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By Bulbul Singh

In September India decided to enter the market to buy Medium Range Surface Air Missile (MRSAM) Systems for use by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to replace the aging Pechora air defence systems. However, the project has been put in the ‘Buy and Make India’ category which will debar overseas companies to directly compete in the multi-billion dollar programme.

Only the domestic defence companies will be allowed to compete in the tender under the ‘Buy and Make India’ category. However, since none of the domestic companies have the experience of producing a MRSAM, overseas companies will have to team with domestic companies to compete in the project.

“The offering of MRSAM tender to domestic companies is an effort by the government to curtail the open competition route which has led to excessive delays in procurement of weapons and equipment over the years.” say analysts.

The Indian Ministry of Defence has to be extra cautious in its deliberations with the overseas companies directly during the procurement process. By going through the ‘Buy and Make’ route overseas defence companies will be left out of the picture directly though they will be the main development and production force behind any big ticket weapon programme.

The Ministry of Defence has released a Request for Information (RFI), which will be followed by a formal Request for Proposal (RFP). Sceptics say, by offering a big ticket tender to domestic companies who have no previous experience of making hi-tech weapon systems like the MRSAM, the government is only delaying the procurement and at the same time will be able to tell the public in an election year that they are in the market for indigenous weapon and equipment purchases.

These same sceptics say that the Ministry of Defence has failed to take procurement decisions for several defence projects due to its extra cautious approach and now will float tenders only to the domestic companies which will never fructify but be face saving.

The RFI has been sent to Indian companies which will participate in the project including state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL), Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Tata Power SED, Punj Lloyd Ltd, Bharat Forge Ltd., Mahindra Defence Systems and Data Patterns India Private Limited. These companies in turn would forge tie-ups with overseas defence majors including Raytheon of United States, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael, MBDA, Rosoboronexport and Doosan Group of South Korea.

The RFI specification requires that the sensor capability of the detection range of the MRSAM should be more than 200 kilometres and at the same time radar should have the availability of rain clutter rejection capability, atmospheric ionization rejection and compensation capability. The Engagement Envelope requires a maximum range of 70 to 100 kilometres. The system should have the ability to engage targets with a velocity of 1200 meters per second. The vendors will have to specify the kill probability for specified engagement envelope of single and salvo launch. The MRSAM should be able to be transported by IAF aircraft.

The IAF has been demanding a replacement of the aging Pechora system for over ten years. In 2009 an Indo-Israeli joint programme was contracted to develop and produce MRSAM for the IAF. It is being undertaken by the DRDO along with IAI. The $2 billion the project had promised to deliver over 450-plus MRSAMs and 18 firing units with an intercept range of 70 kilometres. The current RFI is in addition to the ongoing Indo-Israeli MRSAM project.

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