The 155 mm artillery guns are specially designed for operation in the desert areas bordering Pakistan and have been a longstanding requirement of the Army, officials said. India's concerns over Pakistan acquiring an edge in conventional warfare escalated in 2009 when the US supplied it 115 of the modern M 109A5 cannons as a "reward" for its assistance in the war on the Afghanistan border. The Army had then accelerated its plans to procure a similar system, but the process dragged on for many years, with the defence ministry finally taking a call on the winner last week.
Sources told ET that the K9 VAJRA-T howitzer, pitched by L&T in partnership with Samsung, has been shortlisted for the contract. Once signed — the final process could take another six months — the Vajra could be the first new artillery gun to be produced in India since the 1980s when the Bofors was acquired. A parallel effort to procure M777 ultra-light howitzers from the US is under progress. The Vajra will be produced at L&T's Pune facility and could be considered for exports in the future, along with an expected followon order for more guns for the Army.
The victory is especially sweet for L&T as it was competing in the global category, which was open to all arms vendors around the world. The Vajra beat its Russian competitor on several technical grounds, including rate of fire, accuracy and mobility trials, officials said. L&T officials, however, refused to comment on the development. India's artillery modernisation plans have been stuck since the 1980s after the Bofors kickbacks scandal.
Not a single new modern system has been purchased since, seriously limiting the Army's battlefield edge. Self-propelled guns are vital for their "shoot and scoot" ability as well as a high flexibility of deployment in the battlefield. While Pakistan managed to procure the American systems in 2009, India's plans for similar systems have been stuck since 1999, with several failed rounds at identifying a gun.