It was in the early 1990s that the Indian Army’s (IA) Directorate of Artillery had realised that technological advancements in wheeled all-terrain vehicles had made the wheeled/motorised self-propelled howitzer a viable option, be in the plains, in the mountains, semi-desert or desert terrain. Accordingly, the IA’s first GSQR for a potential 155mm/45-calibre wheeled/motorised self-propelled howitzer (SPH) procurement programme, formulated in 1994 and amended in 1998 (which resulted in breaking down the requirement into two questionable components: 180 wheeled SPHs and 814 motorised SPHs, with the latter requirement being renamed as the Mounted Gun System, or MGS). This was further amended in November 2001 to change the desired calibre length from 45-calibre to 52-calibre for both types of SPHs.
Prior to that, in June 1999 during the conduct of OP Vijay against Pakistan, Lt Gen Shamsher S Mehta, the IA’s then Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Planning and Systems), in an ‘out-of-the-blue’ incident, had proposed the outright leasing of 40 Denel Land Systems/LIW-made G-6 Rhino 155mm/45-calibre wheeled SPHs, with the eventual aim of procuring 180 new-build G-6s under a sole-source contract devoid of any competitive bidding process once OP Vijay had ended. This unsolicited proposal, which then moved rapidly and mysteriously upwards within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for approval, stressed the dubious and questionable ‘commonality’ factor between the G-6 and the tracked Bhim 155mm/52-calibre SPH—the latter being developed since 1995 by the MoD-owned and Avadi-based Combat Vehicles R & D Establishment. Eventually, the IA’s proposal to first lease and later buy the G-6s off-the-shelf was fortunately rejected by the MoD’s Finance Department as being impractical and too costly. In a parallel event, consequent to the MoD lifting its ban on procuring products and services from Sweden-based Celsius Group, the latter informed IA HQ in September 1999 that the only wheeled SPH available from its stable was the 155mm/39-calibre FH-77B05L39 mounted on a Volvo 6 x 6 truck. In addition, IA HQ was also told that Celsius Group (now owned by BAE Land Systems) had a prototype of a 155mm/45-calibre wheeled SPH in an advanced stage of development. After considering these proposals, the then Chief of the Army Staff (Gen Ved Prakash Malik) had in October 1999 approved the proposal for procuring an initial 210 units of the 155mm/45-calibre MGS meant solely for deployment along the LoC and LAC. The main argument of IA HQ in favour of this proposal to issue RFP exclusively to BAE Land Systems was the saving of ToT-related costs, facilitation of easy absorption of technologies and ease of operations and logistics support for the system. However in March 2000, MoD asked Army HQ to define its need in terms of the required quantum of towed/truck-mounted howitzers and whether they ought to be of 45- or 52-calibre or both.
Subsequently, India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS), in June 2001, approved the procurement through competitive bidding of 180 155mm/52-calibre wheeled SPHs. Subsequently, an RFP was issued in January 2002 to 11 international vendors, of which technical offers from five vendors were received. Of these, the offer from only Denel Land Systems/LIW was found to comply with the GSQR and was consequently recommended for induction into service. However, due to the MoD imposing a ban on all dealings with Denel Land Systems in June 2005, the MoD terminated this procurement process in July 2005. Subsequently, the MoD’s Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) in June 2006 decided to procure 210 wheeled SPHs and its RFP was issued in February 2007 to 29 international vendors, but only one vendor--Konstrukta Defence of Slovakia teamed with BEML--submitted its technical offer. Due to a single-vendor situation, this RFP too was retracted. A fresh RFP was issued by IA HQ in February 2008 to five vendors and the field-trials (for evaluating mobility and firepower parameters) of wheeled SPHs from two vendors—Konstrukta Defence’s Zuzana and Rheinmetall Defence Systems’ RTG-52—were in progress on a no-cost no-commitment basis by June 2010 and were concluded by May 20, 2011 at altitudes of 3,700 metres in the Karbuthan Field-Firing Range in Kargil and Mahe Field-Firing Range in Ladakh, and at the Mahajan Field-Firing Range in Pokhran.
However, in September 2011, the MoD indefinitely suspended the Rs.4,726-crore RFP for buying 180 wheeled SPHs after allegations surfaced about manipulations in the evaluation processes of the field-trials. IA HQ had submitted its trials report to the MoD in August 2011, but an anonymous and widely- circulated letter of complaint alleged a cover-up in the defects of one of the competitors—Konstrukta Defence/BEML. Signed by ‘a group of concerned officials’, the letter alleged that the IA covered up the fact that the Zuzana’s barrel had exploded during field-trials at Pokhran in July 2010. IA HQ subsequently confirmed this incident and stated that the defective barrel was replaced by the OEM. The MoD’s Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) submitted a report to IA HQ four months after the incident and the report pin-pointed faulty 155mm ammunition made by the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) as being the cause of the barrel’s premature shearing. However, the anonymous letter of complaint sent to the MoD had contained an attached copy of an internal test report from a DGQA laboratory that certified that ODB-supplied defective ammunition was not at fault.
Regarding the MGS, on February 18, 2002 IA HQ issued RFPs to five foreign OEMs for an initial 300 units (comprising an off-the-shelf purchase of 180 units and the supply of 120 units in knocked-down condition for equipping 40 Regiments) and invited them to subject their products to firepower/mobility field-trials on a no-cost no-commitment basis in India starting April 2002. The RFP recipients included BAE Land Systems’ SWS Defence subsidiary (formerly Bofors AB) with its FH-77BD/Archer, Denel Land Systems/LIW with its T-5-52 Mk2000 Condor, GIAT Industries (now Nexter Systems) with its Caesar, and Soltam Systems with its ATMOS. However, both SWS Defence and GIAT Industries declined to take part in these competitive trials as they had then suspected the MoD and IA HQ to have already decided to award the contract to Denel Land Systems/LIW. Consequently, only the ATMOS and T-5-52 Mk2000 arrived in India for field-trials on a no-cost-no-commitment basis, but the IA’s total preoccupation with OP Parakram at that time resulted in the field-trials being postponed indefinitely.
As of now, IA HQ has decided to combine the requirement for both wheeled SPHs and MGS into one unified requirement (which should have been done way back in the late 1990s itself!) and last month issued a RFI seeking technical offers of 155mm/52-cal MGS from interested international OEMs teamed up with Indian industrial vendors. It is believed that the respondents are likely to be Nexter Systems teamed with Larsen & Toubro (offering the Caesar), BAE Systems teamed with Mahindra Defence offering the FH-77BW L52 Archer, Serbia’s Yugoimport SDPR teamed with Punj Lloyd offering the Nora-B52K1, Krauss Maffei-Wegmann teamed with Ashok Leyland offering the 22.5-tonne AGM (on a 6 x 6 truck), and DENEL Land Systems teamed with TATA Power SED offering a customised version of the T-5-52 Mk2000 Condor.
By the time matters graduate over to the RFP issuance stage, IA HQ is most likely to lean in favour of MGS offers that show them to, firstly, already be in series-production for an established client-base, and which are likely to promise maximum indigenisation through the licenced-production of up to 950 units, since the initial 44 units of the selected MGS will be imported off-the-shelf.
Consequently, only three (Caesar, FH-77BW L52 Archer and Nora-B52K1) of the five above-mentioned products will qualify as the shortlisted contenders. Of these, the undisputed market-leader is the 17.5-tonne Caesar (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3s7gfO8M08) that uses a Soframe/Unimog 6 × 6 truck which can easily be accommodated within transport aircraft like the Indian Air Force’s C-130J-30 Super Hercules. To date, France’s Armée de Terre has ordered 72 Caesars, while the Saudi Arabian National Guard has ordered 132 (along with six simulators), six units have already been delivered to the Royal Thai Army, while in November 2012 Indonesia ordered 37 of them.
The 30-tonne FH-77BW L52 Archer (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leYCwU7B8jI & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2D5DRdsRCyA) comes mounted on a modified Volvo A30D 6 x 6 articulated all-terrain hauler. Confirmed orders for this MGS have to date been placed by Sweden (for 24 units) and Norway (24 units). The Archer is the only available MGS that comes armed with a Lemur remote weapon system (RWS), comprising a gyro-stabilised, fragment-protected day/night sight with a 7.62mm general-purpose machine gun that is installed on the roof of the cab. In addition, the Archer (like the Caesar) comes along with Sagem’s compact, standalone ULISS 30XP topographic positioning system that provides accurate decametric-class positioning of indirect artillery systems that do not have embedded navigators. It can also set metric-class topographic points to realign the navigation of navigator-equipped weapons systems. Lastly, it enables the elaboration of high-precision centimetric-class points for mapping or geodesic use. ULISS 30XP guarantees these levels of performance, even without GPS, so as to meet mission integrity requirements. It can easily be mounted on any light, 4-wheel drive type vehicle and operated by a small team. ULISS 30XP is based on Sagem’s Sigma 30 RLG-based inertial navigation system, in a Sigma 30XP version dedicated to topographic applications. An integrated theodolite enables the positioning of remote reference points and a touch-screen offers a user-friendly way of ensuring mission progress and displaying the measurements required by the command. It uses combat-proven components, such as the Sigma 30 unit and the CDU 2G control and display unit.
Lastly, Yugoimport SDPR’s Nora-B52K1 (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMH8lFEKYPU) comes mounted on a KamAZ 63501 8 × 8). To date, 30 units are in service with Myanmar’s army, while Bangladesh last year ordered an initial 18 units along with three ULISS 30XP topographic positioning systems.
The one offer that most certainly will not be entertained will be the T-5-52 Mk2000 Condor, which has been dubbed as being 55% indigenous by content, and which was jointly developed by TATA Power SED and South Africa’s DENEL Land Systems to meet an Indonesian requirement. Essentially a re-engineered version of the T-5-52 Mk2000 Condor (which was first showcased in-country during DEFEXPO 2002 along with SOLTAM Systems’ ATMOS, with both of them at that time making use of a TATRA-built truck), the latest ‘avatar’ of this weapon system was unveiled in March/April 2012 at the DEFEXPO 2012 expo at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. At that time, TATA Power SED officials seemed confident of exporting this MGS to Indonesia. DENEL Land Systems supplied the monoblock gun barrel fitted with a double baffle muzzle brake, gun cradle with an integrated buffer system, swing-and-slide breech mechanism, electrically activated firing mechanism, autoloader/rammer, ballistics charts, muzzle velocity radar, an automatic laying and land navigation system using a RLG-INS, a panoramic optical-mechanical sight mounted directly to the trunnion, incorporating a compensation system for trunnion cant, which forms a backup for indirect fire, and a telescopic sight for direct fire that is mounted to the compensation system. TATA Power SED, on the other hand, developed the digital ballistics computer, telecommunications system, the hydraulic system that supplies hydraulic power for deployment of the outriggers and the top-carriage hydraulics, all on-board electrical systems, the gun management computer, and the ‘Rajak’ driver’s vision enhancement system. The customised 8 x 8 truck comes from TATA Motors.
Overall, TATA Power SED’s solution is being touted as being the cheapest option, a claim that will easily be decisively contested by the likes of other contenders like the Nexter Systems/Larsen & Toubro partnership and the Yugoimport SDPR/Punj Lloyd partnership. Moreover, a simple visual comparison between TATA Power SED’s solution and the Caesar reveals that the latter’s overall design is superior as it can be airlifted by transporters like the C-130J-30. In addition, the Caesar has also been combat proven in both Afghanistan and along the Thai-Cambodian border.
Coming now to the RFI, there are some laughable observations that I have noted and which are worth highlighting. Firstly, the RFI’s page 4 asks about charge-bags, when it is a known fact-of-life that all yet-to-procured field artillery howitzers of the IA will use only bi-modular propellant charges or BMPC (comprising both high-zone modules and low-zone modules) that the DRDO’s HEMRL has already developed for IFG Mk2 105mm light guns, M-46 130mm field guns and all types of 155mm howitzers. Secondly, on the same page, it asks if the MGS is compatible with current types of ammunition used by the IA. This question, to say the very least, is hilarious, since all types of 155mm rounds now being produced by the OFB are fully compliant with the Quadrilateral Ballistics Agreement (originally signed by the US, the US, Italy and Germany and later adhered to by all manufacturers of 155mm howitzers and their ammunition and BMPCs) and the Joint Ballistic Memorandum of Understanding (JBMoU), both of which ensure that one nation could fire other nations’ ammunition and BMPCs from its own 155mm howitzers with known ballistics tables. The HEMRL-developed eight-zone charge system, like its global counterparts, uses triple-base propellant and is divided into three separate cartridges, containing zones 1 and 2, 3 to 7 and 8, respectively. The charge system is ballistically balanced, and has a clean combustion.
Thirdly, the RFI makes no mention of the need for items such as integral, vehicle-mounted remote weapons station and driver’s night-sight (both of which are imperative when the MGS is deployed for mountain warfare), standalone topographic positioning system, meteorological station (of the type already operational with Smerch-M and Pinaka-1 MBRL Regiments, with the former using Russia-supplied hardware while the latter uses hardware supplied by Avibras of Brazil), and firing simulators.
Lastly, there is the RFI for 6 x 6/8 x 8 trucks issued last October by the MoD-owned Indian Ordnance Factories’ Jabalpur-based Gun Carriage Factory, which has initiated a project for developing an indigenous MGS—supposedly a truck-mounted version of the 155X45 towed 155mm/45-calibre howitzer that is now being developed. When it is abundantly clear that the IA will not accept anything short of a 155mm/52-cal MGS, one wonders why exactly has the MoD allowed the IOF’s GCF to issue such a ridiculous RFI.
And when it comes to fuzes for all types of tube artillery rounds and air-delivered bombs in use by India’s armed forces, do rest assured that they are all imported from Reutech Fuchs Electronics of South Africa through ECIL. The images below confirm this beyond any shadow of doubt.