India's plan to encourage the development of arms and ammunition for the defence forces has encouraged the private sector with domestic defence production companies including Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED entering the fray to locally develop the Indian prototype of the 155mm Bofors artillery gun system.
The Indian Army wants to replace the ageing Bofors guns procured in the 1980s but has failed to buy a single howitzer in the past 13 years because an international tender for 155mm/52-calibre guns earlier was aborted over the blacklisting of overseas competitors on charges of corruption.
The companies are eyeing orders worth $4 billion from the Indian Army that wants to replenish its dwindling artillery stocks. The sheer size of the order has pushed these companies into launching their indigenous research and development even without the knowledge whether their technology would be approved for induction by the user.
“We have indigenously developed a prototype of the 155mm gun that has passed several operational tests at our level. This would certainly be offered to the Indian Army after getting necessary certification from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO),” said Baba N Kalyani, chairman of the Kalyani Group. Bharat Forge is part of the Kalyani Group.
“What India lacks is the ability to convert designs into manufactured products. This is where the Kalyani Group comes in. Building an artillery gun system is largely about materials, forgings and manufacturing. Bharat Forge has the capacity to deliver,” he added.
The Kalyani Group has invested about R100 crore on building artillery guns, armoured vehicles and unmanned ground vehicles. Bharat Forge has separately formed a venture with a unit of Elbit Systems to bid for the Indian Army’s contracts including for towed guns, mounted guns and the upgrade of 130mm artillery guns.
“We have already fielded two major systems — one-tracked gun and one-towed gun system,” said MV Kotwal, president (heavy engineering), L&T. With Samsung Techwin, L&T has also developed a desert gun which will be offered to the army as well as explore its potential in other countries. L&T has tested its guns in private ranges, but is yet to get the nod for user trails.
In 2012, Tata Power SED, the defence arm of the $100-billion Tata Group, began working on its 'mounted gun project'. The prototype gun was rolled out of the company's facility in Bangalore's Electronic City area in that year. These guns will spearhead the group's bid for the army's requirement for 814 mounted gun systems. But even this technology is yet to pass the muster of the user before the technology is validated for use by the defence forces.
The government's attempt to procure these guns through a global tender came a cropper over bribery scandal involving firms like Rheinmetall of Germany, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, Soltam and Denel of South Africa. This has pushed the government to look at indigenous development of these guns.
As part of the government's initiative, the state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) has developed prototypes of 155mm/45-caliber Bofors-type howitzers based on the blueprint of 155mm/39-calibre guns, but that had failed in field tests.
An army official said the defence services are disappointed over the delay in acquiring the guns, adding that the effort by OFB to find an alternative appears to have fizzled. The official added that efforts should be made to acquire the howitzers on a government-to-government basis to expedite procurement.
(By: Financial Express)