Paris: French government – owned defence manufacturer Nexter is hoping to envisage the interest of the Indian Army in its Caesar truck-mounted howitzer, which it is pitching as the "artillery gun of the 21st century".
According to Nexter, the forward-facing 155mm/52 calibre gun is mounted on a 4x4 or 6x6 truck chassis depending on the terrain of its deployment, and is superior to the self-propelled or towed variety of the artillery weapon for which the Indian Army has floated a global tender earlier in the year.
Speaking to visiting media at the Eurosatory 2008 defence exhibition in Paris-Nord Villepinte, Laurent Nicolas, Nexter's vice president for international affairs for the Asia and Australia region said , "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."
He said that when compared with a towed gun and its hauler, the Caesar is shorter, requires less space, and is far more mobile and manoeuvrable, both cross country and on the road. It also needs lesser gun crew members.
One the move, gun crew survival is ensured by an armoured cab, and the time spent stationary at the firing position is very short, Nicolas said, pointing out the benefits of the gun.
He said the company was open to any kind of Indian specifications, and was also ready for a full transfer of technology, subject to the French government's permission. Other options that Nexter is open to are joint development, private partnership or redevelopment in the customer country, hinting at India.
Transfer of technology is a mandate under India's defence procurement procedure spelt out in 2006, and contains a key offset clause which requires that 30 per cent of all military deals valued in excess of Rs3 billion ($75 million) need to be reinvested in the country.
"We are ready to give demonstration to India, if requested," Nicolas said. He added that 160 Caesars were in operation with the French, Thai and Saudi Arabian armed forces.
Highlighting the shoot-and-scoot capabilities, he said the gun has a range of over 40 kilometres and can fire six rounds, shut down and exit the area in less than two minutes, thus not allowing the enemy to triangulate its position and reveal its location.
Nexter had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the domestic aviation manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 2006 for the supply of gun turrets for the Indian Air Force's Mi-17 helicopters. The India-France military engagement dates back to 1953, with the Indian Air Force having purchased its first jet fighters, the Ouragan, from France.
French military hardware currently in service in India includes two squadrons (40-plus aircraft) of the Mirage-2000 delta-wing fighter that the IAF flies, which were purchased in the 1980s. Thales has now proposed an upgrade to keep them in the air for another 25-odd years.
Mumbai-based Mazagon Dockyard Limited is presently engaged in the licensed manufacture of six French-designed Scorpene submarines, and the French are hoping for a repeat order of another six submarines later this year.
Other weapon systems from Nexter include the FAMAS assault rifle, the FRF2 sniper rifle, the Leclerc main battle tank, the Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé (VAB) armoured personnel carrier, the 20 mm modèle F2 gun, the APILAS anti-tank grenade launcher, and the LG1 Mark II 105 mm towed howitzer.