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

With the Indian Army’s procurement of 155 millimetre towed artilleryguns stymied again by CBI strictures against 5 international artilleryvendors, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has pointed out thatdeveloping an Indian gun would bypass the problematic selection of agun 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 privatesector company to develop and manufacture an Indian gun. Now, DRDODirector General, Dr VK Saraswat, has explained the rationale for thisDRDO decision. He says that, amongst the foreign guns on offer, thereis no clear winner. And, given the cutthroat nature of competition forthis Rs 8000 crore contract for 1580 guns, a drumbeat of corruptionallegations will keep derailing any decision.

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

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

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

Business Standard has learned that the DRDO laboratory that willspearhead the development of an Indian 155 mm gun --- the ArmamentResearch & Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune --- is finalizingits development partners for this project.

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

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

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