said. The Army needs the extended range Pinaka Mark-II at the earliest, the official added, "however, the latest order is for Pinaka Mark-I with a range of 30 kilometers even though the Indian Army had preferred Pinaka Mark-II, which has a range of up to 65 kilometers but is still under development."

Jayant Damodar Patil, head of defense and aerospace for L&T, said "Pinaka Mark-II is a developmental program of DRDO. The technical trials have been completed a couple of months back, but the induction decision is awaited."

"DRDO and Indian industry will now target to export Pinaka Mk-I," he said. However, some Army officials cited problems with the rockets of the two regiments that have been in use for more than a decade.

Bhupinder Yadav, a defense analyst and retired Indian Army major general, said there is a problem with the rocket ammunition supplied by OFB. "The production of Pinaka rockets is on hold after some quality-related issues mainly relating to OFB-produced propellant such as short ranges, residues after firings and accidents relating to burst in launchers, etc."

However, such defects occur if the propellant is non-homogeneous and have air bubbles, he asserted, adding that "the supplies of fuzes and its quality assurances is also an issue."

"Absorption of technology by OFB appears to be poor, and it (OFB) may not be able to maintain quality standards at the manufacturing stage, particularly for mass production," according to Rahul Bhonsle, a defense analyst and retired Indian Army brigadier.

No MoD official was available to comment on the problems with the rockets and their current status.

On the possibility of imports of rockets and ammunition for Pinaka, Patil said: "Rockets ammunition are expected to be ordered to OFB as well as the private industries that would take technology transfer from DRDO (which has developed the rocket ammunition)."

"No imports are likely as any imported ammunition will have to undergo detailed evaluation trials that can take years to get cleared," Patil added.

Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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