April 22, 2021
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Rendering favor
Corruption charges against Navy’s ATAS project

It appears that under the leadership of Defence Minister A K Antony, the MoD will never be free from the stigma of scams and is not going to have a smooth road ahead in terms of defence procurements.

After many kickbacks and allegations in various defence deals, this time it is the Navy’s Active Towed Array Sonar (ATAS) procurement project which has come under scrutiny. A Member of Parliament has already written a letter regarding the alleged defence purchase corruption.  

It is alleged that anomalies are being carried out by certain influential people in trying to push ATAS systems into Navy, which are untested and unproven, by giving economic benefits to the people involved with the procurement process.

In the absence of indigenously developed ATAS NAGAN system, which could not prove its capabilities at sea due to extreme design complexity and integration challenges, MoD issued RFP in March 2009 for direct purchase of 6 ATAS systems to three vendor L-3, Thales and ATLAS.

However, the technical requirements of the RFP were such that none of the vendor was able to meet all the critical requirements, especially the size equal or less than 70mm.

To be exact, Thales had an 85mm array, which it demonstrated onboard a Norwegian warship at a specified speed during FET/NCNC trials.

And another vendor, ATLAS demonstrated 90mm array onboard a German research vessel at a speed less than 12 knots. It is also alleged that ATLAS has submitted false compliance in their technical bid and also later fabricated design drawings for the FETs.

One important point to be mentioned here is that ATLAS’s 90 mm system was manufactured in 90s but due to its poor performance in the left right ambiguity and instability problems, this system was neither accepted by the German MoD nor produced in future.

It is now clear that ATLAS demonstrated 90 mm system as they never had a 70mm system, thus firstly they submitted a false compliance technical bid for 70mm array and secondly, submitted false certificates to the Navy/FET team that 70mm array is under development.

But, when questioned by Navy, ATLAS understood to have stated that development work/product cannot be shown to the FET team on grounds of confidentiality.

Fact remains that ATLAS never started the development work on 70mm array and hence there was nothing to show to the Navy.

If ATLAS now plans to start the development work after an order is placed by Indian MoD, then it would be impossible to meet the current RFP requirement as the development work of ATAS system takes anywhere between 6-8 years.

Therefore, if ATLAS had even an engineering model of the development work of 70mm array, they would have not refused to show it to the FET or NCNC trial team. Based on these facts, it is clear that ATLAS had submitted false technical compliance first to quality in the FETs.

Further for technical services agreement (TSA), ATLAS is using the services of the same agency which was involved in VVIP helicopter kickbacks.

The Viraat Consultants and Traders, headed by Arvind Raghav have been working for ATLAS Germany for their projects ATAS for ships and SUT Torpedo upgrade for submarine.

With such incidents it is evident that the RFP has been manipulated in the favor of ATLAS’s product, despite it being unproven and untested for any combat mission.

The ATAS system is critical for Indian Navy to detect increasing number of enemy submarines in Indian Ocean. But with these incidents and lack of strict action against people involved in such acts by Indian MoD, the national security is always compromised.