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As LoC heats up, army buys 2 rocket regiments

December 02, 2016 13:38 IST

The defence ministry has bought two regiments of the Pinaka multi-barrelled rocket launcher for Rs 32.3 billion, reports Ajai Shukla.

With tensions escalating at the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, the ministry of defence has bought two regiments of the indigenous Pinaka multi-barrelled rocket launcher for Rs 3,230 crore (Rs 32.3 billion).

Each Pinaka regiment, consisting of 18 multi-barrelled launchers, can pulverise a target with a hail of 216 rockets, fired in 44 seconds, catching enemy troops in the open with no time to take cover.

It can be fired from 38 kilometres away, allowing commanders to target a terrorist camp, or even an army post or headquarters, without risking sending soldiers across the LoC.

On Wednesday, the MoD signed separate Rs 226 crore (Rs 2.26 billion) contracts with Larsen & Toubro and Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division), the designated 'original equipment manufacturers' for the Pinaka.

This is the first project where private Indian companies are designated OEMs, a role traditionally reserved for 'defence public sector undertakings' and the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board.

While L&T and Tata Power have just 14% of the work share, it includes developing and building the heart of the Pinaka -- the command post and launcher -- and the coveted OEM role.

Even so, 86% of the overall payment will go to a range of suppliers, including Bharat Earth Movers Ltd for the Tatra high-mobility vehicles on which the Pinaka is mounted, and the OFB, which builds the actual rockets.

L&T and Tata Power have already supplied two Pinaka regiments from 2006 to 2010. Now they will build the army's third and fourth regiments.

Their role is set to grow, with 6 more regiments in the pipeline.

Last December, the MoD kicked off the procurement of 6 more Pinaka regiments for Rs 14,600 crore (Rs 146 billion).

L&T and Tata Power officials say a tender is expected soon.

With the Pinaka Mark I, validated, the MoD told Parliament on April 26 that the DRDO was developing a longer-range, Mark II version of the Pinaka MBRL.

It was learned on a visit to the Armament Research & Development Establishment --the Defence Research and Development Organisation laboratory that is developing the Mark II -- that the Pinaka Mark II will be able to strike targets as far as 60 to 70 kilometres. This will involve fitting each rocket with inertial navigation system guidance.

With the army looking to eventually induct 22 regiments of Pinaka in place of the obsolescent Russian GRAD BM-21, there could be 12 Pinaka Mark II regiments procured, in addition to 10 Mark I regiments.

Beyond that, say L&T and Tata Power officials, the affordable Pinaka system offers great scope for export.

Says Rahul Chaudhary, who heads Tata Power: "Pinaka is a fully indigenous weapon with 100 per cent of its intellectual property belonging to India. That means we can export the system to any country that the Government of India wants. In today's export market, the Pinaka is one of the most competitive options."

To meet export orders, the MoD will have to overcome the delays that dogged the Pinaka's induction.

Cost negotiations for the latest two regiment order were completed in 2011. It has taken five years after that to actually place the order.

Besides that delay, there is even greater tardiness in the OFB's production of rockets.

Parliament's Standing Committee on Defence revealed in its report of December 22, 2014 that the OFB has failed to augment production of Pinaka rockets from 1,000 per year to 5,000 per year by 2017, for which it had been allocated Rs 1,388 crore (Rs 13.88 billion).

The standing committee observed: 'This shows sheer callousness on the part of the Ordnance Factory Board.'

Now, however, the private sector could be involved in fabricating Pinaka rockets at the faster rate needed. Last month, the army initiated the induction of private defence companies in fabricating ammunition.

In the list of ammunition that private firms were invited to build were rockets for GRAD BM-51 MBRLs.

With the Pinaka replacing that legacy system, its rockets could eventually feature on the private sector menu.

IMAGE: A Pinaka launcher can pulverise a target with a hail of 216 rockets, fired in 44 seconds, catching enemy troops in the open with no time to take cover. Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters

Ajai Shukla