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By Bulbul Singh

04 Aug 10. Indian scientists claim they can design and develop indigenous 155mm guns, beginning with the Towed variety. The proposal has been sent to the Indian defence ministry through India’s DRDO defence research agency.

DRDO claims that a tie-up with an overseas defence producer can help them meet their dream of designing and producing 155mm guns, for which the Indian Army has a requirement for a variety of such guns at an estimated cost of around $6 billion.

The Indian Army’s programme to procure 155mm guns has been jinxed and after nine years the procurement process has been stopped on several occasions due to blacklisting of overseas defence companies which, incidentally, had been lead runners in the programme.

The DRDO has started work in designing and developing 155m guns at its Pune-based laboratory, Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE). DRDO is partnering with private sector defence companies including Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Mahindra Defence Systems, Bharat Forge Ltd, and Tata Motors.

DRDO scientists say ARDE could develop a world-class 155-mm gun within three to three and a half years. The Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory, in Hyderabad, would develop special alloys and materials for the gun. Ammunition would be tested at the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Balasore, Orissa. Warheads would be tested at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL)n Chandigarh.

There is thinking in the Indian defence ministry that DRDO should be allowed to go ahead with the development of 155mm guns alongside the procurement process. This opinion suggests that the gun could be developed in stages and improved over time.

However, the Indian Army is not impressed with the DRDO idea, said sources and they say the 155mm gun programme could go the same way as the Arjun tank overshooting schedules by decades.

Sources added that the Indian Army is also thinking of changing its overall demand requirements for 155mm guns, and the qualitative and quantitative mix of artillery is being re-worked.

Late last month the Indian defence ministry cancelled the tender for 155mm towed guns and issued a fresh Request for Information (RFI) to procure guns at an estimated cost of around $1.6 billion; 400 guns will be purchased off-the-shelf while the remaining 1180 guns will be license-produced in India.

Singapore Technologies, BAE Systems and Rheinmetall were in the running but the defence ministry resorted to the cancellation of the tender as Singapore Technologies and Rheinmetall were blacklisted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on alleged charges of corruption involving the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board(OFB)which manages India’s 40 weapon factories. In May 2009 former Chairman of OFB Sudipta Ghosh, was sacked, for allegedly demanding and accepting illegal gratification from foreign companies.

Whether the DRDO is allowed to make its own 155mm gun, or fresh tenders invited to procure these guns from overseas, the Howitzer programme is now accepted to be jinxed since the mid 80’s when the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was named in the alleged Bofors gun scam which still casts its shadow.

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