The other good news is that the BEML-TATRA issue is at last close to being resolved now (i.e. the OEM’s blacklisting is no longer an option), since a new sales-and-marketing agreement and a brand-new licenced-production programme is now in the final stages of negotiations between BEML and UK-based TATRA SIPOX. Under the latter, firstly the quantum of indigenisation will be significantly increased, and secondly, BEML will establish two regional service centres within India for catering to the depot-level MRO requirements of the 9,000-odd members of the TATRA-T815 family of heavy-duty vehicles that are presently serving with the three amred services of India. This in turn will allow the three armed services to continue using the BEML-TATRA family of heavy-duty vehicles, and will also result in the long overdue orders being placed for new-build vehicles that are required as transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) for the BrahMos-1 Block-3 LACMs as well as for the 29 BEL-built Swathi weapon locating radars, which were ready for service-induction since early this year, but could not be delivered since the TEL issue had not been resolved at that time.
It may be recalled that BEML, through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ravinder Rishi-owned UK-based company, TATRA SIPOX UK, had reportedly surrendered the licenced-manufacturing rights of these all-terrain trucks in 2003. Based on its 1986 and 1997 industrial partnership agreements with the OEMs, BEML had gained exclusive rights to manufacture the trucks in India. However, through an MoU with TATRA SIPOX UK in February 2003, it is alleged that the manufacturing rights were partially surrendered by excluding the truck’s axle. BEML had in 1986 inked a sole-source contract with TATRA AS of the erstwhile Czechoslovakia for the supply of Tatra T815 family of trucks. Simultaneously, under the contract, documents on technological know-how for licence-producing the trucks with progressive indigenous content were also bought for Rs30 million. It was agreed then that BEML would progressively indigenise the trucks and the desired target was fixed at 85% indigenisation by 1991. However, when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, TATRA AS also split into two. While the one manufacturing 70% of the product was renamed as TATRA AS, the other was called VAB SIPOX. The latter was, subsequently, gradually privatised and 80% of the company was taken over by Josef Majsky, who allegedly had prior business links with Ravinder Rishi. During the turbulent phase in the early 1990s, the supply of trucks directly from Slovakia and the Czech Republic was hit, and subsequently Ravinder Rishi’s Venus Projects PLC bagged one order of 100 trucks from BEML. Venus was awarded the contract despite the fact that it was neither an OEM nor its subsidiary, but just a marketing company. In 1994, Venus Projects PLC and TATRA SIPOX allegedly came together to set up TATRA SIPOX UK through a 50-50 partnership. Later, the company was allegedly taken over by Rishi. The Slovak-based company, which had earlier manufactured the truck axle and backbone-tube parts, allegedly started claiming that BEML was incapable of licence-manufacturing the axle as it was a patented product and thus had to be wholly imported off-the-shelf. Consequently, the agreement for the supply of truck components that was renewed in 1997 reinforced the exclusive licenced-assembly rights of BEML in India. Also, it allegedly mentioned that certain technology-transfer documents had been supplied to BEML. However, soon after V R S Natarajan took over as BEML’s CMD, BEML in 2003 entered inked an MoU with TATRA SIPOX UK allegedly excluding the rights to manufacture the truck’s axle, thus partially surrendering the manufacturing rights. BEML had by then had also indigenously developed a prototype of the truck’s axle, but it was not allowed to further develop it and was allegedly forced to import the axle, causing huge losses to the public exchequer. Interestingly, the then Secretary Defence Production had then raised objections asking cancellation of the 2003 MoU. However, the objections were ignored by the MoD.
In another noteworthy development, Vizag-based Hindustan Shipyards Ltd has bagged the contract for building four 500-tonne mini-submarines, which were designed back in the previous decade by Larsen & Toubro. The mini-submarines, to be delivered in the latter half of this decade, will be used exclusively by the Indian Navy’s MARCOS. The combat management systems have been designed and built by TATA Power SED, while Riva Calzoni will be supplying the periscopes and other masts that will host a SATCOM communications systems and LPI navigation radar. The sonar suite is likely to be supplied by ATLAS Elektronik.
Finally, graphic evidence has emerged once again (the previous one was three years ago during the premature commissioning of the IAF’s Phalodi AFS) on how the MoD and the IAF HQ have been adopting an utterly callous attitude when it comes to flight safety. The PIB-released photo yesterday (http://pib.nic.in/photo/2013/May/l2013052747449.jpg) and uploaded below, showing a Su-30MKI taking off from the just-commissioned Thanjavuram AFS, clearly shows the shocking and incomplete state of landscaping of the tarmac areas, which in turn gives rise to the high number of FOD-related incidents recorded thus far for the IAF’s inventory of Su-30Ks and Su-30MKis since the late 1990s. It goes without saying that given the IAF’s penchant for resorting to curved takeoff and landing patterns with its Su-30MKIs, the practice of prematurely commissioning of air bases with incomplete earthworks, landscaping and other infrastructure-related construction activities needs to be put an end to with immediate effect. For if not, then the MRO-related expenditures incurred for the IAF’s existing and project combat aircraft fleets can only be expected to register steep increases in future.