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By Bulbul Singh

15 Feb 11. The purchase of 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army, already jinxed since the program began in 1999, faces yet another controversy.

The trial data of the M777 Ultra Light Howitzers from BAE System’s U.S. subsidiary through the Foreign Military Sales route has been leaked.

The Indian defence ministry ordered an enquiry into the leak of the documents on February 15, however, the fate of the procurement is at stake. Sources in the Indian defence ministry said, ”The trial report of the Howitzer guns has pointed to over half a dozen slippages in relation to the RFP. The Army Headquarters has ordered the Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI)to conduct an inquiry.

“The ruling United Progressive Alliance government is already on the defensive on account of half a dozen corruption scams.” sources said. The Indian Defence Minister, A.K. Antony will find it extremely difficult to overlook the slippages made in the trial report of the ULH guns. The Indian Army Chief is also known to be cautious when it comes to matters of purchase.

The U.S. government sent two M777 guns for trials and 84 rounds of Indian ammunition were used.

The Indian defence ministry changed the rules and paid for the trials. This was following insistence by United States that India pay for the field trials. The Indian government, as a matter of policy, does not pay for field trials to the vendor and procures all weaponry and equipment on ‘No Cost’ and ‘No Commitment’ basis.

Sources in the Indian defence ministry point to commercial rivalry on the reported leak of documents pertaining to the trials.

The Indian defence ministry decided to buy 145 M777 ULH guns on a government-to-government basis after Singapore Technologies, the other competitor in the race for the program, was blacklisted by the Indian government on alleged charges of bribery in 2009.

An executive of ST Kinetics, a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies, had this to say about how they were squeezed out of competition in 2009, “The RFP for 155mm 39 calibre ULHs was first issued by the Indian defence ministry on 14 January 2008 with an original submission date of 7 April 2008. The submission deadline was extended twice and the final deadline was set on 30 June 2008. The Executive said a six-month period would have provided sufficient time for any serious contender to prepare and put together a proposal that would meet the RFP’s requirements. ST Kinetics abided by the deadline and the tender requirements, and duly submitted a proposal that fully met the RFP requested.”

Singapore Technologies was informed of the postponement of the ULH on the evening of trials in 2009. Singapore Technologies had already hired a C-130 from Lynden Air Charter to transport the equipment from Singapore to India. The equipment arrived in India on 29 May 2009. It was positioned and ready for trials on 5 June 2009. In the evening of the same day, the Indian Ministry of Defence informed ST Kinetics of the trials postponement.

The ULHs, to be used by its mountain artillery divisions, are to be deployed along the Chinese border by the Indian Army.

The Indian government wants the ULH quickly and as such it did not opt for the lengthy competitive route and proposed ordering solely from BAE Systems.

BAE Land Systems bought Swedish firm Bofors that sold 410 155mm howitzers to India in 1986. The army has not bought a single big gun since the last of the Bofors howitzer was delivered in 1987.

The procurement of the ULH is already delayed by over six years, mainly due to blacklisting, first of Denel of South Africa and secondly Singapore Technologies.

The army is to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers, 158 towed and wheeled, 100 tracked, and 180 wheeled and armoured guns in the first phase as part of its field artillery rationalization plan, the programme to upgrade all its artillery

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