It is the toast of India’s largest defence show, as an example of how the domestic manufacturing sector is performing, but the production line for the K9 Vajra artillery guns may run dry within six months as the order book exhausts, forcing a possible mothballing of the facility.
The ‘Vajra’, a 155 mm howitzer ordered by the Indian Army in 2017 after a global competition that was won by Larsen & Toubro, is a central attraction at the show that has seen participation from more than 70 nations.
L&T said the order for 100 guns — valued at Rs 4,500 crore — would be completed within six months and its manufacturing facility at Hazira, Gujarat, would be idle after that. A top executive said appeals had been made to the defence ministry for additional orders. Options to export the system are also being explored, he added.
“We have pleaded for additional orders and we hope something will happen. We are awaiting a repeat order for the guns. We will be without work soon and may have to shift people to other facilities,” L&T board member JD Patil told ET.
The Indian company is looking at options to keep the production line functioning by pursuing work share agreements with public sector units, and will also actively look at options for exporting the artillery gun to friendly nations.
“Wherever there is a requirement to operate in desert conditions and in an NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) environment, we can offer the Indian made Vajra that has been extensively tested by the Indian Army,” the senior executive said.
While the K9 is also manufactured by South Korea’s Hanwha which is L&T’s partner in the project, the India-specific gun has been enhanced to meet the needs of the army for desert warfare. This could open up possibilities for exports to Asian and African countries.
The Vajra has an interesting history to it — the gun was offered to the army in competition with major global players that did not technically require a major Make in India component or contract was given to L&T and the tender didn’t require major Make in India component. However, L&T choose to offer it as an India-made product and has already achieved over 52% indigenisation by cost price.
When it comes to exports, the Indian company can also offer its experience of developing a domestic production line to third nations seeking to replicate the model.
More than 50 of the guns have been delivered and have proven their performance in acceptance trails by the Indian Army. Defence minister Rajnath Singh visited the Hazira facility last month to flag off the 51st gun to be delivered.
The ‘shoot and scoot’ gun will be deployed along the western border to take on a Pakistani battlefield edge in mobile artillery. In 2009, Pakistan had acquired 115 of the M 109A5 cannons, given by the US as a “reward” for its assistance on the war on the Afghanistan border.