Purchase of Ultra Light Howitzers from U.S. also cleared

The Army has finally agreed to acquire the indigenous two-stage ramjet ‘Akash' missile. The ‘in-principle' agreement came at a meeting in the Defence Ministry last week. While the Army has given its nod, induction will depend on the delivery schedule Bharat Dynamics Limited, which makes the missile, is able to maintain. For, the public sector undertaking is already processing orders for six additional squadrons from the Indian Air Force.

Top sources in the Ministry said Army Chief General V.K. Singh gave his ‘in-principle' agreement at a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council. The meeting also gave its final clearance for acquisition of Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH) from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route.

In 2008, the IAF placed orders for two squadrons of the Akash Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile (MR-SAM) for Rs. 1,222 crore. This was the first-ever contract from the defence services for an indigenous tactical weapon system of this class.

In February this year, Defence Minister A.K. Antony announced that the council had cleared an additional six squadrons of MR-SAM for the IAF at a cost of Rs. 5,000 crore.

As the order book is already full, a timeline for the Army inducting the missiles is yet to be determined, according to the sources. Public sector Bharat Electronics Limited is the nodal production agency along with Bharat Dynamics, with a large number of industries in the public and private sectors involved in the manufacturing process.

The ground-based air defence system has an interception range of 30 km at an altitude of 18,000 metres. It has both track and wheeled platforms, and multiple targets handling capacity with a digitally coded command guidance system.

Meanwhile, the move to purchase 140 M777 ULH for the Army from the U.S.-based entity of BAE Systems through the FMS, government-to-government route, was cleared after amendments in the Staff Qualitative Requirements.

The deal, estimated at around Rs. 2,900 crore, will have to go through the grind in Washington, with the U.S. administration seeking Congress permission to sell these howitzers to India.

The Army has been pressing for the ultra light field guns which can be flown across difficult terrain by helicopter. Last year, its quest for procuring these guns through an open tender resulted in a single-vendor, Singapore Technologies, remaining in the fray. However, procurement was put on hold by the Ministry following a CBI probe into allegations of wrongdoings by the company.

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