Our Bureau
12:00 AM, July 15, 2008

French defence major Nexter hopes to interest the Indian Army in its Caesar truck-mounted howitzer that it is projecting as the “artillery gun of the 21st century”. The forward-facing 155mm/52 calibre gun is mounted on a 4×4 or 6×6 truck chassis depending on the terrain it has to be deployed in and is superior to the self-propelled or towed variety of the weapon for which the Indian Army has floated a global tender earlier this year, its manufacturer says. “Its low weight of around 18 tonnes reduces both complexity and cost. Its strategic, operational and tactical mobility is superior to that of both the self-propelled guns and towed guns. It matches the reactivity of the self-propelled guns and the light weight of the towed variety,” Laurent Nicolas, Nexter’s vice president for international affairs Asia and Australia, told a group of visiting Indian journalists at an international defence exposition here. “When compared with a towed gun and its hauler, the Caesar is shorter and requires less space, is far more mobile and maneuverable, both cross country and on the road, and requires fewer gun crew members. “When on the move, gun crew survival is ensured by an armoured cab, and the time spent stationary at the firing position is very short,” Nicolas added while pointing to the benefits of the gun at the Eurosatory 2008 defence exhibition in Paris-Nord Villepinte. “We are open to any kind of Indian specifications. We are ready for full transfer of technology, but this is subject to the French government’s permission. We are also open for joint development, private partnership or redevelopment in the customer country,” the official said. Transfer of technology is mandated under India’s Defence Procurement Procedure enunciated in 2006. It contains a key offset clause that mandates that 30 percent of all military deals valued at over Rs.3 billion ($75 million) be reinvested in the country. “We are waiting for an RFP (request for proposal) and hope to sell nearly 800 Caesars at a cost of 2 billion euros,” Nicolas maintained. In saying so, he could be rather over-optimistic as the weapon system is not even on the Indian Army radar as of now because it could take up to three years to take a decision on the responses to its tender for 400 of the 155mm guns to shore up its inventory of Bofors guns that were acquired in the mid-1980s. “We are ready to give demonstration to India, if requested,” Nicolas pointed out, adding that 160 Caesars were in operation with the French, Thai and Saudi Arabian armed forces. Pointing to the shoot-and-scoot capabilities of the system, he said the gun with its range of over 40 kms, can fire six rounds, shut down and exit the area in less than two minutes, thus avoiding the danger of counter-fire. Nexter already has some experience of doing business with India as it inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in 2006 for supplying gun turrets for the Indian Air Force’s Mi-17 helicopters. The India-France military engagement began in 1953 when the Indian Air Force purchased its first jet fighters - the Ouragan - from France. Today, the IAF flies two squadrons (40-plus aircraft) of the Mirage-2000 delta-wing fighter that were purchased in the 1980s and for which Thales has now proposed an upgrade to keep them in the skies for another 25-odd years. State-owned Mazagon Dockyard Limited is currently engaged in the licensed manufacture of six French-designed Scorpene submarines and France hopes for a repeat order for six submarines later this year.