Army to Procure Indigenous for Specialised Sights, Taps Bengaluru-based firm

Indian Army

New Delhi: With the aim of boosting functioning of its elite units in urban warfare and the borders, the Army has placed orders with an Indian firm for specialised sights under emergency procurement. The order for two set of sights is part of a spate of emergency procurement being done and was placed “recently,” sources said.

One contract is for about 600 pieces of multi-functional thermal imaging binoculars for target acquisition and the other is for multi mission-sight, which can be mounted on the helmet and also the weapon. The order was placed with a Bengaluru-based firm — Tonbo Imaging.

Sources said the contract value is for over Rs 100 crore and the procurement is being done by the Infantry Directorate, adding that while earlier the Northern Command had procured one of these sights for its soldiers in smaller batches, this time the Army Headquarters is doing it. They  said that there would be a larger procurement order  if the systems, which have to be delivered in 12 months, perform according to expectations.

The multi-mission sights are lighter and more tuned for close combat. “The uniqueness of this product is that it can go on the helmet and also on a weapon at the same time. Weighing about 300gm, the soldier can remove it from the helmet with a click of a button and mount it on a weapon instantly,” sources said.

Tonbo Imaging is one of the few companies in the world to manufacture such systems. Some of their products are deployed at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during the ongoing Ladakh standoff for surveillance operations.

The company exports sights and other systems to over two dozen countries and are in use with some Special Forces, including that of Israel and France and they have been in use with the Indian armed forces for the last few years. For instance, during the 2016 surgical strikes, the Special Forces personnel had used the thermal sights procured from the Indian firm.

Incidentally, the company was discovered by the Indian armed forces because of a joint exercise with NATO a decade ago. The US Army was using weapons that had Tonbo systems on them.

“This came from an engineering centre in Bengaluru, they told the Indians. That’s when the Army reached out to us. Five countries were buying our tech before India bought from us,” Arvind Lakshmikumar, one of the founders of Tonbo Imaging, had said in 2019.

When the company initially began commercial operations around 2012, it focused on the global market. Industry sources said that Lakshmikumar’s prior work with US’ DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) helped him get recognition of products early on in the US market.

The company has come a long way. Earlier this year, it won a deal from Bharat Dynamics Ltd to indigenise new missile seekers for the anti-tank guided missile programme of the Indian Army. Some of the recent drone systems ordered by the Indian armed forces also have Tonbo optical systems on board. Tonbo Imaging had earlier this year emerged as the lead company in the Defence India Startup Challenge under the government’s iDEX (Innovation for Defence Excellence) initiative to modernise the BMP 2, India’s infantry combat vehicle.