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Offer to upgrade Bofors guns

Sandeep Dikshit

Ordnance Factory Board wants to do it under Army "leadership''


  • OFB is the single largest supplier to the armed forces
  • Move could save considerable foreign exchange

    NEW DELHI: In a major offer to offset the rising trend of defence imports, the Government-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) has offered to upgrade the Bofors artillery guns within the country. On the basis of the experience even new guns could be made to save the country up to Rs. 10,000 crores in foreign exchange.

    The OFB offered to upgrade the guns under the "leadership'' of the Army so that there are no user-side complaints at a later stage, as has happened with several R&D projects taken up by the Defence & Research Development Organisation (DRDO).

    Consisting of 39 factories and a workforce of over one lakh, the OFB is the single largest supplier to the armed forces at the lower end of the technology scale.

    The Army has had a none-too-happy experience of dealing with foreign companies in this regard. It was not pleased with the Israeli company Soltam's programme of upgrading its field guns and the mega-tender for new artillery pieces continues to be embroiled in corporate warfare with retired Army officers backing the foreign companies in contention.

    In fact, the presence of retired Army officers in the liaison offices of foreign companies is said to be the reason for the lukewarm response to the proposal.

    Besides, nothing has been heard of the offer of Bofors (now owned by United Defence of the United States) made three years ago to upgrade the 400-odd guns in the Army's inventory.

    Lack of progress

    This lack of progress on the artillery front takes place at a time when defence planners have re-emphasised the importance of this weapon after a sterling performance during the Kargil conflict.

    The OFB feels that if the Bofors upgrading is successful, it could even make the artillery pieces that India is shopping for in overseas markets.

    The cost of the imported weapons systems is conservatively assessed at Rs. 10,000 crores. The OFB believes it can easily make the hardware of any gun, which the Army wants to import.

    The problem is with the electronics, most of which can be made by the Indian private sector. However, outside experience would be required for integrating the hardware with the electronics. The OFB is confident of taking up the project on the basis of the experience gained in making a 49-calibre barrel and work in progress on a 52-calibre barrel.

    Though the OFB does not envisage difficulties in manufacturing the hardware, it would have to enter into close collaboration with public sector units.

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