Saturday, January 29, 2011

Murky Competitions for Indian Howitzer Orders May End Soon… Or Not

SOURCE DEFENSE NEWS India has marked over $4 billion worth of artillery projects to purchase several hundred new 155mm howitzers. They’re intended to supplement India’s dwindling artillery stocks, while out-ranging and out-shooting Pakistan’s self-propelled M109 155mm guns. It seemed simple enough, and in the main towed artillery competition, BAE Systems Bofors had been competing against systems from Israel’s Soltam and Denel of South Africa.
Unfortunately, that competition and related artillery procurements have mostly served as cautionary tales, years-long affair filled with legal drama, accusations of corruption, and more than one re-start. Meanwhile, India’s stock of operational 155mm howitzers has dwindled to around 200. In 2007, a new towed howitzer RFP was issued, and the competition was expanded. Only to crash again in 2009. Is there an end in sight to any of these competitions? Or a potential winner?

Towed Artillery Competition Saga
US-India Defense and Strategic Affairs reported on the competition in 2004, and noted that this was expected to be one of the first large defense procurement decisions made by India’s new United Progressive Alliance government. The question became whether a decision could be made within that government’s term(s) of office. The answer: no.
The saga is illustrative of the problems India’s defense bureaucracy faced across all of its artillery competitions, as it attempts to field working products before its existing artillery systems expire.
After multiple firing trials and several years, India’s towed artillery competition managed to end up without any competitors left standing. All 3 competitors (Bofors FH-77 B05, Soltam TIG 2002, Denel G5/2000) failed to meet India’s accuracy specifications in 2003 trials, but all 3 improved their guns to compete again in 2004. There are reports that Soltam fell out of the race after its barrel burst during field trials, while South Africa’s Denel was sidelined in 2004 and then eliminated in 2005, after the Indian government accused the manufacturer of corruption in another defense deal.
That created problems on 2 fronts. Denel’s financial situation was deteriorating, and The Times of India reported that the contract may have been critical to the firm’s financial survival. In hindsight, that concern was valid, but Denel managed to survive the loss. A win certainly would have made a significant difference, and might have allowed Denel to delay its major corporate restructuring and associated strategic rethinking for several years.

Bofors’ FH-77B05:
Winner by default?
The other problem involved India’s Ministry of Defence. India’s defense procurement establishment has shown an extreme risk-averse behavior and Defense India observes that when a competition devolves to a single-vendor solution, the practice is often to re-tender.
The resulting dithering was relieved when allegations that Bofors had paid INR 640 million (about $16 million) in bribes to secure the order eliminated the last contender. Bofors Defence AB had been blacklisted by India before, after allegations of kickbacks in a 1987 deal during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime. That scandal had derailed a planned 1,500 gun buy, reducing it to 410 FH-77B howitzers. Fortunately for India, those guns arrived in time to become an iconic feature of the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan.
Those accused in the Bofors case would eventually have their day in court, and win. In April 2007, India re-opened its howitzer competition again, and the passage of time had created a number of changes in its requirements and options. By November 2009, however, the mere allegation of bribery had frozen the competition again, by leaving just 1 eligible contender.
Meanwhile, the support contract with Bofors for India’s in-service howitzers expired in 2001, and India’s stock was believed to sit at just 200 operational 155/39 caliber guns as of January 2009.

The Other Howitzer Competitions

Zuzana SPH
The competition for Indian artillery is actually several competitions.
The competition covered in the previous section involves about $1.8 billion for 400 towed 155/52 artillery guns, to be followed by production of up to 1,180 in India. Current Status: Winter and summer trials planned in 2010. BAE Bofors’ FH77 is currently competing against ST Engineering’s FH-2000.
About $700 million for the ultra-light 155/39 howitzer competition, covering about 140 pieces. These would be portable, towed guns. As noted above, the competition has started and stopped several times.
Current status: 5th RFP is now out. Government may be doing an end-run to buy the M777, as an emergency replacement for dwindling artillery.
About $800 million for about 100 155mm self-propelled tracked guns. The BHIM (Denel G-6 gun on Arjun tank chassis) winner was also terminated in 2006, when Denel was barred following a corruption case. Partner Bharat Earth Movers was the big loser. Another RFP in 2007 failed, as all firms were barred.
Current status: In limbo. Meanwhile, Pakistan began its own process in 2005, and bought 115 tracked M109A5 howitzers from the USA at a very cheap price.
About $900 million for 180 self-propelled wheeled guns.
Current status: Trials postponed to April 2010. RFP responses reported to leave Slovakia’s 155/45 Zuzana system), vs. Germany’s Rheinmetall RWG-52 155/52 system, which uses the PzH-2000 turret.

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