|Saturday, March 31, 2001,
Army defends defence deals
New Delhi, March 30
In what seems to be an effort by the Army to defend all the charges levelled by the Tehelka tapes of possible manoeuvring in the purchase of arms and ammunition, a senior officer of the force said that there was nothing fishy about the procurement of laser-guided Krasnopol shells or T-90 S tanks, which, “in fact”, had been selected after stringent tests and evaluations.
“We don’t want a re-do of what happened in the past. It is of big concern to us. If it (the Bofors scam) had not happened the gun would not have to prove itself,” the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen S.S. Mehta told newsmen here.
Gen Mehta went to great lengths to explain the various stages in the procurement procedure and pointed out that following the Bofors scandal there was an element of indecisiveness and this had a direct result on the preparedness of the forces.
Ultimately, the Bofors gun proved itself in Kargil, the General said when asked if the Army feared that this situation would recur, as had happened after the Bofors scam when the transfer of technology did not take place because of the controversy.
Gen Mehta said the idea of setting up a Defence Procurement Board could be to hasten decision-making in the purchase of weapons.
The Tehelka tapes had a former Army officer saying that he had organised the Krasnopol deal even though out of six tests, the guided artillery projectile had failed five.
Brig Vijay Franklin of the artillery, who was present at the briefing, said several tests were conducted in the plains and in high altitude after KGP Instruments Design Bureau, Tula of Russia made the offer in 1998. While in the plains, it was tested to perfection in February, 1999, at the Pokhran Field Range, the testing at 3,700 metres in Karbuthan ranges in Kargil failed, after which the vendor asked for more time to make modifications.
During the third trial, after modification, there were two correct hits and two misses and the conclusion was that the ammunition was still not fit for the mountains. Later, it was tested again in the Mahe ranges of Ladakh after which it was realised that it worked in high altitudes with a height differential between targets and gun positions.
The Krasnopol ammunition had the approval of the GOC, 3 Infantry Division, GOC, 14 Corps and GOC-in-C, Northern Command, and the Union Cabinet which had given its approval in April, 1999, at the height of the Kargil war, that the shells were required for Kargil in particular as a large number of targets there could be engaged despite the weapons restrictions in the mountains.
The contract was made effective in March, 2000, after the Defence Minister was apprised of the conditions attached to the usage of the ammunition and his waiver was taken for departure from the General Staff Qualitative Requirement procurement procedure. Following that only a large number of shells and laser designators were procured.
No army in the world used thisammunition in such high altitudes, Gen Mehta and Brig Franklin said.
Similarly, the T-90 S was procured after a series of tests in extremely hot conditions in the deserts of Rajasthan before a contract was signed for the procurement of the main battle tank to the imbalance in the armour superiority ratio after Pakistan acquired 320 T-80 UD tanks from Ukraine.
A five-member team evaluated it in three phases in February, 1998, in Russia. It was further evaluated in 1999, in peak summer in the Jodhpur-Pokhran sector of Rajasthan where stringent endurance tests were carried out, even those not required in battle.
According to Col A.K. Singh of the Armoured Corps, the trial team, the Commander of the Armoured Brigade, GOC, Armoured Division, and GOC of the Corps stationed there all gave their nod to the T-90 as also the Army Commander, Director-General, Mechanised Forces, Directorate-General of Quality Assurance and the EME.
Gen Mehta said separate reports were submitted to the Army HQ by whosoever was associated. “User trial reports are commented upon by Commanders in the chain of trials”, he said.
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