This is a major boost to the Indian Army’s artillery, which has not acquired guns since the Bofors’ scam in the 1980s. India had already cancelled the acquisition of self-propelled 155 mm/52 caliber guns on the grounds that they failed to meet requirements. The only progress that was made in artillery was an upgrade to the Russian 130 mm/39 caliber M46 guns to 155 mm/45 caliber, which increased the range from 26 km to 39 km.
A ban on South Africa’s Denel had adverse repercussions for the progress of the Indian Army’s Bhim Artillery Project, an indigenous project under which Denel proposed to install a 155 mm gun on the Indian-made Arjun tank chassis. Now, though, given the government’s fast-track approach to procuring weapon systems for the Army, Air Force, and Navy, there is reason to believe that other lagging projects of the Indian Army’s Artillery could be about to get a boost. This haste in decision-making regarding defense procurements is due to the new government’s desire to “clear a backlog of defense orders” in order to provide an impetus to India’s military capability and boost its defense preparedness. China and Pakistan are already enhancing their artillery strength and India cannot afford to be left behind.
Several Indian companies are vying for the Army’s artillery project, namely TATA, L&T, and Bharat Forge, which can either develop the guns completely or build the guns in collaboration with a foreign firm. For instance, L&T has entered into an agreement with France’s Nexter Systems to offer the guns, while Mahindra Defence has joined with BAE systems. In August 2014, reports came in that India had lifted its ban on South Africa’s Denel company while in November 2014, India has also lifted its ban on Israeli Military Industries (IMI) and intends to plan for the future possibility of manufacturing ammunition for its 155 mm guns.
As New Delhi considers national security to be of “paramount concern” for the government, addressing the bottlenecks and hurdles in the defense procurement process will ensure that the “pace of acquisition is not stymied.” In July 2014, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley raised the foreign investment limit that can be contributed to the domestic defense industry from 29 percent to 49 percent in the hope of attracting more of its main arms suppliers in order to “reshape the defense industrial base dominated by state firms.” Under the new government, India has boosted defense spending by 12 per cent.
India’s decision to clear the 155 mm/52 caliber guns will no doubt lend momentum to the Indian Army’s artillery modernization program, and could cause foreign firms to “revisit their strategies” for the Indian market. It is clear that India is now keen on moving towards self-reliance with state-of-the-art equipment, rather than just buying complete systems from foreign firms.