Tonbo Imaging, a startup based in Bengaluru, has bagged a $100 million contract to manufacture and export ‘night-vision sights’ for guns to be sold by a US company to the Peruvian army. The device will be fitted on rifles supplied to Peru by US manufacturer Unified Weapon Systems Inc. (UWS). Tonbo and UWS will offer a similar deal to the Indian army.
“Close to 10,000 weapons will be equipped with Tonbo’s thermal imaging sight with a total order of over $100 million over the next 10 years,” Arvind Lakshmikumar, CEO of Tonbo Imaging, said about the Peru contract.
Apart from production of weaponry, the deal with Fábrica de Armas y Municiones del Ejército (FAME), Peru’s state-owned military industry, will encompass transfer of technology of the assault rifles and weapon sights. This means local technicians in Peru will learn how to make modern rifles and weapon sights. “The transfer of technology will create self-reliance for the domestic industry in the long run,” said Lakshmikumar. The Peruvian government signed a $1.5 billion deal with UWS to assemble and jointly manufacture 300,000 rifles to modernise the weaponry of the armed forces and its national police.
The tender to supply day optics for the guns was won by US-based Browe, Inc., while the contract for night-vision sights was bagged by Tonbo. UWS conducted field trials on Tonbo’s weapon sight ‘Arjun’ over eight months. Named after marksman warrior Arjuna from the Mahabharata, the ‘Arjun’ sights fended off competition from multinational defence companies such as BAE Systems plc, L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc., and FLIR Systems, Inc. This is a unique distinction given that “India is not known for its cutting-edge defence industry,” said Mike Bingham, CEO of UWS, adding that the Indian defence market is largely dominated by imports from Russia and Israel. When asked why UWS chose Tonbo, Bingham said, “While most night vision systems run proprietary operating systems, Tonbo’s systems are built on Android. This makes their systems very secure and scalable.” Lakshmikumar said the Tonbo-UWS partnership will offer the same package deal to the Indian government.
The Ministry of Defence has launched a hunt for a new-generation assault rifle, as reported by ET on September 27, 2016. According to the RFI (Request for Information), the army is looking to procure 185,000 assault rifles with about 65,000 to be delivered over the next four to 28 months. “This package is now being offered to the Indian army as a part of the Indian army RFI for assault weapons. We will be doing field trials with various army groups to demonstrate the capabilities of the weapon,” Lakshmikumar said. Asked how Tonbo would meet the requirements of both the Indian and Peruvian governments, Lakshmikumar said, “We have set up relationships with contract manufacturers who have the potential to scale up. With our current ecosystem, we can build up to 4,000 sights in a month. We currently don’t make anywhere near that number. But if the orders come in, our process is set up for scale and capacity.” By owning the intellectual property rights for the design and manufacture of its products, Tonbo exerts control over the supply chain. As a next step, Tonbo plans to push its products across other military segments such as land systems, UAVs, weapon systems and missiles and create global adoption of Indian-made products.