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By Bulbul Singh

13 Jul 10. The Indian defence ministry is changing its rules following insistence by the United States that India pays for field trials of the 155mm M777 light howitzer manufactured by BAE Systems. The Indian government, as a matter of policy, does not pay for field trials to the vendor, but, following insistence by the U.S., the Indian defence ministry is now considering paying BAE Systems for the trial.

“The Indian defence ministry, which procures all weaponry and equipment on ‘No Cost’ and ‘No Commitment’ basis, is now changing its rules to pay for the U.S. guns as demanded by the Pentagon,” said a source in the Indian defence ministry.

In January this year the Indian government gave the clearance for the purchase of 145 M777s from BAE Systems under the Foreign Military Sales route (FMS).

However, the Pentagon has told the Indian defence ministry that it will not send the guns for field trials without getting. The Pentagon has argued that all purchases made under FMS would not entail any field trials and thus India will have to pay for field trials.

Sources in the Indian defence ministry said, The government is considering the Pentagon request for payment of trials, making it applicable for purchase on a government-to-government basis. However, the Indian government will not pay for field trials when there is an open competition. The Pentagon had informed the Indian defence ministry that they will supply the guns under FMS without trials and without any modifications.

The Indian government went for direct purchase of the guns from the United States after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) blacklisted six defence companies, including Singapore Technologies, one of the bidders to the global tender. The Indian defence ministry was forced to cancel the tender as Singapore Technologies was blacklisted and the Indian Army wanted the guns at the earliest.

The howitzers are to be deployed along the Chinese border by the Indian Army, to be used by its mountain artillery divisions. Currently, the Indian Army does not have any 155mm light howitzers. BAE Systems bought Bofors which 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.

India’s 155mm gun purchase programme, estimated at over $3 billion, is already delayed by over six years mainly due to blacklisting of Denel of South Africa and 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 divisions.

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