Those ‘desi patrakaars’ who have since the 1980s prided themselves as being ‘investigative journalists’ have a rather bizarre excuse for hurling accusations which goes like this: “we can neither produce any conclusive material evidence of corruption/wrongdoing, nor can we conclusively establish the motive/intent behind such purported acts, but we will still continue to make baseless allegations until perpetuity”. Be it the procurement of the Bofors FH-77B towed 155mm/39-cal howitzers, or the HDW Class 209/Type 1500 diesel-electric submarines, or the AgustaWestland AW-101 VVIP transportation helicopters, all such decisions have been labelled as being ‘tainted’ with establishing the motive for indulging in the alleged crimes, meaning what exactly prompted a foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to pay bribes to India’s civilian/military decision-makers when it was a foregone conclusion that the selected products of these OEMs were the best available that were being offered to India’s armed forces. After all, a prima facie case can be made if third-class or second-class weapon systems were selected for procurement. But when the best-there-is is selected for procurement, where exactly is the need for the buyer to ask for bribes or for the seller to offer bribes?
We are once again seeing some of these ‘desi patrakaars’, in partnership with some foreign media houses, indulge in an almost-identical charade in the name of ‘investigative journalism’, with the target this time being air-defence artillery cannons. And here is what is being peddled:
The target this time is the Switzerland-based Rheinmetall Air Defence AG (RAD), formerly known as Oerlikon-Contraves, whose military-industrial partnership with the MoD-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) dates back to the 1970s when about 200 Super Fledermaus fire-control systems of the former were licence-built for the Indian Army.
By mid-2005, all three armed services of India had a requirement for a new-generation anti-aircraft cannon, for which the Rheinmetall Oerlikon-Contraves 35mm x 228 KDG revolver cannon emerged as the best available option. It is a gas operated cannon with a link-less feed system. It combines a high firepower with precise accuracy. The cannon is completely remote-controlled, the integrated fibr-optic sensor system supports the fully digital control of the cannon. Its naval version is the Millennium Gun or Rheinmetall GDM-008—a close-in weapon system designed by RAD for mounting on warships and using AHEAD ammunition. There also exists a turret-mounted version of this cannon—called LANCE—that can be mounted on both tracked infantry combat vehicles (ICV) and wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APC).
While the Indian Army requires close to 2,000 35mm x 228 KDG cannons worth US$1.7 billion to replace its existing Bofors L-70 cannons, the Indian Air Force requires about 430 of them worth about $400 million for close-in base air-defence. The Indian Army also requires about 500 Lance turrets (developed by Germany’s Rheinmetall DeTec) for its Kestrel 8 x 8 APCs, which are to be manufactured by TATA Motors Ltd. By early 2010 the 35mm x 228 KDG, the GDM-008 and the Lance had officially emerged as clear favourites for the MoD’s HQ Integrated defence Staff (IDS) for an obvious reason: all three products had an exceptionally high degree of commonality and could therefore be series-produced in India by the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) at extremely cost-effective rates with a high quantum (more than 75%) of indigenised sub-systems and components—an option which no other global competitor had to offer at that time.
In fact, so confident was TATA Motors then that it even showcased scale-models of its future tracked ICV concept and the Kestrel APC at the DEFEXPO 2012 expo in Pragati Maidan in Delhi, with both scaled-models being shown equipped with the Lance turret. Also shown was a TATA Motors 8 x 8 HMV with 35mm x 228 KDG revolver cannon. The accompanying fire-control system was to be the DRDO-developed Atulya.
However, tragedy struck on March 5, 2012 when the MoD announced that RAD was henceforth barred from doing business with India’s OFB (the gazetted order from the MoD had mentioned that RAD was barred from further business dealings with the MoD for a period of 10 years w.e.f. 11.4.2012). Thus, RAD was placed on a MoD blacklist, the reason for this being a CBI investigation into allegations of corruption levelled against the then Director General of the OFB, Sudipta Ghosh. And although the trial against Ghosh and his associates is still underway, RAD has still not been charged with any crime in this case.
In fact, RAD has challenged its blacklisting in the Delhi High Court. That trial, too, is still underway and unless the trial court rules in RAD’s favour, or the MOD pro-actively decides to remove RAD from its blacklist, RAD will continue to be shunned by the MoD despite the absence of any criminal charges bein g registered against this OEM, i.e. a truly Indian definition of ‘ease-of-doing-business in-country’!
Incidentally, for base air-defence the Pakistan Air Force in the previous decade had already acquired the 35mm x 228 KDG revolver cannon and a related fire-control system, which together is known as the Skyshield-35 system.