Army towed guns’ tender jinxed, junked
The Indian Army has issued a Request For Information (RFI) for towed artillery guns, effectively canceling the previous process for procurement of these weapons systems, in which BAE Systems was fielding the FH77 B05, (an upgraded version of the FH77 B02 in service with the army) against Singapore Technologies (ST) Kinetics’ iFH 2000.
The army, which had issued the RFI on Thursday, gave much cause for confusion, by initially alluding to ‘A Self Propelled Gun System mounted on a vehicle chassis such as CEASER 155 mm Self propelled Gun’. The line was deleted on Friday evening, to remove any doubts about the earlier tender process being canceled.
During the day, on Friday, sources in the Ministry of Defense confirmed that the RFI, indeed, indicated a fresh tender for 155 mm/52 caliber Towed Artillery Guns. The reason the ministry gave for this decision was the creation of a single-vendor situation due to the non-appearance of the ST Kinetics’ gun at the trials. The Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP) does not allow procurement if only a single vendor survives the tender process. ST Kinetics had earlier asked for a delay in the trials because the unit it planned to demonstrate in India was damaged in transit. Sources representing ST Kinetics, however, insisted the weapon had been brought to India and was at the Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan, along with the competing BAE Systems’ weapon, awaiting range time for the trials.
Ministry sources did not include as a reason, or allude to, the blacklisting of ST Kinetics in June last year on allegations of corruption and a letter reported to have been sent by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to the ministry, earlier this month, asking for the firm to be blacklisted, besides five others. In the interests of the army’s procurement process, the ministry had waived the blacklisting of ST Kinetics last December for the purpose of proceeding with trials for the tender process, subject to the final report submitted by the CBI.
The canceled tender was for 1580 units, of which 400 were to be purchased off the shelf and the rest 1180, to be license-produced in India by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) after transfer of technology. The Defense Acquisitions Council (DAC) had approved procurement on December 13, 2007 and a Request For Proposal (RFP) was issued on March 26, 2008. The Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) shortlisted the weapons of two firms BAE Systems and ST Kinetics and scheduled the trials to commence from February 27, 2010. This is has not happened so far.
The army is also looking for other types of artillery, albeit in much smaller numbers.
The DAC had approved procurement of 145 units of 155 mm/39 Caliber Ultra Light Howitzers on June 19, 2006 and an RFP was issued to ten global vendors on January 14, 2008. ST Kinetics was the only one to submit a Technical and Commercial Offer for its Pegasus Light Weight Howitzer, on June 30, 2008. The TEC report was submitted to the Director General (Acquisitions) in the Ministry of Defense on March 23, 2009. Since this was, again, a single-vendor situation, the process was put on hold, around the time the company was first blacklisted.
The army has also tried to initiate procurement of light guns through a direct Foreign Military Sale (FMS), with a Letter of Request issued by the ministry on May 19, 2009, for BAE Systems M777 lightweight howitzer. An Indian Army technical delegation visited the US between January 09 and 16 this year for demonstrations of the weapons. The US government has proposed the provisioning of two units for trials and has requested 84 rounds of Indian ammunition for the purpose.A draft Letter of Request is under formulation by the Ministry of Defense for this purpose.
The army is currently holding trials, supposed to have begun on April 27, 2010, for 180 units of 155 mm/52 Caliber Wheeled Self Propelled Guns, which was approved by the DAC on June 19, 2006. The RFP for the weapons was issued on February 04, 2008 and Technical and Commercial Offers were received on June 23, 2008. Konstruckta Defence of Slovakia and Rheinmetall Defence of Germany were shortlisted for trials. Rheinmetall Defence is one of the six firms reported to have been recommended for blacklisting by the CBI earlier this month.
The army had been issued an RFP on August 29, 2008 for 100 units of 155 mm/52 Caliber Tracked Self Propelled Guns, which had been approved by the DAC on February 26, 2008. Eleven vendors had responded to the RFP, but only Rheinmetall Defence submitted a Technical and Commercial Offer, leading to a single-vendor situation, following which the process was canceled. The army then amended its parameters or General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) and issued a fresh RFP.
The Indian Army’s artillery procurement and modernization process has been jinxed since the controversy over the corruption scandal involving Bofors towed artillery procurement in the 1980s with corruption allegations and delays becoming the norm.