A possible new sale by Bofors Defence to India of 3,000 upgraded FH77 B "gun-and-run" howitzers raises sensitive and potentially explosive questions.
Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's largest newspaper, recently published a series of investigative reports on the prospective "new Bofors deal with India." The stories were written by the newspaper's correspondents Per Luthander and Sanna Bjorling, who
have been investigating "Bofors deals," including with India (FH77 B howitzers) and Bahrain (RBS-70 missiles), for several months.
After the respected newspaper reported that Bofors (now Bofors Defence, owned by the American company United Defense) was to sell another 3,000 howitzers to India as part of the contract signed in the 1980s (and supplied since 1986), there has been a
lot of debate in Sweden - in Parliament, among various political parties and the general public.
It may be recalled that India bought 410 howitzers in 1986 and the kickbacks from this transaction produced independent India's most explosive corruption scandal. Bofors became a synonym for political skulduggery and entered the vocabulary of many
In an e-mail interview to Asha Krishnakumar, Per Luthander details the nature of the new deal, the type of howitzer that is to be sold to India and the ongoing political debate in Sweden over the sale. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the type of howitzer that India is to buy from Bofors now?
An upgraded version of the howitzer that India bought in 1986. It is called FH77 B "gun-and-run version," integrated with a 6x6 all-terrain vehicle. As Bofors writes on its homepage, it is "an extremely powerful, highly mobile artillery system. Its
'into-action time' is less than 50 seconds. An artillery sequence - into action; fire eight rounds; out of action and move 500 m - takes less than three minutes. The gun has a range of 30 km, it can fire three rounds in 13 seconds and has a sustained
rate of fire of 8 rounds/minute."
What is the status of the new Bofors-India deal? Has the Inspection for Strategic Products (ISP), a Swedish authority, cleared Bofors' supply of howitzers to India?
It is not yet cleared. Bofors Defence, today a fully American-owned company (owner United Defense), has officially (but secretly) asked for permission to go ahead with market research in India for this howitzer. Bofors Defence has asked for a deal of up
to 3,000 howitzers with India, estimated at 15 billion Swedish crowns ($1.5 billion). The ISP has told Bofors Defence that it can do a market research but made it clear that it does not mean a "go ahead" for a contract with India.
What is the nature of the "deal"? Is a new contract to be signed between Bofors and India?
The problem is that the Swedish government and the ISP do not know how to deal with the now infamous 1986 Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Sweden and India. This is a very sensitive political question in Sweden even today. Bofors
Defence regards the new howitzer deal as a follow-up to the 1986 business - "the 'new howitzer' is just an upgraded version," it says. But for the Social Democrats, it is not that easy to accept a business deal with India. The memories of the "Bofors
scandal" are still fresh.
The ISP is investigating this matter. It is not yet clear if it will decide to let Bofors supply the "upgraded howitzers" to India.
Also, Bofors has, with Volvo, built an upgraded howitzer version and is waiting for a call from India's Ministry of Defence to ship it and test it there.
What has been the political reaction in Sweden to the "new Bofors deal" with India?
There has been a strong reaction in the Swedish Parliament to our articles on Bofors' new business with India, mainly from the Left wing and from the Green Party. Together with the liberals, these parties opposed the deal when the ISP discussed it.
Within the ISP there is a parliamentary body, the EKR (the export control body), consisting of 10 politicians from all parties. This advisory body, which meets every month, discusses important export issues. The ISP has not yet decided on the matter (of
Bofors supplying guns to India). Everyone in Sweden is waiting for the ISP's decision.
What has been the Swedish government's reaction to your stories in Dagens Nyheter?
We were under the impression that the Bofors-India bribery case was "dead." But the sharp reaction of Swedish Trade Minister Leif Pagrotsky shows that this is still a very sensitive question for the Swedish government.