New Delhi: The Indian Army is all set to commence a test programme for artillery guns in various versions after receiving fresh bids from foreign companies. The eventual order for a variety of towed, self-propelled and ultra-light howitzers will be a massive Rs15,000 crore and is expected to complete the army's ambitious artillery modernisation plan.
The tenders are designed to plug in existing gaps in the services' mobile, long-range, high-volume firepower. The army is moving ahead with the intention of inducting the new guns from 2010-2011 onwards. With the submission of bids already over, the selection process is now expected to kick off in the coming days.
According to reports, field trials of 155mm/52-calibre towed guns are likely to commence first, sometime in February-March. The tender is expected to be worth Rs8,000-crore and may involve off-the-shelf purchase of 400 towed guns. Indigenous manufacture of another 1,100 howitzers may take place after transfer of technology.
The trials for the wheeled self-propelled howitzers are slated for the period of May-June. This tender is expected to involve 180 guns and may be worth around Rs4,700 crore.
The last component of the overall contract will involve the acquisition of 140 air-mobile, ultra-light howitzers for around Rs2,900 crore. These ultra-light guns will make it possible for the Army to deploy them in forward, inaccessible areas at short notice with the help of helicopters.
There is also a requirement for tracked self-propelled guns for which commercial and technical bids by foreign vendors are due in February.
Earlier attempts by the Army to get its artillery modernized were stymied mainly due to the infamous Bofors scandal of the 1980s. An unprecedented four rounds of trials for towed guns in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 came to naught in 2007. The army chief General Deepak Kapoor has confirmed that the army has not bought a single artillery gun since 1986 when Bofors (the kickbacks scandal) happened. He also said that the army had issued global tenders for all kinds of guns -- towed, ultra-light howitzers, tracked and wheeled self-propelled howitzers. "We are on track now,'' he was quoted as saying.
Bofors, the original Swedish company is now owned by BAE Systems. Its guns and systems are also in the fray along with those of Israeli firm Soltam.