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By Bulbul Singh

In May, for the first time three domestic defence companies have been shortlisted for trials in the Indian Army’s tender to procure 100 tracked Howitzer guns. The tender worth $800 million was floated in January 2011 on ‘Buy Global’ basis and was also sent to several overseas defence companies.

The Indian Defence Minister A K Antony announced May 6 in a written reply to the Indian Parliament that three Indian companies have been selected for trials. Antony did not give the names of the Indian companies nor did he say anything about the overseas defence companies. “A case for procurement of Qty.100 x 155mm/52 Calibre Tracked (self-propelled) Guns is in progress wherein three Indian vendors, including two private sector companies, have been selected for trials of their equipment,” Antony said.

No Ministry of Defence official would comment on what happened to the guns from overseas, but sources in the Indian defence ministry said, “The domestic defence companies would be given preference according to the latest changes incorporated in the Defence Production Policy, which were approved by the Defence Acquisition Council last month.”

The Indian defence companies selected included Larsen & Toubro which has tied up with Samsung of South Korea, Bharat Forge and state owned Bharat Earth Movers Limited I (BEML).

In January 2011 the Indian Ministry of Defence had floated a global tender and bids were invited from vendors, in France, US, Britain, Israel and Slovakia along with domestic defence companies.

Larsen & Toubro Limited (L&T) and Samsung Techwin (STW) Co of South Korea are building the tracked Howitzer gun said an executive of L&T adding that the gun would be localized version of STW’s K9 Thunder Self-Propelled Howitzer.

BEML had earlier developed a tracked gun comprising a fully autonomous T6 turret equipped with 155mm 52 calibre armament mounted on the homemade Arjun tank Chassis and named Bhim. After blacklisting of Denel of South Africa which had developed the turret the Bhim project got a setback but was later revived.

Elbit of Israel has tied up with Bharat Forge Limited to develop the Howitzer guns. The Joint Venture is developing artillery guns and mortars segment based on Elbit’s range which includes systems such as the ATHOS 155/52 Towed Gun System, the ATMOS 155/52 Mounted Gun System and the upgraded 130 mm M46 Gun to a 155/45 Gun (KARAN).

The Indian Army had planned to replace all existing field guns with 155mm/52 calibre guns at a cost of over $5 billion. Under the Field Artillery Rationalization Plan, the army planned by 2020-25 on acquiring a mix of around 3,600 155mm/52cal towed, wheeled and tracked guns for Indian Army’s 220 artillery regiments.

The defence ministry floated tenders for buying 1,580 towed guns of 155mm/52calibre, 100 tracked guns of 155mm/52 calibre, 180 wheeled and self-propelled guns of 155mm/52calibre, and 145 ultra-light howitzers of 155mm/39calibre. However till no Howitzer gun has been purchased as the procurement process for all the types of guns except for the ultra-light gun got derailed mid-way due to blacklisting of some overseas defence companies on charges of corruption. Each time the tender process had to be halted due to blacklisted.

MOD had banned Singapore’s ST Kinetics, IMI Ltd., Rheinmetall Air Defence, Corporation Defence Russia (CDR) from doing business in India for ten years. The companies were blacklisted on charges of corruption and the anti-fraud agency Central Bureau of Investigation is probing the charges.

On the delays in the procurement of Howitzer guns, former Indian Army Chief had said, “The procurement game is a version of snakes and ladders where there is no ladder but only snakes, and if the snakes bite you somewhere, the whole thing comes back to zero.”

Pakistan, meanwhile which began the process of acquiring gun

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