In a five month period that has given India’s heavy gun modernisation agenda two deals after three whole decades of a crippling post-Bofors paralysis, the idea of Make in India has definitely acquired some sheen. In November last year, the Indian government, after years in suspense, concluded a deal with the BAE Systems-Mahindra partnership to build M777 ultra-light guns in India. On Friday, another Indian private sector giant L&T formally entered into a partnership with South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin for India’s second big gun deal. The deal has already created its share of buzz for what is being seen as a record of sorts.
The first lot of the of the 100 K9 VAJRA-T tracked, self-propelled artillery gun will be delivered to the Indian Army within the next 11 months. This will not only boost the firepower of strike formations in the plains and the desert but also mark the quickest procurement or a major weapon system for the Indian military. The time frame of under six years from global tendering to contract is revolutionary for India’s defence procurement process which is notorious for its glacial pace.
A partnership signing ceremony here today between L&T and South Korean Hanwha Techwin for executing the programme set the stage for the inking of the Rs 4,600 crore (710.86m USD) contract with the Ministry of Defence which is expected next week. The Cabinet Committee on Security has already approved this deal. The 155 mm, 52 calibre guns will be supplied by L&T, with Hanwha Techwin as the technology partner. All 100 guns will be supplied in under 42 months from the signing of the contract.
The deal also marks the arrival of South Korea as a major defence supplier to India. Korean Defence Acquisition and Production Minister Chang MYoung-Jin was present at this ceremony on a day that the two countries also announced an Inter-Governmental MoU for cooperation in military shipbuilding.
The deal envisages 50 per cent indigenous content. “(Of the 100 guns) 90 will be assembled in India. The first lot of 10 will be built in Korea with 80-to-90 per cent Korean content,” disclosed Hanwha Techwin CEO Shin Hyun-Woo at Friday’s signing ceremony with L&T. The final assembly of the first lot will be at L&T’s Strategic Systems Complex at Talegaon near Pune in Maharashtra. India’s largest private sector defence and aerospace company will produce and assemble the remaining 90 at a greenfield manufacturing line at Hazira in Gujarat which will also have a state-of-the-art test track and facilities to test and qualify the K9 VAJRA-T guns.
“We hope to deliver the first gun this financial year,” announced Jayant Patil, L&T’s head of Defence and Aerospace. His confidence stems from the “co-development” of a prototype for field trials within 18 months of the RFP being floated.This has set new deadline benchmarks for fielding a prototype with foreign assistance to meet Indian GSQRs, claimed Patil. “This programme shows the way forward. Two years is enough time to develop a weapon system,” he said. “There were 13 Indian systems in this prototype,” said Patil. The VAJRA-T is a variant of the highly successful K9 Thunder modified for Indian conditions. One thousand K9 Thunder guns have already been sold thus far.
Significantly, the most critical parts of the gun – the barrel and breach – will be imported. “It’s not viable to produce the barrels in India for an order of just 100 guns. We can make this happen in larger programmes like towed guns,” said Patil, claiming that a capability to produce nuclear-grade steel makes barrel production for artillery guns a distinct possibility for L&T.
The L&T-produced indigenous systems on the gun will include the fire control system, hull, turret, electronics, NBC systems, auto loaders, air conditioning and direct fire systems. The VAJRA-T was declared the sole qualified gun after user evaluation trials at Pokhran. The Russian competitor could not meet the requirements. Among the 13 Indian systems on the winning prototype was a fire control system to cater to a huge mix of Indian ammunition.
The deal is being described as a “step higher than licensed production”. “It will be an Indian product made made in an Indian factory,” claimed the L&T executive.
Korean Minister MYoung-Jin described the gun deal as a milestone which would provide “momentum to Make in India and the strategic defence cooperation between the two countries”.
By VISHAL THAPAR / Livefist Contributor