Though the sanction for 814 artillery guns worth Rs 15,750 crore ( US$ 2.56 billion) was cleared last November, by the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar headed Defence Acquisition Council, the MoD is yet to issue a Request for Proposal. These guns would be acquired under the Buy and Make procedure, under which 100 guns would be purchased off the shelf while 714 would be made in India.
The Defence Acquisition Council was set up in 2001 to fast track the decision making process, as part of the post-Kargil reforms. The Council has been mandated to approve long term integrated perspective plan for the forces and gives acceptance of necessity to begin acquisition proposals and also grants approvals to all major deals.
This is considered a step forward by the MoD, but considering the over three decades inaction by the successive governments, the present MoD would have to fast track the process of guns acquisition. The Indian Army felt the absence of these guns during the 1999 Kargil conflict and one and a half decades later, the government still seems to be in doldrums and moving at snail’s pace. Absence of artillery guns have seriously impacted the combat capabilities of the Indian Army, who seems to be thankful to the Almighty for absence of recurrence of any Kargil type or full-fledged conflict on the Indian borders.
Another move to acquire the guns from domestic source, seems to have been stuck due to technical issues. Way back in March 2013, the government had placed an indent with an indicative cost of Rs 126. 44 crores with the Ordnance Factory Board for procurement of 155mm artillery guns. When the indent was placed the guns were at the trial stage and the Government had then said in Parliament that induction in the army was based on successful trials.
The Army had indicated its desire to induct the OFB manufactured gun, but no final green signal has been given. This is the variant of Bofors FH 77B called the Dhanush, which suffered initial shock when during the trial the barrel exploded.
Though there is some movement in the MoD headquarters under the new regime of Manohar Parrikar , the Indian Army may have to wait a few more years for the actual induction of the guns in its artillery fleet.
The artillery guns were not acquired since the Bofors scandal was revealed by the media in 1986. At least six tenders have been issued till now but were cancelled because of various reasons, which also was followed by blacklisting and in a few cases single vendor situation forced the government to suspend the acquisition process.
The Army had first formulated the Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) in 1999 to induct three categories of guns. After the DAC decided in November last to acquire the 814 mounted guns of 155/52 calibre, a decision was also taken to issue a fresh RFP for procurement, with buy and make in India terms, which will be open to public as well as private companies and a joint venture with Indian private sector partner will be preferred. This decision was taken to encourage the Indian private sector in the indigenous production of high-tech defence equipments in the country.
The Indian private sector players have been staking their claim since long which includes the L&T, TATA and Bharat Forge. A policy decision has been taken to allot the contract to the best bidder among the Indian private players as a lead partner with a foreign firm. According to a defence ministry source, the Indian private players can show their capability to either manufacture the product totally in India with home grown technical capabilities or establish a tie-up with a leading international manufacturer which must match the specifications provided in the RFP.
The Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan had recommended the induction of 1580 Towed Gun System and 814 mounted platforms, which the government has decided to encourage the Indian players to make in India while the 145 ultra light howitzers are to be imported directly.
Accordingly the previous government had indicated to the US for supply of BAE systems M777 155 mm/39-caliber ultra light howitzers. But neither the then Antony led MoD nor the present Manohar Parrikar led MoD has gathered courage to say yes or no to the acquisition of these guns. No other alternative plan has also yet been revealed. Final fifth round of trials for towed howitzers have already been conducted for Nexter’s Trajan and Elbit’s ATHOS 2052 and the Indian MoD is yet to clear the report.
Earlier last August the DAC had approved the acquisition of indigenous Catapult Mk II tracked artillery systems made by the DRDO’s Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment in Avadi. It has been reported that the new system will be worth Rs 8.2 billion ( US$ 137 million) and will be using the same ageing, short range Russian D-30 130mm guns as the 1980 era Mk I. However it will be replacing the Arjun Tank Chassis for a licensed built Vijayanta ( which is a modified Vickers Mk-1 ) chassis.
This has produced a tracked , self propelled system with good mobility and firing range of only 24 kms. The only advantage is that it will have much improved access to spares and maintenance.
The Indian Army officers rue the fact that the principal adversary Pakistan and China are extremely smart in the deployment of latest artillery guns on the borders, posing huge dangers to Indian Army. Pakistan had acquired second hand M109A5 Self-propelled 155mm howitzers from USA in 2005. Considering the advantages the artillery guns gave to the Pakistani Army during the Kargil conflict, the Pakistani Army has given priority to the acquisition of artillery guns and is currently working with the Chinese North Industries Corp to upgrade 400 of its own D-30 towed guns to 155 mm caliber.