INDIA’S HOWITZER UPGRADE HEADING FOR RE-BID
By Bulbul Singh
22 Jul 09. The long delayed Indian Army upgrade of 155mm Bofors guns is heading for a re-bid with BAE Systems the Original Equipment Manufacturer not filing a bid. Sources in the Indian defence ministry said that the Indian Army is in favour of re-bidding the program with watered down qualification requirements.
Bids were sent for the upgrade of 300 pieces of 155mm Howitzer guns worth $400 million to Elbit of Israel, BAE Systems, Mumbai-based Tata
Power and Larsen and Toubro.
While Tata Power has tied up with state-owned Ordnance Factories Board, Larsen and Toubro has yet to formally tie up with another partner
The upgrade will be upgraded to 52 calibre and will have an enhanced range. The upgrade will include replacing the barrel and breechblock and strengthening the under carriage. The barrel upgrade will allow the guns to fire heavier ammunition, inflicting heavier damage on targets.
However, “The qualitative requirements of the upgrade are too ambitious and unrealistic.” said an executive of BAE Systems. While Tata Power is pitching for the gun upgrade, Indian Army officials said neither Tata Power nor Larsen and Toubro have so far done any major job of maintenance or upgrade pertaining to heavy guns. Officials questioned how the two domestic companies can undertake upgrade of the gun with the required targets of upgrade.
Bofors, now owned by BAE Systems, delivered 410 towed howitzers to India from 1986 to 1990 but, following allegations of kickbacks, India froze plans to put the weapon into production and blacklisted the company. Under the deal signed in March 1986, Bofors was to supply 410 field howitzers, spare parts, ammunition of six types, fire-control equipment, and technical literature to India. The Indian government imposed an embargo on Bofors resulting in stoppage of spares.
The gun was successful during the 1999 Kargil battle in the hilly terrain of Jammu and Kashmir but around 100 guns had to be cannibalized in the battle. On the insistence of the Indian Army, the bids were floated for upgrade of the guns
Currently the towed gun has a very quick into-action time of around 50 seconds and can fire up to a range of 30 kilometers and can fire 3 rounds within 13 seconds
The Indian Army has already decided to replace all the existing field guns with 15mm 52 calibre guns but the acquisition process has been too slow although tenders have been floated for wheeled, towed, tracked and Ultra-Light 155mm guns.
The procurement of 155mm guns has been underway since 1999, but the process has still to fructify. In 2005, the procurement process was hit as the government blacklisted, the front-runner, Denel of South Africa, which was allegedly involved in kick-backs.
In June 2009 the blacklisting of Singapore Technologies, IMI of Israel and five other domestic and overseas defence companies by the Indian government has hit hard India’s 155mm/52 calibre Program as the Singapore company was short-listed for the Ultra-light 155mm/52 calibre program.