“Arms purchase process cannot be manipulated”

The Army has ordered an inquiry into the leakage of a secret field evaluation trials report on the Ultra Light Howitzer (ULH) guns that were being procured from the United States. The process will be on hold till the inquiry is over.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Tuesday told correspondents on the sidelines of a function here that the Army direction came from the "highest level".

Reports said some pages of the secret document were sent to the Army headquarters with the suggestion that the deal, being processed under the foreign military sales, government-to-government route, be cancelled.

Utmost care needed

Mr. Antony said that as the nation embarked on major programmes to modernise the armed forces by earmarking up to $ 10 billion for capital acquisitions annually in an atmosphere of stiff competitions, utmost care should be taken to ensure that nothing went wrong.

The Minister was responding to questions on the processes both in the light of a latest incident and late last year's curious case of a ‘lost and found' file of offsets pertaining to the procurement of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

“Nobody will be able to manipulate the process…at every stage we will be transparent…all will be informed,'' the Minister said adding the government was expected to take a decision on the MMRCA in few months.

Earlier, Mr. Antony had announced that the deal should be signed in the next financial year.

In January last year, the U.S. Department of Defence notified the U.S. Congress about the possible sale of 145 M777 155mm 39 calibre towed gun worth approximately $ 647 million. The gun was to be supplied by the BAE systems.

Trials were held by the Army in the hilly terrains of Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir. The guns, each weighing some 4,200 kg, can be transported over the mountains slung under helicopters. The government had paid for bringing the gun for trials.

Plans to procure the gun through multi-vendor system fell through after procurement from S.T. Kinetics of Singapore was put on the hold following a CBI probe into allegations of bribery against the company. At the function, the Minister presented the 2011 Republic Day Best Marching Contingent trophies to the Indian Air Force (Services category) and to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (police/para-military forces category).

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