The tender for new small arms for the army and police force suffered a setback last Thursday. The public procurement dispute committee invalidated the victory of a U.S. arms manufacturer as the state failed to challenge two claims by a company that made a competing bid, according to which Estonians turned a blind eye to mishaps during a test firing of the weapons in the United States.
This means that the tender that was already in its finishing stages will not mature into a contract in the near future but will instead take two steps back to where it was late last summer. It is very likely that some verification tests on semi-automatic rifles offered by the Lewis Machine & Tool Company (LMT) will have to be repeated and the company declared the winner for the second time. This calls into question initially planned delivery of the new weapons in 2021.
Fatal drop test
The story of how things got here is intriguing. In mid-December, arms manufacturer Sig Sauer, after losing the tender to LMT, sent to the committee 26 claims concerning possible violations in how its competitor’s bid won.
The boring legal dispute is made exceptional by the fact several claims can be traced back to a letter written recently by a Defense Forces weapons expert to Commander of the Defense Forces Maj. Gen. Martin Herem. The officer was part of the nine-member team from Estonia who attend test firing of the LMT rifles in Illinois last August.
The aim of the tests was to make sure the weapon would still work in extreme heat, after being exposed to dust or suffering a drop. The expert later wrote that some problems exhibited by the weapons during testing were not reported, which fact changes things. For example, the final report does not reflect the fact that the weapon’s stock and optical sight broke when it was dropped from a height of 1.5 meters. There were other problems.
The National Defense Investments Center (RKIK) described the incident as a misunderstanding during a dispute committee sitting. Not all members of the team sent to the States were experts in the field of public procurements. All tests NATO rules prescribe for a successful verification were recorded. While some tests were carried out to satisfy the buyer’s curiosity or as a bonus so to speak, they were not to be taken account in the assessment.
RKIK concludes that neither the stock nor the optical sight is a structural part of the weapon and that a piece breaking off from the former did not reduce the weapon’s usability. The incident has been discussed with the soldier who reported it, and they have no further complaints.
The committee cleared the state on most points last Thursday, except two.
It concluded that, based on its own rules, the center should have taken the broken stock and sight into account and that RKIK was wrong to conclude the stock is not part of the weapon. Because details of the incident were not recorded, it is impossible to decide whether LMT passed the test or not. Another problem was found with the weapon’s strap.