DRDO chief, arguing for developing a 155mm gun in India

With the Indian Army’s procurement of 155 millimetre towed artillery guns stymied again by CBI strictures against 5 international artillery vendors, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has pointed out that developing an Indian gun would bypass the problematic selection of a gun from the global arms bazaar.
Business Standard has reported (29th July 10, “155 mm gun purchase: DRDO enters the fray”) that the DRDO is joining hands with a private sector company to develop and manufacture an Indian gun. Now, DRDO Director General, Dr VK Saraswat, has explained the rationale for this DRDO decision. He says that, amongst the foreign guns on offer, there is no clear winner. And, given the cutthroat nature of competition for this Rs 8000 crore contract for 1580 guns, a drumbeat of corruption allegations will keep derailing any decision.

Dr Saraswat told Business Standard, “The differences [between competing guns] are miniscule and people would like to exploit those miniscule differences… and [the MoD’s] life becomes more difficult. The [acquisition] process is today back to zero. This is not the first time it has come to zero; this has happened before…. So it is better to develop your own system.

The purchase of artillery guns, the Indian Army’s most crucial component of combat power, was stalled for 16 years by the Bofors scandal of 1987. Restarted in 2003, the procurement process has remained dogged by scandal. Over the years, the CBI has asked the MoD to blacklist five of the vendors whose guns India was evaluating for purchase: Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK); German giant, Rheinmetall; Israel Military Industries (IMI); another Israeli gun-maker, Soltam; and South African major, Denel. BAE Systems, a front-runner in this race, is offering the FH-77B-05 howitzer, a modernised version of the controversial Bofors gun.

“The armed forces felt that this gun system can always be acquired abroad, so why should the DRDO spend time and effort (on developing the gun)?” says Dr Saraswat. “We too thought it better to focus our efforts on [technologies that could be denied to us]. But now, Indian industry and DRDO, along with the army, should make a concentrated effort to cut this Gordian knot.”

Business Standard has learned that the DRDO laboratory that will spearhead the development of an Indian 155 mm gun --- the Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune --- is finalizing its development partners for this project.

This will not be the first time that an Indian consortium will have come together to develop an artillery gun. In the 1950s the so-called Gun Development Team was constituted by the MoD. Functioning from the Ordnance Factory at Khamaria, the Gun Development team oversaw the “Indianisation” of two of the Indian Army’s most successful artillery guns: the 75/24 howitzer; and the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG). Inexplicably, this successful experiment was wound up around the time that the Bofors FH-77B gun was imported.

Since those early days, says the DRDO chief, the Indian private sector has dramatically honed its manufacturing skills. Earlier, only the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) had the technological capability and the facilities to manufacture guns. Today, the DRDO is turning to private sector companies like the Tata Group, L&T and Bharat Forge, while retaining its traditional option, the OFB.

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