India invites bids for $2.4bn artillery contract

Published November 22, 2014
US Marines man pintle-mounted M2HB machine guns. – Wikimedia commons
US Marines man pintle-mounted M2HB machine guns. – Wikimedia commons

NEW DELHI: India on Saturday invited bids for a $2.4 billion artillery deal while deferring a decision on acquiring 106 Swiss Pilatus aircraft for fighter pilot training.

The bid for 814 mounted guns is the first big artillery tender in nearly three decades since the scandal-hit Swedish Bofors guns deal in 1987.

The Defence Acquisition Council, which clears high-value military procurements, issued the tender after holding its first meeting under new Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

The high-value bid comes as India seeks to replace its old 105mm light field guns with a mix of towed, mounted and wheeled artillery.

“The minister took stock and stressed on fast and transparent acquisitions,” a source in the defence ministry told AFP. But a decision to acquire basic aircraft trainers from Switzerland “was deferred to a later date”, the source said.

India, the world's largest buyer of weapons, had signed a deal for 75 Pilatus Basic Trainer Aircraft in 2012 and has inducted 53 of them till now.

In March, the ministry issued a “request for information” for the procurement of an additional 106 trainers under its “buy and make” procurement category.

Under this provision, some equipment is bought from abroad and the rest is made domestically. India's government is keen on such arrangements as they involve technology transfers and boost local manufacturing.

India is in the midst of revamping its ageing military equipment and recently lifted a cap on foreign investment in defence.

The Pilatus deal is part of India's ambitious plans to replace its outdated collection of Soviet-era aircraft. The Russian-made MiG-21s have been tagged “flying coffins” for their abysmal safety record.

The defence council also considered a proposal by global aircraft major Airbus Defence and Space and India's Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to offer the Airbus C295 medium transport to replace the air force's fleet of 56 Avro aircraft.

India's right-wing government, which swept to power in May, has pledged to streamline and speed up the procurement process which was hit by delays and corruption allegations during the previous Congress coalition.

India has been keen to move ahead with defence orders amid a string of new border skirmishes with arch-rival Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region and an increasingly assertive China in the far northeast.

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