The Indian Army will choose among three foreign contenders for a $2 billion purchase of about 400 155mm self-propelled howitzers after field trials in the Rajasthan desert later this month, an Indian Defence Ministry official said.
The candidates are the Swedish SWS Defense AB FH77B05 L52, the Israeli Soltam TIG 2002 and the South African Denel G5/2000 gun. All three failed to meet India’s accuracy specifications in last year’s trials; all three improved their guns to compete again this year, said an Indian Army official from the artillery directorate.
Last year, each gun fired 350 rounds, besides demonstrating its “shoot and scoot” capabilities and cross-country agility in various configurations, the Army official said.
The Army plans to buy 180 guns immediately, and license the production of the other 220 at Indian facilities. The Army also plans to buy up to 1,500 guns during the next seven to 10 years to convert all of its field batteries to 155mm weapons, according to the ministry official.
The Army decided to buy 155mm howitzer towed guns after the success of the 155mm FH77B howitzer towed gun in the Kargil mountain battle in 1999. The Indian Army wants to be able to outshoot Pakistan’s 150 U.S.-made M109A2 Paladin self-propelled guns.
India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing a hybrid gun by mounting a howitzer turret on the Arjun tank, which is under development.
The agency is negotiating with Denel to buy the firm’s 155mm LIW T 6 turrets, but agency sources said the hybrid is not successful. DRDO officials declined to comment.
The 155mm gun contract will likely be the first big defense deal signed by India’s new Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government, which came to power in April and May elections.
The Congress Party lost power in 1989 in the wake of kickback charges in the purchase of 410 howitzer guns from Bofors AB. Now, its new government is evaluating a gun produced by Bofors’ corporate descendant, SWS Defense.
The Defence Ministry official said SWS will incur no disadvantage for being Bofors’ successor.
But SWS’ two rivals have relations of their own with India’s artillery decision-makers. Soltam upgraded 180 of the Army’s 130mm guns under India’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, under which Israel emerged as the country’s second-largest supplier of defense weapons and equipment. Denel helped the Indian Ordnance Factories Board to build a 155mm ammunition factory.
“The procedure adopted for purchase of the 155mm guns will be an indicator of how the new government will position itself in terms of preferences, and demonstrate its seriousness to complete a defense acquisition deal,” said Semant Harish, a retired Indian Army captain and defense analyst.