Bids received for towed, light howitzers; trials in February

January 13th, 2009 - 8:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 13 (IANS) In a development that would push the Indian Army’s decade-old modernization plan of its artillery, overseas vendors have submitted bids for 180 155mm/52 caliber towed and light howitzers and the trials are expected to commence in February or March, a senior official said Tuesday.The defence ministry had issued the request for proposals (RFPs) for three variants of the howitzers - light, wheeled and self-propelled - a year ago.

“The procurement process for the towed and light howitzer is proceeding as planned. Bids have been received from all the vendors and trials of the guns are planned in February or March,” the senior army official told IANS.

The bids for the 120 self-propelled howitzers are due in February. The entire deal is valued at $2 billion.

“The trials for self-propelled howitzers are planned in May-June,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The eventual contract is to include transfer of technology to build the howitzers in India.

The army is seeking to purchase some 400 pieces of the 155mm/52 calibre howitzer to ramp up depleting stocks of a similar number of guns it had bought from Swedish manufacturer Bofors in the mid-1980s.

“Of these, 140 will be light howitzers that will be spread over seven regiments. Because of advances in metallurgy, this version, as its name implies will be lighter while performing the same as the other two versions,” another officer explained.

The remaining guns will be of the towed and self-propelled variants.

That original deal had been mired in controversy over allegations that Bofors had paid Rs.640 million ($16 million) in bribes to secure the order. The army’s inventory has now dwindled to some 200 guns due to wear and tear.

The Supreme Court has absolved all those accused in the case but the Bofors taint continues, even though the gun has come out on top in a series of field trials held over the past few years. The last of these was in the icy heights of Leh in November 2006.

The fresh tendering has been necessitated as Defence Minister A.K. Antony is said to have asked for the selection process to be made more broad-based as only the Bofors gun remained in contention after the other two were eliminated.

The Israeli Soltam fell out of the race after its barrel repeatedly burst during field trials, while a third gun, the South African Denel, was dropped after the Indian government accused the manufacturer of corruption in another defence deal.

The Bofors gun with its ’shoot and scoot’ capability had proved its mettle during the 1999 Kargil operation when the army went into action to evict Pakistani infiltrators from the Himalayan heights.

Even before the army had publicly acknowledged the utility of the gun in 1998, the government of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had reopened negotiations for the purchase of additional Bofors guns.

The return to power of the Congress in 2004 changed the complexion of the issue because it was during late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s time that the original deal was negotiated. The Congress, in fact, had been voted out of power in 1989 on the Bofors issue.

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