Defence minister AK Antony said on Tuesday that the army had ordered a high level probe into the leak of a classified report pertaining to the recent trials of the M777 ultra light howitzer, which India plans to buy from the US. He said no one would be allowed to manipulate the military’s weapons procurement programme.
According to the report, the gun had failed trials on several key parameters.
India is likely to contract 145 M777 howitzers worth more than Rs 3,000 crore to sharpen the offensive capabilities of its mountain divisions, under Washington’s government to government foreign military sales programme.
The gun, manufactured by BAE Systems, reportedly fared poorly in direct firing and air portability trials. Non compliance on parameters such as barrel life, minimum range and the anti skid mechanism have also been recorded in the trial report.
The latest controversy could further delay the army’s artillery modernisation programme. It has not inducted any new gun since the Bofors controversy erupted in 1987.
The M777 howitzer is in service with the US Army and US Marine Corps in Afghanistan.
Interestingly, Singapore Technologies Kinetics (ST Kinetics) had emerged as a strong contender for supplying its 155mm Pegasus lightweight howitzer to India two years back. It was the only bidder for the contract then, as BAE Systems had not responded to the tender.
However, the Singapore based firm received a major setback when the defence ministry froze business with seven defence firms, including ST Kinetics, in June 2009 after their names cropped in CBI investigations into corruption charges against former Ordnance Factory Board chief Sudipto Ghosh.
With the blacklisting of ST Kinetics, BAE Systems tossed its hat in the gun race again.