Nearly three decades after the Bofors howitzers were inducted, the Army has got its first artillery guns from BAE Systems. Two 155mm/39 caliber ultra light howitzers (ULH) will be firing at the Pokhran field firing range in Rajasthan on Thursday.
Having initiated the deal for M777 guns with the United States in 2010, the government finally announced a deal for 145 guns on June 26 last year. The Rs 2,900-crore deal, which was a government-to-government deal under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, was completed in November last year.
The Army has not seen induction of any modern artillery gun after the Swedish Bofors guns were inducted in the late 1980s. There was a controversy over payment of alleged kickbacks in the deal, which put on the backfoot all deals for the modernisation of the artillery.
The Army has plans to equip 169 regiments with 3,503 guns by 2020 but acquisition plans, which include indigenously manufactured guns, have been delayed considerably.
The two M777 guns, which will fire at Pokhran on Thursday, will be used for compilation of firing tables — a calibration for target acquisition with various types of ammunition used with the guns. These guns have been designed for firing Indian ammunition in Indian conditions, and are already in service with the US, Canadian and Australian armies. These guns have been deployed by these armies in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
After these two guns, three M777 guns will come to India in September 2018 and used for training. Thereafter, five guns will be inducted every month from March 2019 to June 2021. These guns, which will equip seven artillery regiments, are capable of firing at a range of 24 to 40 km, depending on the type of ammunition used.
While the first 25 guns will be inducted directly, 120 of the 145 guns will be assembled in India by Mahindra Defence as part of offsets obligation.
The modular design of the M777 gun allows it to be towed along narrow and treacherous mountain roads, which dot India’s borders with both Pakistan and China. Moreover, it can be transported to the battlefield, slung under heavy-lift helicopters like the Chinook, which India has signed to acquire from the US. The US-made C130J Super Hercules, used for strategic airlift by India are capable of carrying two M777 guns on a single sortie.