Private industry in defence

Well before the government came out with enhanced FDI policy of 49 percent limit for multinational companies in defence sector, some of the leading Indian private defence players had formed alliances with the foreign partners to take part in India’s US$ 4 billion artillery modernization program.

The foreign partners would have preferred to directly sell their guns to India, but considering the new offset laws under which there is compulsion to source 30 to 50 percent of their parts from India, they preferred to chose Indian partners and transfer their manufacturing know-how to Indian firms, leaving the responsibility on them to enter into the bidding process and bag orders. These Indian private firms in fact were acting as their Indian conduits that will also bring them good profit as royalty.  

After the last Indian order to Bofors AB in mid eighties, the Indian MoD mishandled the acquisition process and the army is still waiting for new inductions after almost three decades.

Efforts by Indian private sector to find domestic license production route to acquisition  has yet not borne fruit, though companies like Tata SED , L&T, Bharat Forge and Mahindra & Mahindra did make serious efforts to take part in bids for the Guns by luring the MoD to showcase the gun as domestically produced. The Indian private companies did produce the prototypes which were displayed during the last and previous Defexpos but the MoD did not give too much importance to them.

Domestic prototypes

Top officials of Bharat Forge, which is a part of the Kalyani group claimed during the Defexpo 2014 that  they have indigenously developed a prototype of the 155 gun and has already subjected them to several operational tests at their facility. Bharat Forge is trying to obtain necessary certification from the DRDO. According to top officials the Kalyani Group has invested Rs 100 crores on the facility to manufacture artillery guns , armored vehicles and unmanned ground vehicles. For this Bharat Forge has set up a joint venture unit with Israeli Elbit systems to bid for Indian Army’s contracts including the towed guns, mounted guns and the upgrade of 130mm artillery guns.

On the other hand the L&T claims to have fielded two major systems-a tracked guns and another towed gun system. L&T has collaborated with Samsung Techwin and has developed a desert gun, to be offered to the Indian Army and also explore the possibilities of export to third countries. The gun has been tested by L&T in private ranges and the army is yet to respond to requests for user trials. The Samsung Techwin produced K-9Thunder is a South Korean self-propelled 155mm howitzer and has been inducted by the South Korean Army, This was developed to replace the K 55 self-propelled howitzers in the Army. K-9 howitzers operate in groups with the K10 automatic ammunition re-supply vehicle .

On the other hand the defence wing of the Tata Group, Tata Power SED has advanced a lot on its mounted gun project and has already come out with a prototype gun, which was rolled out of the company’s Bangalore based facility. This gun will spearhead Company’s bid for the procurement plan of the Indian Army for 814 mounted gun systems. However the army is yet to give clearance for the user trials.

New players

It is well known that the MoD wanted to acquire these guns through a global tender but allegations against Rheinmetall of Germany, Singapore Technologies and Denel of South Africa affected the whole process. However, with reports of Denel being delisted from the banned companies, new hopes have emerged for Denel’s T-5 52 motorised system.

With reported lifting of sanctions on Denel of South Africa, Tata Power SED hopes to rejuvenate its gun project, which advanced a lot two years ago. This gun, 155 mm/52 caliber truck mounted howitzer, claims to have almost 55 percent indigenous content.  
This is essentially a reengineered version of the Denel’s T-5 52 motorized howitzer. Though Indian Army has given no indication of its likes of the gun, the company hopes to export them to Indonesia. If this happens then an Indian based company will be making a major foray in high technology exports.

Denel land systems has supplied the monoblock gun barrel equipped with a double-baffle muzzle brake, gun cradle with an integrated buffer system, swing and slide breech mechanism, electrically activated firing mechanism, auto loader/rammer, ballistics charts, muzzle velocity radar, an automatic laying and land navigation system using a RLG-INS, a panoramic optical-mechanical sight mounted directly to the trunnion, incorporating a compensation system for trunnion cant, which forms a backup for indirect fire, and a telescopic sight for direct fire that is mounted to the compensation system.

According to reports the Defence Research and Development Organisation has also involved some of the private sector companies in its ambitious development plan of a 155mm /52 caliber Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATGAS) with a 50 km strike range by 2016. The system is being designed by the DRDO’s Pune based Armament Research and Development Establishment.

Since, the foreign companies have already chosen their Indian private sector partners; one can assume that any of the competing guns will be made in India through the joint collaboration of the Indian private sector. If and when the Ministry of Defence makes it final choice on 155 guns remains to be seen, but this will be first major entry of Indian private sector in such a major deal and high technology weapon system.