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India Scraps Programme to Buy 13 BAE Mk-45 Naval Guns

Decisions aimed to boost Make in India agenda as part of approvals for acquisitions worth $1.1 billion

Issue: 5-2021 By Vishal ThaparPhoto(s): By BAE Systems, HAL
(Left) Foreclosure of the Mk-45 gun programme is, in part, reportedly due to concerns over high costs;
(Right) DAC’s Blessings for the LUH Opens Doors for HAL in the Light Helicopter Market

In two significant military procurement decisions which further boost the ‘Make in India’ agenda, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on November 2 gave the go-ahead for the procurement of the first lot of 12 indigenously developed Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) and scrapped the global procurement of thirteen (13) 127mm naval gun systems.

The estimated $1 billion programme to acquire the US-made Mk-45 from BAE has been junked in favour of the Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM) being manufactured by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL).

These were the key decisions at a meeting of the DAC chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi. This meeting accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AON) to capital acquisition proposals amounting to 7,965 crore ($1.1 billion). All the approvals are for Make in India programmes.

The other key AONs include those for the Lynx U2 Fire Control System from Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) which will enhance the detection tracking and engagement capabilities of warships, and the Mid-Life Upgrade of the Navy’s Dornier aircraft fleet by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to increase maritime reconnaissance and coastal surveillance capacity.

The AON for the LUH commits the Indian armed forces to HAL’s attempt to provide an indigenously designed and developed option. Both the Army and the Navy have major ongoing programmes to replace the vintage Alouette (Chetak and Cheetah) light helicopters with contemporary foreign helicopters. The HAL is making a strong pitch to gate-crash the light helicopter procurement with its Made in India offering. The DAC’s blessings gives weight to HAL’s agenda.

The commitment to the LUH is poised to reduce the multi-billion dollar market for imported and license-produced military helicopters in India. While the Russian Kamov-226 has been shortlisted for the Indian Army requirement for 200 LUH, global majors Airbus and Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky are competing alongside the Russian Kamov to provide 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) under the Strategic Partnership programme.

The NUH programme was intended to throw up an Indian private sector helicopter manufacturer with the assistance of a foreign OEM. But the AON for the LUH is a door opener for India’s public sector behemoth in the programme.

The decision to scrap the programme to acquire 13 Mk-45 naval gun systems is the latest turn in its chequered history. The anti-surface and anti-aircraft naval guns were intended to equip the four Project 15B destroyers and the seven Project 17 frigates. The two remaining guns were meant for the Indian Navy training establishments, the INS Dronacharya Missile and Gunnery School and the INS Valusra Electrical and Weapons Engineering School.

The initial decision to acquire the Italian Oto Melara guns after a global competition was scrapped following the Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter scam. The BAE gun was subsequently considered for a long time, and the US Administration in 2019 approved the sale of Mk-45 to the Indian Navy. This decision to “foreclose” this Buy Global programme is a setback to BAE.

“As a further impetus to ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, a global procurement case of Naval guns has been foreclosed with these guns’ quantity added to the upgraded Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM) being manufactured by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL). These SRGMs provide niche capabilities of engaging fast manoeuvring targets using guided munitions & range extensions and are to be fitted on the warships of the Indian Navy,” the Ministry of Defence declared in a statement.

The decisions at the November 2 DAC meeting further align India’s defence procurements to the ‘Make in India’ agenda.