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By Bulbul Singh

01 Aug 07. Fearing that Bofors may emerge the winner for the procurement of 52 155mm towed guns program, the ruling government in New Delhi has gone for re-bid of 450 Howitzer artillery guns of 155 mm and 52 calibre, so that the procurement is not completed within the tenure of the ruling government in mid-2009.

Bofors had been involved with alleged kick backs in the procurement of Howitzer guns during the tenure of former Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, the husband of Sonia Gandhi who is the Chairperson of the ruling Congress leading the ruling government and some Congress leaders feel, an award to Bofors for the project near the general elections could backfire.

Sources in the Indian defence ministry say that the ruling United Progressive Alliance government wants to intentionally delay the Procurement beyond these elections.

The whole Program is to be re-bid again despite a strong need from the Indian Army to urgently acquire the guns. An Indian Army official said, it will now take another five to six years for the procurement process to conclude and thus the Indian Army would have lost the much needed fire power because of politics.

An Indian defence ministry official however said, the real reason for the re-bid of the guns is that the trials of the guns were not up to the mark. However, Indian Army officials said in private that the guns were performing up to the mark in the trials.

The Indian Army officials said there was no need to re-bid the Program. Fresh trials could have been called from the firms with upgraded systems. The army’s requirements included that the guns should be automated, easy and quick to deploy, easy and quick to fire, armed with a fully automated sight and with an onboard ballistic computer for system accuracy and consistency.

After four rounds of trials Bofors was emerging as the front runner, said sources in the Indian Army, who said they had always feared that politics could blow the procurement away.

Following a global tender in 2001, three companies, SWS Bofors, Soltam of Israel and Denel of South Africa were short listed. However in 2005, after the second round of field trials, Denel was blacklisted by the ruling United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress Party in 2005 on alleged involvement in payoffs.

The fourth and final trials of the guns from Bofors and Soltam were completed at end 2006 in the high snowy terrain of Jammu and Kashmir. Sources say that Bofors emerged as the front runner in the trials. The Indian Army has demanded in the artillery in a phased manner. However the pace of acquisition of the 155 mm guns is too slow and sources in the Indian Army say it is severely hurting the fire power of the Indian Artillery.

The fresh tender is likely to be issued by the year-end and more companies will be given the tender including GIAT from France, Singapore Technologies, Samson from South Korea, Armscor from South Africa, and Israeli Military Industries.

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