Army Can Forget About New Towed Artillery

The government’s decision to re-tender the towed artillery competition (450 guns) has come as a deep shock to the Army, notwithstanding indications from the government that it was the Army that had found the trials unsatisfactory and unsuccessful and recommended a re-tender. The Army has never asked for a re-tendered competition ever for any weapon system. Fresh rounds of trials have always been the recourse, but not a completely fresh competition. With the government’s decision to re-tender, the purchase procedure for 400 guns to arm about five regiments gets pushed back by another three-four years. To put that in perspective, this competition began in February 2002.

Anyway, the Army’s broad parameters for the guns were that they should be fully automated, easy and quick to deploy and re-deploy (gun-and-run capability), easy and quick to fire, armed with a fully automated sight and with an onboard ballistic computer for system accuracy and consistency.

After two rounds of trials in 2002 and 2003, the blackballing of South African firm Denel and the elimination of two other firms, the Soltam 155-mm ATHOS 2052 towed gun and the Bofors FH77 B05 L52 were downselected for the third round of trials in late 2004. The parameters that the two guns were tested under included mobility, firing range, firing accuracy and consistency, sustained fire and burst fire, maintenance tests and environmental tests. They were called back for an unprecedented fourth round of trials in 2006, this time the trials took place in November in Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR) and Leh.

I have personally seen the 2006 trial report (the MFFR part) and the 2004 trial report, and in both, the Bofors gun notched up better scores. The propaganda ran thick. What would happen if Bofors got the deal? Would a Congress-led government really be stupid enough to think that it can hand a defence deal to Bofors again? Who cares whether the selection process was fair or not? So what if the Bofors gun is technologically superior to the other competitors? These were questions that were doing the busy rounds last year.

Army chief General JJ Singh assured some of us reporters on the sidelines of a press conference about seven months ago that the artillery deal would shortly be concluded and that the last round of trials had been “conclusive”. He didn’t however say if there would be another round of trials. He was echoing what the Army’s Directorate of Weapons & Equipment (DW&E) had reasonably concluded after four rounds of trials — that while both guns had certain problems, the Bofors one was much simpler to iron out and came closest to set down staff requirements. The Army chief was apprised of this and was therefore clear that the Army’s decision would be taken up by the government.

Obviously the government cannot now say that it has decided to call of the deal because of any other reason except the Army’s dissatisfaction. Did the Army change its mind at the last minute? Possible, but highly unlikely. Maybe it’s really not that complicated at all. Maybe it’s just a sound government well aware that the Bofors scam of 1980s will never lose its vitality. Why give anyone another? Maybe the government simply told the Army that its findings were “unacceptable” and that things needed to be reworked.

What about the Israel factor? It’s all a bit neat. Soltam has much to gain from the re-tendering, as it does the new healthy India-Israel dynamic. Will the new deal really be fair? Maybe the UPA government will be bundled out of office by the time the new tender is concluded. Maybe by that time it’ll have to explain the the huge waste of the Army’s time for nothing. Meanwhile, the Army can neatly fold the artillery rationalisation plan and put it away for “future reference”.

10 thoughts on “Army Can Forget About New Towed Artillery”

  1. It would be great if you can come up with more articles about this Shiv. I think you can divert some of the barbs and bile from DRDO to GoI this time.

    Arty is far more important than any missile system, and its disgusting that the government is willing to destroy our military preparedness just to save their own skins. disgusting vermin!

    Unfortunately, i doubt that you’ll ever do a story on this like you did about DRDO. I wonder why.

  2. sniperz: yes, this subject definitely needs more work. the government/MoD/armed forces should definitely be exposed for their own diseases. if and when i come across information, rest assured i wont think twice about reporting it. when you say you “wonder why”, in a strange way i understand. the default notion about the drdo series remains that it was biased, one-sided and motivated. speaking for myself, i can tell you that i have no biases against anything. i depend on figures, documents, data. clearly the government and armed forces need to be investigated in matters pertaining to defence. and if you’ve ever read the full body of stories i’ve done for the express before (and after) the now eponymous drdo series, you’ll know that i hold no quarter. the government and the armed forces aren’t my friends to protect or not report on. and yes, neither is drdo.

  3. prashanth: yes, the soltam gun did break down during the 2005 and 2006 desert trials during sustained firing. and yes, it isn’t the original bofors in terms of the owners. In the late 1980-ies, Nobel Industries was split up. The Swedish Government, through its wholly owned company Celsius AB took over the defence business. The rest was merged with a Dutch company Akzo Nobel, which remained the contractual counterpart to GOI for the 1986 contract (and thereafter, the scam we know so well). However, as a consequence of the MOU, Celsius agreed with Akzo Nobel to fulfil any requirements from GOI related to the weapon system itself. In 2000, the Celsius group was sold by GOS to SAAB AB, which in turn sold the Weapon Systems Division to United Defense, an American company. In 2005 United Defense was bought by BAE Systems. BAE Systems SWS Defence AB is the subsidiary with the task to handle the business in India, and BAE Systems is today the design authority and the owner of the FH77 artillery technology.

  4. It has been around 8 years since kargil and our politicans will never understand that it was Bofors that saved the day.
    They ended up banning Denel whose gun,probably the most power atillery gun in the world,was to be on the Arjun chasis. What a bloody shame. We lost such a good weapon system.

    Shiv,any news on SPH front. Not that I expect heart warming stuff,but wonder what is IA doing.


  5. It will be thrown out-

    1. Matter is still under consideration.

    2. Trials are still on

    3. Defence matters, ‘official secrets’, ‘state secrets’ excuses can be easily made.

    Ultimately, all the MoD will have to do is stonewall any trial or investigation, and the babus can make the litigant run from pillar to post for information. after all, a PIL is nojoke. you need to have solid grounds to file one , not just newspaper reports.

    And even if it goes to trial, all the Army and ministry have to do is to give some excuse, which the court will have to believe.

    We can try though.

  6. [email protected]:52AM: the SPH gun deal has already been re-tendered, with RfPs to be sent out. the deal was almost through for denel, for its 155-mm wheeled 52-cal gun, but this obviously got scrapped with the company was blackballed in 2005. the new competitors include the soltam wheeled gun, the bofors archer and a few others. that should take a while too.

    Joe: Sniperz is right, a PIL would be discarded instanteously. But might be worth a try!

  7. thanks Sniper/Shiv for the comments. Why i asked this is, i couldnt remember seen any PIL against defense matter, but lot on other GoI decision.

    Did Outlook, Hindu who had somekind of evidence against defence dealings can file PIL ?

    On US India nuclear deal, a scientist filed PIL recently. This was taken for consideration. Wht abt Right to Information act ?


  8. Defence & Intelligence matters are out of purview of the RTI act.

    The US-India deal is ‘civilian’ in nature, and to characterize it as a military issue, will cause some heat, which is probably why it was considered. However, I doubt any sensitive info would have been allowed for release.

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