BOFORS LOOKS FOR INDIAN PARTNERS
By Bulbul Singh
24 Jun 06. In order to clinch the multi million dollar contract for the supply of 155 mm self propelled guns to the Indian Army, Bofors Defence AB of Sweden is negotiating a tie up with private Indian companies, including Larsen & Toubro, Tatas, and Bharat Forge to jointly produce the guns in India.
Bofors, was banned after alleged kick offs in a deal struck in 1987 for the supply of FH77B 155mm, 39 calibre guns.
The Indian Army has decided to replace all existing guns with 155mm guns which will result in a purchase of around 1600 numbers of 155mm guns in the next 10 to 15 years.
Though the Indian Army have shown preference for the Bofors 155MM L 52 automatic Howitzer, Indian defence ministry officials say, the company could be at a disadvantage due to its past record which is very political sensitive here. Bofors is trying to tie up so that it is not at a disadvantage politically because of it being black listed because of the 1987 contract during the Congress government led by Rajiv Ganjdhi. The current government is ruled by a coalition which is led by the Congress Party of which late Rajiv Gandhi’s wife, Sonia Gandhi is the President of the party.
An executive of BAE Systems in New Delhi which also looks after assignments of Bofors said, talks are on with Indian private sector companies to jointly manufacture the 155mm guns here.
Indian defence ministry officials said, a joint tie-up with an Indian company will definitely give advantage to the vendor and in case Boors ties up with an Indian company then it may not be subjected to any disadvantage because of its past records in defense deal in 1987.
The Indian Army decided in 1999-2000 to equip all its 230 artillery regiments with guns of 155mm by the year 2025. However the pace of acquisition has been very slow.
The Indian Army early this year has also floated a RFP for the purchase of 180 pieces of 155 mm wheeled guns. The RFPs has been sent to majors overseas producing the 155 mm gun, excluding Denel of South Africa which had been black listed last year following alleged involvement in influencing the Indian defense ministry in defense procurements.
Soltam of Israel, Sweden SWS Defence and Slovak’s Kerametal are some of the overseas companies which have been sent RFP for the purchase of the 155 mm guns.
The Indian army is re-tendering the acquisition of wheeled and tracked 155mm guns after the South African company, Denel which was a front runner in the acquisition process was blacklisted last year on charges of involvement of kick backs.
Denel was one of the companies which was running for the wheeled guns while it was the only company for the purchase of 100 pieces of tracked 155 mm guns.
The RFP stipulates that the 155 mm gun is required to perform in a period of 72 to 96 hours under battlefield conditions, and be able to move 80 to 100 kilometers over difficult cross country terrain. It should be able to fire and move cross country 30 to 40 kilometers and fire of 100 to 150 rounds of ammunition in approx 6 to 8 hours.
The BAE Systems executive said dawing heavily on the performance of their guns during the Kargil conflict, Bofors has unveiled their latest 155MM L 52 automatic Howitzers capable of firing shells upto a range of 60 kms and have offered technology transfer of the guns to India.
An Indian Army offical said the guns from Bofors meet the standards.
Bofors is looking for a tie up with an Indian private sector company under a relaxed provision in the defence sector announced in 2001 under which a foreign company can invest up to 26 per cent in a Foreign Direct Investment in a joint venture with a private sector company.
The Indian defence sector was thrown open to private players including investments by foreigners only in 2001.
Besides the manufacture of new 155mm guns Bofo