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Thursday, 29 March 2012

From Today's Papers - 29 Mar 2012
en’s ‘letter bomb’ rocks House
Outrage after Army Chief’s missive to PM is leaked; parties seek action
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

‘Explosive’ letter

    In his letter, dated March 12, General VK Singh asks the Prime Minister to "pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the Army". The Army Chief describes the state of artillery, air defence, and infantry as "alarming."
    The General writes that the Army's tanks are "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks" and air defence is "97% obsolete."

Our defence preparedness has always been strong and I can assure this House and the nation that it is our intention to keep it strong.

— Defence Minister AK Antony in RS

New Delhi, March 28
After embarrassing the government with his recent explosive revelation that he was offered a bribe by a retired army general to clear the purchase of sub-standard trucks, Army Chief General V. K. Singh has stirred a fresh controversy with a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which he has drawn attention to the lack of army’s preparedness.

The March 12 letter, which was leaked to the media, has left the government in a tizzy as it has pointed to shortcomings in the army’s capabilities and that the force is ill-equipped to battle the enemy.

In the letter, General Singh has asked the PM to “pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the army”, adding that the entire tank fleet is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat the army tanks.” He further says that the Indian army’s air defence is 97 per cent obsolete and it “doesn’t give the deemed confidence to protect from the air.” The Army Chief also says there are “large-scale voids” in critical surveillance, night fighting capabilities and alleges that the Elite Special Forces are “woefully short of essential weapons.”

While the leak of a highly classified letter has evoked demands from the Congress and the Opposition that the general be sacked, the UPA government is wary of taking such an extreme step. Although embarrassed by General Singh’s missive, UPA sources said the contents of the letter did not constitute sufficient grounds for his removal. Issues of national security raised by the general, it was stated, will be “addressed and responded to”. According to a senior official, action can be taken against the General if it is proved that the letter was leaked by him which is a tough task. “No action can be taken unless some probe is done and it proves the General’s complicity in leaking letter,” it was stated.

UPA sources said before making the next move, the government has to look at the repercussions of its decisions. Removal of the Army Chief could polarise the force as the General has wide support in the rank and file and is considered an honest and upright soldier. The government’s task has become more difficult as the Army Chief’s fresh revelations have successfully shifted the focus from the controversy over his date of birth to issues of national importance like corruption and defence preparedness and are being raised through the media

Officials also pointed out that General Singh’s case cannot be this compared with the sacking of former Navy Chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat during the NDA regime. He was sacked for not complying with the decision of the appointment committee of cabinet (ACC) which was far more serious matter.

UPA sources explained that it is normal for retiring Chiefs to pen down their opinions to the Prime Minister but General Singh’s letter has creted a hue and cry because it has come into the public domain at a time when the army chief has fought a bitter battle with the defence ministry over his date of birth,dragged the government to court and followed it up with allegations that he was offered a bribe by a former army general

The matter will be discussed by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Home Minister and Defence Minister after tomorrow’s BRICS summit. The government top brass met today where it was decided to first talk to the General on his return from a scheduled visit to Jammu and Kashmir. The UPA top brass is hopes that the Army Chief will take a cue from the today’s Rajya Sabha proceedings and shed his combative stance. It will be keeping a sharp eye on his as the Army Chief is slated to address ex-servicemen in Gurgaon on March 30.
Babudom holds back pay scale upgrade for armed forces
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, March 28
Away from the media spotlight, the three armed forces — the Army, the Navy and the IAF — are fighting a tough “battle” to get their personnel’s status and pay structure restored that were wrongly lowered in 2008.

The paramilitary forces and civilian officers were pegged at a higher perch than armed forces’ men. This, in government parlance, translates into lower status for the armed forces, lower allowances and a direct impact on the hierarchy with other services.

The “battle” to correct the status for the entire officer cadre, around 70,000 in the three forces, is being “fought” in files amidst mountains of paperwork that moves back and forth between the Finance Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). There have been no tangible results over the past three years.

The Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), who is the senior-most among the three Chiefs, has been sporadically reminding the government how the Prime Minister had, in December 2008, approved that the matter needed to be addressed by setting up a high-powered committee. No committee has been set up so far. The three Chiefs, who jointly command more than 15 lakh troops and officers, have been reduced to sending “reminders” to the government. The latest reminder was sent by Admiral Nirmal Verma on February 21 “requesting intervention” of Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth.

Documents accessed by The Tribune show how it all started when the Sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC) recommendations were out in October 2008. The sequence panned out this way: The IAS in the post of Joint Secretary (JS) to the Government of India was made eligible for a grade pay of Rs 10,000 a month on completing 22 years of service. The same was extended to IPS and the Indian Foreign Services.

There was a protest from other group “A” services - paramilitary and other civilian services. The government said it could not have so many posts of Joint Secretary but allowed “non-functional scale upgradation” and placed the protesters on same scale as a Joint Secretary, but after 24 years of service. The grade pay is crucial when matters of status are to be decided. Apart from the money, it sets the status of an officer in the government.

Strangely, the Armed forces are neither classified as group “A” services nor are they termed as “central services” like the IAS or the IPS. In case of the armed forces, Colonels languish at Rs 8,700 grade pay and Brigadiers at Rs 8,900. Only Major-Generals or their equivalent in the IAF and the Navy get the grade pay of Rs 10,000. Only 3 per cent of officers reach that rank and that too after 33-34 years of service.

Status and pay structure were ‘wrongly’ lowered in 2008

    In Dec 2008, the PM wanted a high-powered committee to consider the case, but nothing has happened so far
    Forces say it was affecting the morale of their personnel
    Files keep on shuttling between one ministry to the other
    Services chiefs reduced to sending reminders, seeking justice for their officers
BrahMos in new mode test fired

Balasore (Odisha), March 28
India today successfully test fired the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in a new mode from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur off the Odisha coast.

"The missile was test fired from a ground mobile launcher," a defence official said. — PTI
Political outrage over Army chief General VK Singh's leaked letter, parties demand action

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New Delhi:  The chief of the Indian Army, General VK Singh, may have skidded past the point of no-return on his collision course with the government. A letter from him to the Prime Minister, warning that India's security is at risk, has been leaked to the media. Many political parties have hinted that he is responsible for the leak.

Opposition parties in Parliament demanded that the government take action against whoever is responsible, expressing as much concern over the leak of the letter as its contents. General Singh is currently on tour in Kashmir and will return to Delhi tomorrow. 

In his letter, dated March 12, General VK Singh asks the Prime Minister to "pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the Army". The chief describes the state of artillery, air defence, and infantry as "alarming." He writes the Army's tanks are "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks" and air defence is "97% obsolete."

Many blame the Army chief for the leak, suggesting that this is his latest attempt to embarrass the Defence Ministry. A series of leaders from opposition parties, including Lalu Prasad Yadav, said the Army chief should be removed for breaching confidentiality and compromising institutional integrity. (Read: Some leaders ask for Army chief's removal - 10 big facts)

In Parliament, Defence Minister AK Antony described the letter as "top-secret." He said publishing "secret communication within government cannot serve our national security". Politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav blamed the chief and asked for his immediate removal. "He is acting like someone who wants to stand for elections...remove him" said Lalu Prasad Yadav. Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Shivanand Tewari of the Janta Dal (United) agreed. Arun Jaitley of the BJP pointed out that alleged lapses in the procurement of equipment, as highlighted by the Army chief, should be addressed urgently, though privately. "Responsibility will have to be fixed and action be taken, irrespective of the position they may hold in the defence forces or the civilian administration. And that assurance must be given, and that is what we want," said the Left's Sitaram Yechury.

The details of the Army's weaknesses and its chasm with the government are now part of the imagery on display for Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is in Delhi for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit that begins tomorrow. On Monday, the Army chief revealed that he had been offered a bribe of 14 crores to clear sub-standard trucks in 2010. The Defence Minister retorted yesterday that he had asked the chief to take action against the retired defence officer who offered him the kickback, but the Army chief had refused. (Read: Rs. 14 crore bribe offered to Army chief recorded on tape: Sources) General Singh will meet most likely with the CBI tomorrow to discuss the kickback.

Former Army chief Shankar Roy Chowdhury said that the government has been alerted repeatedly to the exigent need to upgrade the Army's resources. "This is not a new is occupying media space because of the leaks," he said. "Pakistan must be laughing... rest assured Pakistan knows about it, China knows about it," he added.

The Army chief is set to retire at the end of May. Many believe that this week's developments suggest he is hungry for revenge before he exits office. (Read: Months of acrimony for army chief and the government)

For most of last year, the minister and the Army chief fought a long battle over General Singh's age. The government refused to accept that General Singh was born in 1951 and not 1950.  Records with the Army show both years, but the government said that documents used to establish his seniority and promotions declared 1950 as his year of birth and could not be amended. The Army chief took the unprecedented action of taking the government to court. But he dropped his petition after Supreme Court judges indicated they were unlikely to accept his arguments.

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'Pushed to a corner', Iran could drop a bomb?

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Vienna:  Pre-emptive military strikes aimed at forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear activities may end up having the opposite effect: convincing the Islamic Republic's leaders they need an atomic arsenal to secure their hold on power.

That is the argument from those in the West and elsewhere who say the negative impact of an Israeli or US attack would eventually outweigh any gains - pushing Iran towards a decision that Western intelligence services believe it has not yet taken.

"It is difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision to acquire nuclear weapons than an attack on the country," the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland said in an opinion piece in the New York Times. "And once such a decision was made, it would only be a matter of time before a nuclear-armed Iran became a reality," Carl Bildt (Sweden) and Erkki Sakari Tuomioja (Finland) added.

Israel says Iran's nuclear ambitions are a threat to the Jewish state's very existence and that time is running short to stop Tehran taking the irreversible step of acquiring the bomb.

But an attack may delay Iran's nuclear drive only by a few years and would probably lead to an acceleration of the atomic programme, the expulsion of UN inspectors and the Iranian people rallying around their leaders, the International Crisis Group think-tank said in a report citing unnamed US officials.

"Once UN inspectors are expelled, Iran could reconstitute its nuclear infrastructure, this time unambiguously geared to producing a bomb," said ICG analyst, Ali Vaez.

A similar message came from former CIA director Michael Hayden, who said the George W. Bush administration had concluded that a strike on the Islamic Republic's nuclear sites was a bad idea, according to a Foreign Policy magazine blog.

An attack would guarantee the very thing that the West was trying to prevent - "an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that it would build in secret", Hayden was quoted as telling reporters and experts in January.

Iran is relatively weak in conventional weaponry, compared to Israel and other Middle Eastern states, and may feel it has little choice but to develop nuclear bombs if "pushed into a corner", said military researcher Pieter D Wezeman.

"If Israel or the US would try to attack Iran and its strategic centres and its industry, Iran basically does not have the conventional means to defend itself," Wezeman, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said.

"Based on that weakness they are likely to find nuclear arms an interesting option. They don't want to be seen as losers, not internationally and not within Iran."

Any such feeling of military vulnerability in Iran - which often accuses adversaries of plotting to overturn its Islamic Revolution - would be compounded by Israel's assumed nuclear arsenal and the still strong presence of US armed forces in the volatile Gulf region.


There is general agreement among Western powers that Iran has already taken steps that would give it the option of becoming a nuclear-armed power, if it so decided.

It has ramped up its uranium enrichment, the UN nuclear watchdog said last month, voicing "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions" to the nuclear activities.

Western experts say Iran now has enough refined uranium -material which can yield energy or weapons, depending on the level of enrichment - for four bombs if processed much further.

Crucially, however, the US administration has concluded that Iranian leaders have not decided whether to actively construct a nuclear weapon.

"The US intel community says with high confidence that Iran has made a capability decision, not a bomb decision," said Jim Walsh, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "Bombing them will produce a bomb decision, and that will be very difficult to stop."

Iran expert Trita Parsi said: "You can't convince a country that it doesn't need a nuclear deterrence by bombing it."

But Bruno Tertrais of the Strategic Research Foundation, a French think-tank, said nobody could claim to know the impact of an attack and he suggested it could be difficult for Iran to launch a nuclear weapons bid afterwards.
"Iran would be closely monitored and would then take the risk to be bombed again, before it actually produces deliverable weapons," Tertrais said.

"One needs to differentiate between an Israeli and an US operation: the latter would be bigger, leave few stones unturned, and might very well shake up the foundations of the regime."

Israel has threatened Tehran with pre-emptive strikes if diplomacy fails to stop its nuclear progress. US President Barack Obama said all options are on the table, including possible military action, in dealing with Tehran.

Israel worries that Iran will soon have moved enough of its nuclear programme underground as to make it virtually impervious to a unilateral Israeli attack, creating what Defence Minister Ehud Barak has referred to as a "zone of immunity".

But Obama - who has accused US Republican presidential candidates of "beating the drums of war" while failing to consider the consequences - is also encouraging Israel to give sanctions against Iran more time to have an effect.
The Jewish state this week played down the prospect of an imminent attack, saying Iran's nuclear programme could still be set back by sanctions and sabotage.

Six world powers and Iran are in mid-April expected to resume long-stalled negotiations aimed at finding a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute, a dialogue which may for now cool speculation of imminent war.
"I'm not optimistic on the talks, but I do think they could at the very least open a temporary breathing space for all sides," said Gala Riani of risk consultancy, Control Risks.


If Israel in the end decides to strike, Vaez of the International Crisis Group said "it was easy to imagine" that Iran would withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a 1970 pact to prevent the spread of atomic weapons.

Iran's envoy to the UN nuclear agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, warned this month that any attack by a non-NPT member - Israel - on the nuclear sites of a country that is party to the treaty would inevitably lead to the pact's "collapse."

MIT's Walsh said Iran might need years to recover from an attack but it would not destroy its know-how and would "present a window of opportunity for pro-bomb advocates" in the country.

Short of a full-scale war or occupation, "most military options are oversold as to their ability to end or even significantly delay Iran's nuclear programme," the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said.

A vast country, Iran has dispersed its programme across many facilities, some whose locations may remain secret. "An ineffective bombing campaign ... would leave Iran able to quickly rebuild its programme and motivate it to launch its own Manhattan Project," the Washington-based think-tank said, referring to the US atomic bomb programme in World War II.

But the view in Israel is that any action that can delay nuclear militarisation is beneficial, "because it might maximize opportunities for other events, such as regime change in Iran", the International Crisis Group report said.

Iran, a major oil producer that denies any nuclear weapons aims and officially condemns nuclear weaponry as a "great sin", says it needs uranium enriched to a low level to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants.

It came under intensifying Western sanctions pressure after the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a November report, presented a trove of intelligence pointing to activities in Iran relevant for nuclear weapons development.

Former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he still did not see "incontrovertible evidence" that Iran was working on an atomic bomb and that the question of whether it intends to make one was a matter of opinion and debate.

He said an attack would be a "sure way for Iran to go on a crash course to build nuclear weapons with the full support of the Iranian people ... and with the most catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and the rest of the world."

ElBaradei, who ran the IAEA for 12 years to the end of 2009, was outspoken in his scepticism of Western intelligence after erroneous reports about secret WMDs in Iraq were used by the United States to justify the 2003 invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

The risks posed by Iran's nuclear programme "need not be hyped," he said in an email. "We should by now have learned some lessons from the Iraq disaster."

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New Delhi:  The revelation by the Army Chief, General VK Singh, of an offer of a 14-crore bribe has sharply brought into focus what was really at stake. The bribe was allegedly offered by a lobbyist for a truck supplier who flooded the Army for more than two decades with 7,000 over-priced vehicles which performed poorly when put to use.

Tatra, a Czech manufacturer and the supplier of the trucks, today said that it never approached General VK Singh. It also maintained that it had never received any "complaints regarding the quality and performance of its trucks since 26 years."

In a press release, the company said, "Tatra collaborates solely with BEML in India and never sells directly to any other agency. As is evident from the record, Tatra has no direct contractual relation or privity of contract with the Indian army. Tatra supplies such trucks to the Indian defence public sector undertaking Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) under license and hence Tatra has no reason or occasion to have to approach General V.K. Singh for approval of its trucks. Tatra does not require a selling agent or agency or any person for canvassing. We categorically state that Lt Gen Tejinder Singh has never been contacted for any purpose by Tatra and Tatra/ Vectra Group does not have any business or any relation with him."

Incidentally, neither Tatra nor Lieutenant General Singh were named by the Army Chief when he went public with his allegations. Defence Minister AK Antony, though, said that General Singh had told him that the lobbyist was indeed Tejinder Singh who offered the bribe money. (Read: 14-crore rupee bribe offer recorded on tape: Sources)

The Army had, in a press release earlier this month, blamed Lieutenant General (Retd.) Tejinder Singh for offering bribes on behalf of Tatra and Vectra, which provides trucks to the Army.

Tatra all-weather all-terrain trucks are used to transport missiles, artillery and troops. These trucks are manufactured in the Czech Republic. The cost to the country has been huge. A 4x4 Tatra truck, for example, costs between Rs. 40 to 50 lakhs in Europe. It was sold by BEML to the Army at nearly double that price. Ashok Leyland and Tata Motors supply similar trucks for 16-18 lakhs. Jacks for the Tatra truck, available in the market for Rs. 3000 for similar heavy vehicles, were bought for Rs. 30,000 each by BEML on behalf of the Army. (Read: RTI document on Army's purchase of over-priced trucks)

The top dollar paid for the trucks wasn't matched by performance. A whistleblower named Anil Bakshi reveals that the Army has, for a while, been unhappy with the performance of the Tatra trucks. Mr Bakshi was a defence contractor for the Indian Army and was contracted to prep vehicles for the Army's use after they had been bought. In 2009, he said that 45 Tatra trucks arrived with faulty or damaged tyres and old batteries. He refused to clear them for usage.
Other experts say that spare parts are not easily available for Tatra trucks. BEML takes upto two years to deliver spare parts.

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New Delhi:  Some political leaders are demanding that the government dismiss the army chief, General VK Singh. A letter from him to the Prime Minister, citing huge deficiencies in the army's equipment, was leaked to the media.  This has become what many believe is the breaking point in a heavily-frayed relationship between the General and the government. Here are 10 big developments: 

1) New flashpoint after letter by Army Chief to Prime Minister is leaked to media. Dated March 12, the letter says that Army is constrained by out-dated technology, air defence "is 97% obsolete" and army tanks are "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks"

2) Government believes Army Chief's office responsible for leak. Defence Minister lashes out in Parliament, says these should not be matters of public debate. He said publishing "secret communication within government cannot serve our national security."

3) Opposition leaders agree. Left's Sitaram Yechury says government must identify the person responsible for the leak. He says "responsibility will have to be fixed and action be taken...irrespective of the position they may hold in the defence forces or the civilian administration. " Shivanand Tiwari of Janta Dal (United) says, Army chief should be "removed from his post" for inappropriate behaviour.  Lalu Prasad Yadav says the army chief has begun talking like someone who wants to contest elections and must be dismissed.  Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party says General Singh "is talking too much."

4) Prime Minister meets Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram this morning. They brief him about the letter that has been leaked as well as the other huge controversy born from the army chief's disclosure that he was offered a bribe of 14 crores in 2010.

5) The Defence Minister said in Parliament yesterday that the Army chief had told him that a retired officer, Lt General Tejinder Singh had visited him in 2010 and offered him a kickback. The minister said he asked the Army chief to take action, but General Singh said he did not want to pursue the matter.

6) In an interview on Tuesday, General Singh had tried to explain why the offer of the bribe did not prompt any action from him other than passing on the information to the Defence Minister. "It was not like he was giving me bribe in my hand. This was an indirect method and that is why no arrest was made," he said yesterday.

7) Tejinder Singh has sued the Army chief for defamation. He says that though he visited the Army chief in September 2010, he did not offer him any money. He says he asked the Army chief to consider making him the chief of the NTRO or National Technical Research Organisation, a highly specialised technical intelligence gathering agency. General Singh's supporters point out he did not sanction that appointment.

8) Tejinder Singh was accused by the army earlier this month of offering bribers on behalf of Tatra and Vetra which supply the Army with trucks used to transport artillery and troops. The General has described the trucks as "sub-standard" in an interview this week.

9) Documents with NDTV show that Tatra trucks are over-priced- they cost 40-50 lakhs in Europe but 7000 of them were bought by the army at double that price. The trucks were sold via a defence public sector unit, BEML. Several analysts say that they have performed poorly.

10) Army chief scheduled to retire at end of May. He became first serving military chief to take government to court. He wanted the government to accept that he was born in 1951 and not 1950. Army records show both, but the government says that his seniority and promotions have been based on 1950 as his year of birth, and that records cannot be amended now. General Singh withdrew his petition against the government after the Supreme Court indicated it would not agree with his arguments. The General was widely criticised for turning his differences with the government into a public battle. He said he was fighting to defend his honour and integrity.

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Why India is poor at making its own weapons
No government agency talks more about indigenisation and self-reliance than the ministry of defence and has a worse record to show for it. India earned a top ranking in the latest international arms transfer report of the Swedish think tank, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,
Click Here!
as the world's largest arms importer.

It is a position, says retired Vice-Admiral Premvir Das, India will hold for years to come because its armed forces need to buy $ 40 - 50 billion in capital equipment.

There are two broad reasons why India fails so miserably to become more self-reliant in arms production.

One is a superstructure of inefficiency that is held in place by corruption and inertia. The Tatra truck deal has long been a byword in arms procurement incompetence. Over 25 years, the Indian army bought 7000 trucks from the Czech Republic at roughly double the cost they are sold in their home country. The indigenisation rate was so poor the trucks do not have right-hand drive to this day. General VK Singh's claim he was offered Rs 140 million to keep India buying Tatras would explain why this absurd state of affairs existed for as long as it did.

India has a reputation in the international arms industry for importing substandard equipment at inflated prices. As the SIPRI report points out, measured over a five-year period, Russia has remained India’s largest weapons supplier. But Russia’s comparative advantage in military sales is partly an ability to give huge kickbacks. The Russian Accounting Chamber, its CAG equivalent, in 2001 noted that the umbrella arms exporting firm, Rosoboroneksport, kept such convoluted finances it could not understand them. Trade experts privately say Indian middlemen in Moscow sales get 10 to 15% of the contract and 5%, curiously, has to be paid to the Russian government.

The second reason is the nexus between the mandarins of the defence ministry and the state-owned arms companies that keeps private Indian firms at arm’s length. As defence ministry officials privately admit, institutions like the Defence Research and Development Organisation and Hindustan Aeronautics prefer to import foreign-made weapons rather than allow the Tatas and Mahindras to get a real share of the contracts. Their fear: the competence of the private sector will marginalise them.

Even the official defence indigenisation figure of 30% being Made in India is a myth says retired Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Combat Land Warfare School. “Ten to 12 percentage points of that is screwdriver usage – importing kits, assembling them and giving the smallest value addition.”
Kalyani Group artillery to be featured
Ajai Shukla / New Delhi Mar 29, 2012, 00:07 IST

Army chief General V K Singh’s leaked letter to defence minister A K Antony, which flagged the country’s lack of defence preparedness, casts a shadow over Defexpo India 2012, which kicks off in New Delhi tomorrow. However, the silver linings in the four-day event would be the impressive presence of several Indian private companies and newcomers in developing complex weaponry, with capabilities the defence ministry (MoD) can no longer ignore.

Among the most visible would be the Pune-headquartered Kalyani Group, which would emphatically project its ambition to develop artillery systems for the Indian Army. With foreign artillery procurement stalled for two decades, Baba Kalyani — who has shaped his flagship company, Bharat Forge, into the world’s largest forgings manufacturer — has committed the finance, the manpower and the strategic mind space he believes would make the Kalyani Group a full-spectrum developer of artillery systems.
Kalyani intends to start by building a 155 mm, 52-calibre towed howitzer, which the army desperately wants. Several years of user trials of foreign guns have only resulted in vendors being rejected, blacklisted, or withdrawn from the contest. Kalyani is now boldly offering an Indian alternative.

“I will offer to the Indian Army a fully developed artillery gun system, integrating all the command and control elements, before 2015,” he asserts.

To this end, the Kalyani Group has imported from Austrian gun manufacturer Maschinenfabrik Liezen (MFL) a service version of its famous 155 mm, 45-calibre, autonomous gun system, which had impressed Indian gunners when they evaluated it in the mid-1980s (though they bought the Bofors gun instead).

The Kalyani Group has also bought, knocked down and transported to India an entire operational artillery gun factory from Swiss company RUAG. Instead of learning the ropes of manufacturing artillery from scratch, Kalyani’s designers in Pune intend to absorb foreign technology, thereby leapfrogging an extended development process. Unlike many Indian private companies, Baba Kalyani is investing his own money into building capabilities. Given Bharat Forge’s hardcore engineering pedigree, he is confident he has the solution.

Says Kalyani: “There are the DRDO ((Defence Research & Development Organisation), the OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) and other excellent organisations that have design talent and capability. What India lacks is the ability to convert designs into manufactured products. This is where the Kalyani Group comes in. Building an artillery gun system is largely about materials, forgings and manufacturing. We have in our group the capability to be a top-class manufacturer of precision products.”

Kalyani Steel would provide the steel and metallurgy. The drives, engine, transmission, etc would be built by Automotive Axles Ltd, the Rs 2,000-crore Kalyani Group company and the largest manufacturer of axles in the region.

Alongside the engineering bravado, there is realism, too, about the Kalyani Group’s inexperience in creating the sophisticated software that underpins the gun control, fire correction and command and control systems, about 50 per cent of the overall gun system.

“Our strategy is to collaborate with entities that already have capabilities in electronics and guidance. (For this) we are in constant dialogue with the DRDO and the MoD. But we are confident about the precision engineering needed for the mechanical parts of the gun,” says Kalyani.

The only “missing link”, as Kalyani puts it, is the reliance on the MoD for testing facilities. Guns under development must be periodically tested through live firing. In India, this can only be conducted in cooperation with the Army. The MoD, rattled by the repeated failures of artillery gun procurement programmes, has already initiated two projects in the public sector to develop an artillery gun. The OFB has been asked to construct two 155 mm, 39-calibre guns from the engineering drawings that came with the Bofors gun in the mid-1980s. The OFB would then try to upgrade these into longer-range 155 mm, 45-calibre guns.

Simultaneously, the MoD has sanctioned Rs 150 crore for the DRDO to develop a 155 mm, 52-calibre gun. The DRDO’s Armament R&D Establishment (ARDE), Pune, would soon float a tender for an Indian industrial partner, in which the Kalyani Group intends to bid.

Such is the aggressiveness within the Group that it intends to develop its own gun on a parallel track, even if it becomes an industrial partner to the DRDO for the ARDE’s gun. Rajinder Bhatia, who would head this project, says, “We are willing to compete against ourselves. On one track, we will work with the DRDO, funded by the government. On our own track, we will fund ourselves. Baba Kalyani is willing to commit Rs 100 crore for this.”

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