April 8, 2013

Army trucks: Ashok Leyland-L&T consortium emerges lowest bidder for Rs 100-cr contract

Aconsortium of Indian firms has emerged the lowest bidder in the first in a series of Indian Army tenders to procure specialised vehicles, in what could be the beginning of the end of a decades-old monopoly of the imported Tatra trucks as the army's all-terrain vehicles and the mobility platform for weapons systems such as missiles and rocket launchers. According to people familiar with the development, a consortium of Ashok Leyland and L&T emerged the lowest bidder two weeks ago when commercial bids for procurement of 100 multibarrel rocket launchers (meant to upgrade the BM21 rocket launchers) were opened. The value of the contract is about Rs 100 crore, according to industry sources.
The contract involves refurbishing the existing rocket launchers and mounting them on new vehicles. The weapons-related work will be done by L&T and the vehicle is a new Ashok Leyland platform. The Leyland-L&T combine left behind a team of Tata Group companies (Tata Motors and Tata Power SED) and a team of Tatra, Bharat Earth Movers and Bharat Electronics. The last two are public-sector defence companies.
Tatra, a Czech vehicle manufacturer, has supplied powerful all-terrain vehicles for India's armed forces for decades, to the exclusion of Indian manufacturers.
Its long monopoly is now the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation after former army chief General VK Singh alleged he was offered a bribe to clear the procurement of Tatra trucks. These vehicles are assembled by public sector BEML. CBI is also investigating the role of former BEML MD VRS Natarajan in the Tatra case. Tatra is majority-owned by London-based Indian businessman Ravi Rishi.
"We are finally biting the bullet on indigenisation. We have the capacity and capability to develop vehicles for weapons platforms. This is absolutely a welcome step and it will help cut down our dependence on imported vehicles such as Tatra and Urals," said Brigadier (retd) Arun Sahgal, director at the Forum for Strategic Initiative, a Delhibased think tank. The contract for rocket launchers is among four tenders for specialised trucks the army had called for in 2009. Field trials are over and commercial bids will be opened in the coming months.
The others are for 1,239 units of 6-wheel-drive high-mobility vehicles, 255 units of 8-wheel-drive highmobility vehicles and 100 units of so-called field artillery tractors.
Ashok Leyland, Tata Motors and Tatra are competing in all categories. Ashok Leyland, which has supplied more than 65,000 four-wheel-drive Stallion trucks for the Indian Army, says it has developed a worldclass platform for the army's specialised needs. "Our trucks have more than 90% local content. The Neptune is an 8-litre, 6-cylinder, thirdgeneration common rail diesel engine that can deliver 360-400 bhp.
It is compliant with most European norms," said Ashok Leyland Vice-Chairman V Sumantran. His company has developed 6x6 and 8x8 variants of a truck called the Super Stallion that is competing in the army tenders. A spokesperson for Tata Motors declined comment. "Tatra is most suited for Indian conditions. Our competitors just meet the requirement," Tatra CEO Ronald Adams said in an emailed statement.

The potential victory of Indian truck makers in the army tenders comes at a time the government has been emphasising the need for indigenisation in the wake of allegations of bribery in the purchase of Agusta Westland helicopters. India imports more than 70% of its defence equipment needs and has been the world's largest weapons importer for three consecutive years. A defence ministry spokesperson declined comment on the competition.
"Trucks are not a high-tech weapons system and we have every capability to build them. It is welcome that finally the defence ministry has woken up to the fact that we don't need to import even the trucks on which the weapons are mounted," said Deba Mohanty, a Delhibased strategic analyst. The new trucks will also come as a relief to Indian Army drivers, who operate in conditions ranging from the deserts of Rajasthan to the high altitude of Leh.
Many variants feature air-conditioned cabins and automatic transmission. The all-terrain trucks in the competition are equipped with a technology called continuous tyre inflation system, which allows the driver to change tyre pressure to suit terrain

The Economic Times


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