Israeli ATHOS returns to mega-deal race as Army releases RFI for Towed artillery guns

by kaarthik shankar
ATHOS 155mm India

In its request, the army clearly stated that the weight of the gun system should be less than 15 tonnes. Since the indigenous ATAGs weigh more than 18 tonnes, Israeli firm Elbit is back in the running for the deal.

NEW DELHI

The Indian Army has issued a new Request for Information (RFI) to acquire 155mm/52 calibre tow gun systems for the modernization of artillery regiments as part of a plan drawn up in 1999.

Since the release of the RFI, a new avenue has again opened for the Israeli firm Elbit. It’s Autonomous Towed Howitzer Ordnance System (ATHOS) was in the running for a mega contract from the Indian Army for over a decade.

However, Elbit is getting this opportunity at a time when Indian companies Kalyani Group and Tata have developed the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) in collaboration with the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). This gun was used for ceremonial firing on Independence Day at the Red Fort.

The RFI, issued on December 20, specifically stated that the weight of the gun system should be ‘less than 15 tonnes’ and it was this clause that brought the Israeli firm, which had tied up with the Adani group, back into the race to supply the Ethos to the Indian Army. Went.

Significantly, the weight of ATHOS is less than 15 tonnes, while the weight of ATAGS is more than 18 tonnes. Industry sources are seeing the new RFI as an opportunity for Israeli weapon systems.

The first negative list of defence imports also includes 155 mm x 52 calibre tow artillery guns. Although the trade ban was to be imposed in December 2020, later the cut-off date for this particular gun was changed to December 2021.

Then a rule was brought in, in which the armed forces were allowed to import defence equipment under certain circumstances, even if it was named in the negative import list.

Israeli guns were also put in the negative list as DRDO was working on an indigenous version of 155mm/52 calibre howitzer – ATAGS.

History of Athos

The procurement process for this gun began in 2001 as part of the Army’s Field Artillery Rationalization Plan. This plan was prepared in 1999.
Several requests for proposals (RFPs) have been issued since then, with Elbit as well as France’s Nexter participating in the last RFP issued under the UPA government.

The deal was for supply of 400 guns by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) under the complete Transfer of Technology (TOT) process and indigenous production of the remaining 1,180 guns.

RAFI i.e. Request for Information is issued to request information from suppliers about goods or services. On the other hand, RFPs are used in the bidding process for seeking proposals for a project.

Finally, in March 2019, Elbit Systems was declared the lowest bidder (L-1), after which the process of on-ground testing and evaluation went on for several years and went through many ups and downs.

However, DRDO has gone on record to oppose any import plan, arguing that ATAGS is the gun of the future and better than ATHOS.

The army, which supports the ATAGS programme, has been asked to allocate 400 of these guns (for 20 regiments) to ‘remove operational difficulties in medium artillery in the high-altitude area along the northern borders’, citing tensions along the LAC. Had advocated buying from.

According to ThePrint report, the Israeli firm then wrote to the Defense Ministry, saying that if it procured only the first 400 tow guns, the associated cost related to TOT could be deducted from the total contract value.

In the letter, Elbit Systems had offered India as an option a ToT for 1,180 guns in the future at the same price that was mentioned in the commercial offer.

Elbit also said that it has finalized the vision and strategy to achieve 70 per cent indigenization for the first 400 tow guns, starting with the first set of guns under the contract.

The company had said that the Ethos has been made according to the special requirements of the Indian Army. And according to the needs of the army, crores of dollars have been invested in the design and development and field trials of the gun.

According to defence sources, Elbit had promised to supply the guns much earlier than the contract delivery schedule. According to him, he will supply the first six within 10 months of signing the contract and the remaining six within 14 months.

All the remaining guns were promised to be delivered as per an accelerated delivery schedule within 54 months from the signing of the contract instead of 72 months stipulated in the draft contract.

In ongoing talks with the Indian defence establishment, Elbit had said that the Ethos would create an indigenous gun – mass-produced assembled and integrated in India.

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