L&T a pvt defence major tied with Techwin to make K-9 'VAJRA' self-propelled howitzers in India

Nagpur: The government’s move to impose an embargo on import of 101 defence items has evoked sharp criticism from a section of unions in the ordnance factories, which feel it may only end up helping the private sector. The unions have already served a strike notice over the government’s plan to corporatize the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The private sector, on the other hand, sees a major opportunity, as companies are ready with foreign collaborations to start production in India.

A source in Kalyani Group venture Bharat Forge said the company is planning to come up with a project to make small arms ammunition from 5.56mm calibre onwards. The company has worked out tie ups with Australian and Bulgarian manufacturers for the project and an announcement may be made soon. The group is already into making artillery guns. The 155mm howitzer made on the basis of DRDO design is due for trials, which have been held up because of the lockdown and other restrictions on account of COVID. The new policy can also bring opportunities for making naval guns and close in weapon system, said the official.

Wing Commander Rajesh Dhingra (Retd), CEO of Reliance Defence, which has a major set up in Nagpur, said, “The group already has its global tie ups, which can be taken up for production in India. Based on the technological platform available from abroad, products can be customized to Indian needs. The policy is expected to give a major fillip to the Indian industry, boosting domestic production.”

Satyanarayan Nuwal, chairman of Solar Industries, which has interests in ammunition manufacture, said the policy will create space for more private players in the segment. Solar Industries is already into making Pinaka rockets, and 30mm ammunition, which are in trial stage at present. Another project on hand grenades is also underway. The policy will give an opportunity for Indian businesses to develop their own technology too, he said.

“The ordnance factories have the capacity and technology to make a number of items in the list but there are not enough orders from the Master General Ordnance (MGO) of the Army. The move to bar imports will lead to private sector companies that have got licences to make defence items moving in. With 74% FDI allowed in the sector, the companies can tie up with foreign entities and start assembling in India,” said C Srikumar, general secretary of All India Defence Workers Federation (AIDEF).

The government had come up with a public procurement preference to Make in India in June 2017. Under this, 127 items were notified and another 26 were added in May 2020. The local suppliers will have to be given preference for purchases of these items.

The government should also specifically include OFB in the preference list where we have the capacity to manufacture items, said Mukesh Singh, general secretary of Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), the RSS affiliated union. Singh said the BPMS welcomes the decision to bar imports as it will boost indigenization.