Sandeep Dikshit

BAE Systems SWS Defence "wondering what was left to demonstrate"

Trials began in 2002 with three companies in the frayArmy could be uncomfortable with a single vendor left in the fray and that too one associated with Bofors

NEW DELHI: Companies as well as defence analysts are wondering at the Indian Army's move to summon foreign howitzer manufacturers for trials for the sixth time. BAE Systems SWS Defence (formerly Bofors) said it was "wondering what was left to demonstrate to the Indian Army" after five trials spread over as many years. "I really want to know what is the question so that I can give the right answer. We are in dialogue and discussion with the Indian Army over this issue," the company Chairman Hakan Kangert told The Hindu here.

The trials began in 2002 with three companies in the fray. South Africa-based Denel was blacklisted after it allegedly violated contractual norms in another defence deal. Israeli company Soltam's gun broke down during summer trials in the Pokhran desert.

Analysts feel the army could be uncomfortable with the idea of a single vendor being left in the fray and that too a company once associated with Bofors. It has, therefore, called for re-trials so that Soltam could replace the gun that had broken down. Denel's fate hangs in balance with a Defence Ministry committee set up to examine the case recently submitting its recommendations to Pranab Mukherjee. In case Denel is cleared, it could also participate in the next trials.

They also draw attention to the delay in modernising one of three combat arms of the Indian Army. While the infantry and the armoured regiments are being equipped with modern arms and military platforms, artillery seems to be getting left out. Officers operating the upgraded 130-mm guns have reported teething troubles while the backbone of the artillery still depends on Bofors howitzers bought nearly two decades ago.

Mr. Kangert also denied that the present company has anything to do with Bofors which got embroiled in a bribery case in India. "We separated over 10 years ago. From the image point of view, we don't like it [being associated with Bofors]. The legal part of the company was transferred to the Dutch group, Akzonobel, and is now its subsidiary. That company is involved in the investigations in India. The operational part of the company went to another company and is now a member of the BAE Systems family," he explained.