Procurement: The Blame Of India

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February 13, 2012:  For over two decades India has been unable to buy new howitzers for its army. The problem is politics, corruption, and bureaucracy, not a lack of cash or demand. The current crises began in the 1990s, when India decided to buy 1,500 FH77 155mm howitzers from Bofors (Sweden). Then it was revealed that bribes were involved. The Indian procurement bureaucracy is notoriously corrupt and a growing anti-corruption movement was beginning to reveal many of these shakedowns. For military procurement these reformers just frightened the bureaucrats into a form of paralysis. Most of the corrupt officials identified in this case were not convicted but the firms they demanded the bribes from spent time on a blacklist (prohibited from competing for Indian contracts).

In the case of Bofors, only 400 of the FH77s were delivered before the corruption scandal terminated the contract. Bofors was put on the blacklist. All future artillery procurement activities were constantly scrutinized for actual, or suspected, corrupt activity. The Indian Army is still waiting for new howitzers to replace the Cold War era Russian guns that are falling apart. Only 200 of the FH77s are still in working order. An Israeli firm did manage to complete a contract to upgrade some of the old Russian guns. But the Indian artillery is rapidly running out of workable weapons.

There have been over a dozen competitions for new artillery contracts, all of them aborted by incompetent administration or corruption (real or imagined) charges. For example, twelve years ago India planned to conduct field trials of the Bofors FH77BD self-propelled 6x6 artillery system, with the intention of buying at least 300 of the systems. The FH77BD is a truck with an open gun mount and only light armor. This has become an alternative option to the heavier, less reliable, and more expensive to maintain systems that resemble tanks. The FH77BD ran into problems with the bureaucracy and is still "under evaluation."

Ten years ago Denel (South Africa), Soltam (Israel), and Bofors (Sweden) were all bidding on a huge contract for towed 155mm howitzers. The winner would export 200 guns to India and then get royalties and fees to assist an Indian firm in building up to 3,800 more under license. These guns were desperately needed to re-equip 200 artillery battalions (18 guns each) which were using much older guns, most of Cold War (Russian) vintage. That competition has been halted and revived several times, and the army is still waiting for new artillery.

The waiting continues, and the procurement process may only be completed when many of these 200 artillery battalions are featured in the media, via dramatic stories of artillery units with guns that are old, worn out,k and not able to perform. Then again, maybe not even that will be enough. It might take a wartime situation, with the pitiful state of army artillery being directly linked to Indian soldiers getting killed.

 


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