Defence scandals continue to haunt Army's artillery plans - India - The Times of India
NEW DELHI: First Bofors, then Denel, and now Singapore Technologies. The Army may well have to conduct an exorcism to get rid of the recalcitrant
ghost which continues to haunt its over Rs 15,000-crore artillery modernisation programme.
The government's move to blacklist Singapore Technologies (ST) and six other companies, in the still-erupting corruption scandal around former Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) chairman Sudipto Ghosh, has hit Army's long-derailed artillery programme once again.
For one, ST's Pegasus howitzer was the leading contender to bag its order for 140 air-mobile ultra-light howitzers for Rs 2,900 crore. For another, ST was also a contender in the Rs 8,000-crore project to buy 400 155mm/52-calibre towed artillery guns as well as indigenous manufacture of another 1,100 howitzers after transfer of technology.
"The Pegasus howitzer was, in fact, to be field-tested during this summer in Rajasthan. Our defence procurement policies need a major revamp. Scandals really hit modernisation of armed forces,'' said a senior Army officer.
Army needs ultra-light howitzers to ensure artillery can be deployed in forward, inaccessible areas at short notice with the help of helicopters. In fact, the two new mountain divisions now being raised, with around 15,000 soldiers each, are to be equipped with them.
The new divisions are to be tailormade for swift offensive operations in the mountains of north and northeast India, primarily to counter China's military infrastructure build-up along the Line of Actual Control, as first reported by TOI.
But scandals swirling around defence deals have ensured the 1.2-million Army has not inducted any single new artillery gun for over 23 years now. The last such acquisition was of 410 155mm field howitzers in 1986 under the infamous Rs 1,437-crore Bofors contract inked by the Rajiv Gandhi government.
The kickbacks scandal put paid to Army's aim to plug gaps in its long-range, high-volume firepower. Things began to look up in early-2001 but the entire acquisition process again came to a naught two years ago, after an unprecedented four rounds of field trials in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.
First, the Bofors gun (the original Swedish company is now owned by BAE Systems) performed better than the guns of Israeli Soltam and South African Denel firms in the trials. And then, Denel got blacklisted in 2005 for allegedly paying Rs 20 crore as kickbacks in contracts for supply of 700 anti-material rifles, ammunition and transfer of technology.
The process began afresh last year, with the floating of three global tenders for ultra-light howitzers, towed guns and the Rs 4,700 crore one for 180 wheeled self-propelled howitzers. But the blacklisting of ST has once again put a spoke in Army's artillery wheel.