Bristol Trust, the Estonian representative of arms manufacturer Sig Sauer Gmbh has contested the awarding of an automatic arms tender to Estonian defence forces to a rival company, US arms manufacturer Lewis Machine & Tool Company (LMT), making this the second time Sig Sauer Inc. has contested the deal.
The original tender awarded to LMT was withdrawn following Sig Sauer Inc.'s protest and principally concerned supposed quality issues in the LMT weapons. However, a lack of clarity on these defects led to LMT being reinstated as supplier, something which Sig Sauer contests for a second time, via Bristol Trust.
In June 2017, a procurement conducted by the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments (ECDI) was announced, with 5.56mm and 7.62mm automatic arms contracts for the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades the prize.
Four companies initially met the requirements for bidding and made a bid, of a total of 14 who originally came forward; in addition to Sig Sauer Inc., German manufacturer Heckler and Koch, and US companies LMT and Patriot Ordnance Factory applied for the tender.
There are two sister companies bearing the name Sig Sauer: the Swiss/German Sig Sauer Gmbh and and the US Sig Sauer inc., the latter being involved in the procurement.
Patriot Ordnance dropped out of the race early on, leaving three companies in the race. According to the ECDI, there was no significant difference in the overall performance of weapons from all three companies, but the contract was awarded to LMT on the basis of price (it was the cheapest offer at €22.7 million, compared with €27.6 from Sig Sauer and H&K's €45.5 million) in December 2018.
The first contesting of LMT contract
Sig Sauer Inc. soon contested the award on the grounds that LMT had not honoured previous procurements including one order of 25,000 arms, and criticisms that the LMT weapons failed a ''drop test'', where weapons' stocks and red dot sights reportedly broke when dropped from a height of 1.5 m, in test conditions, according to daily Postimees.
The Riigikogu's defence committee got involved, with Madis Milling (Reform) telling ERR late in 2018 that he had been informed of possible concerns surrounding the LMT deal. The defence committee subsequently reined in comments, saying it would no longer publicly speak on the matter.
"The interdepartmental committee deemed LMT the successful bidder ahead of Sig Sauer and H&K for the first time on 30 November, 2018," Ingrid Muhling, ECDI, told BNS.
Bristol Trust, Estonian representative of Sig Sauer Inc. (US), contested the awarding the procurement to LMT on December 18, and on January 17 the procurement committee invalidated Col. Rauno Sirk's decision to award the contract to LMT, due to inaccuracies in the documentation of the arms verification process. Col. Sirk is ECDI director.
The procurement committee includes representatives of the ECDI, the EDF, the Ministry of Defence, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Ministry of Justice.
LMT next filed specified information which ultimately reinstated their position as successful bidder for the second time on February 8, based on the additional information provided.
"The committee made the decision after being satisfied that the removal of the two shortcomings identified was legally possible,'' Col. Sirk told BNS.
''When it comes to carrying out tenders, there are very specific rules in place that the committee must follow; neither the committee nor the state can make decisions based of emotions or the opinions of individuals. Both the verification and the test shooting carried out in Estonia indicated that the weapons meet the requirements set by the EDF. The centre will proceed with the procurement in strict compliance with the rules and procedures for the organisation of international procurements," Col. Sirk continued at the time.
Part of the reinstatement of LMT as a bidder revolved around doubts as to the conduct of the drop test, namely that it was not clear whether a butt and a red dot sight were even attached to the weapon during the test, and what damage or impairment these components sustained during the testing of the weapon.
This means that even though no damage may have been sustained by the weapon itself, it was not possible for the dispute settlement committee to establish the final verification of the tender offer filed by LMT, because the verdict and its appendixes do not contain clarifications by the ECDI.
In addition, it was not possible to ascertain, as a result of insufficient records, whether the weapons were tested with the Magpul and Blackhawk straps presented in LMT's original offer.
Sig Sauer inc. suspected that the straps used in the test were instead made by Blueforce, it is reported, which the dispute settlement committee denied, however.
According to the planned tender agreement, the ECDI is to buy approximately 11,000 automatic firearms over the period 2019-2021, with an option for additional purchases of up to 18,000 automatic rifles down to 2024, it is reported.
The new automatic firearms as supplied to 1st and 2nd Brigades of the EDF will be in the hands of both professional soldiers and conscripts, it is reported, and the procurement value is capped at €75 million.
Formed in 1976 as a partnership of SIG (Schweizerische Inustrie Gesellschaft) of Switzerland and JP Sauer & Sohn (Germany), Sig Sauer Gmbh sold its firearms subsidiary to L&O Holdings of Germany in 2000, when it was renamed Swiss Arms (a Sig Sauer Gmbh still remains). A separate company was founded in the US in 1985 and renamed Sig Sauer Inc. in 2007; the Swiss and US Sig Sauer companies have been organisationally separate since 2000.
Editor: Andrew Whyte