Singaporean light howitzers enter India despite ban

June 24th, 2009 - 5:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) India recently received a consignment of 155 mm light howitzers from Singapore Technologies (ST) Kinetics despite a temporary ban on procurements from the company and six others on corruption charges, a leading defence journal says.
The 35 cartons of “cargo” that landed in Mumbai on May 29 were booked from Singapore by air charter service Chapman Freeborn, which confirmed the shipment, Aviation Week said.

The air charter service is believed to have hired a Hercules C-130 from a Quebec charter company with ground handlers Freedom Air, which obtained permission from the Indian defence ministry and the Director General of Civil Aviation for the consignment, which was cleared by May 31.

“It is not clear if the guns were sent for trials. However, if there was a ban on the company, one cannot fathom how the defense ministry allowed them in,” the magazine quoted a defence analyst here as saying.

“This puts a cloak on the transparency talk of the government,” he added.

Taking a proactive stance against corruption, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had ordered acquisitions from seven companies - including Singapore Technologies - named in a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) report on May 17 charging a former director general of the Ordance Factories Board with corruption “to be put on hold until further notice”.

In response to a request for proposals (RFPs), Singapore Technologies was the only vendor left to offer its lightweight 155mm howitzer - the Pegasus SLWH - which is self-propelled and is transportable by the C-130 and the CH-47 helicopter.

However, it is not as light as competitor BAE Systems’ M777, which pulled out of the bidding on grounds it had inadequate time to study the details within the three-month deadline.

“We are keen to be in the competition, as we know we have the best weapon and the lightest in the world,” BAE spokesperson Guy Douglas said.

The M777 weighs 3,745 kg. Two can fit inside a C-130, ready to operate on landing, which means the barrel does not have to be removed. It has been selected by the US Army and Marine Corps as their medium force weapon.

Since BAE was unable to pursue the RFP route, it is likely to approach the government via the US Foreign Military Sales route once there is clarification on India’s intentions over which guns it plans to purchase, one analyst told Aviation Week.

Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor said June 13 that the ban on Singapore Technologies would delay Indian plans to acquire light howitzers for modernising its artillery.

The other six banned companies are Israeli Military Industries, BVT Poland and Media Architects of Singapore and three Indian companies - T.S. Kishan and Co., R.K. Machine Tools and HYT Engineering Co.

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