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By Bulbul Singh

15 Aug 13. India’s upgrade of the aging L-70 air defence guns has finally taken off as the state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has been declared the lowest bidder in the $100 million opened early this month. The upgrade of 200 numbers of Swedish made 40 mm L-70 guns with the Indian Army is now pending for over a decade. BEL beat domestic private sector major Larsen & Toubro by a narrow margin. Indian companies, state owned Bharat Electronics Limited, Larsen and Toubro (L&T) Ltd, and Control and Switch Gear (C&S) Ltd along with Tata Power SED participated in the programme.

The tender for upgrade of 200 pieces of 40mm L-70 guns was first issued in 2005, but the process was put on hold because the government contemplated acquiring a homemade successor, which never fructified. Thereafter the Ministry of Defence extended the validity of the commercial bids of the 2005 tender to end 2009.

The upgrade includes incorporation of ballistic computer, thermal sights, replacement of hydraulic drives to digital electronic drives. Besides the upgrade will also include imparting greater accuracy through an improved electromechanical servo actuation system, a laser range-finder system to facilitate automatic target tracking, a state-of-the-art computer and electronic system. Upgrades will also include an electronic fire control system, auto positioning, electronic eye and laser range finder, the ministry official said. Thermal imaging sights and night-vision devices, among other systems, also will be incorporated. The upgrade does not include increase in firing range. Indian Army has 1000 pieces of 40mm L-70 guns. The winter trials of all the competitors was completed in 2010 and the meteorological and laboratory trials were complete3d in 2011 in which all the bidders qualified.

Even after the trials the commercial bids were again put on hold by MOD putting a question mark on the upgrade of the guns. It was only in early August that the bids were opened and the tendering process appears to have got into a final stage. After the contract negotiations with BEL the contract is likely to be inked by the end of the year.

After the 2005 upgrade tender the MOD floated a global tender to find a successor to the L-70 guns but it had to be cancelled because only state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) in partnership with Rheinmetall Air Defence of Switzerland submitted the bid. The bid was rejected on grounds of single vendor situation. Global bids had been floated for the procurement of 180 successors of the L-70 and ZU-23-2B AD gun systems with Transfer of Technology [TOT] and 8,80,200 ammunition with Technology Transfer. Besides, Rheinmetall the tender was given to defence companies in Rumania, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, Italy and Russia.

The successor for the L-70 and ZU 23-2B guns was proposed to be used for protecting vital areas, vital points, of tactical importance of the mountains, plains, desert and semi-desert terrains.

The gun is intended for use in a towed or mounted on a suitable high mobility vehicle configuration. Primarily the gun will be slaved to a fire control radar which will acquire lock on, track and target, compute the gun data and transmit the same to the gun thereby laying it on the future position of the target.

As per the requirements of the Indian Army the guns should be able to engage air targets flying at or above speeds of 300 meters per second up to an effective range of at least 4000m and altitude of 2500m or more. The guns system should have a high rate of fire of 1000 rounds per minute or more with high multiple hit probability on very small targets like drones and missiles. The gun should have a caliber of 30/35 mm. With the cancellation of the successor trial on single vendor basis, BEL has now been selected as the lowest bidder in the extended tender of 2005 in which the guns will finally be upgraded.

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