Controversy on ultra-light howitzers acquisition through FMS

In 2010, the Government of India had authorised an outright purchase of 145 ultra-light howitzers from the US. The ultra-light howitzers are for the mountain artillery divisions of the Indian Army to be used in high-altitude frontiers opposite Pakistan and China and can be lifted by Helicopters.

This acquisition was from the Foreign Military Sales route that is US programme of government-to-government sales of military hardware bypassing a lengthy system of competitive bidding. The FMS system has been quite controversial. India has already chosen this tool to contract six Lockheed Martin-made Hercules C130J air lifters and the army did the same to buy artillery fire-finding radars. Two brands of ultra-light howitzers were initially in contention for the Indian Army’s estimated $2.5-billion artillery modernisation programme — ST Kinetics’ Pegasus and BAE Land Systems’ M777 made in the US.

But the government’s efforts have recently run into rough weather in the final moment. As reported in the newspapers, this deal has been recently referred to the law ministry because of a court order. It’s worth note that in 1986, India had signed a deal for new artillery guns with Bofors of Sweden. A year later, allegations emerged of kickbacks in the deal, freezing the artillery gun contract, and resulting in an anticorruption wave across the country that swept aside the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress party in the 1989 elections.

But the latest deal was almost near its closing. The first payment for the deal, estimated at over a billion dollars, is budgeted in this financial year.

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