Although negotiations for procurement for Howitzer guns had started in 2006, they gathered steam only under the present NDA government, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said after induction of M777 Howitzers and K9 Vajra guns into the Indian Army on Friday.
These are the first major induction of modern artillery guns since the Bofors in the 1980s, which became controversial over allegations of kickbacks. The induction ceremony was held at Deolali Field Ranges of the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army in Nashik.
The Army will get 100 K9s and 145 M777 guns over the next two years – at Rs 4,366 crore and Rs 5,000 crore, respectively, it was announced. The 155-mm M777 A2 Ultra Light howitzers are US-made guns that can be transported by helicopters. The K9 Vajras are South Korea-made self-propelled artillery guns that have been assembled by Larsen & Toubro in India.
Speaking at the induction ceremony, Sitharaman said, “It must go to our credit, and the credit of the present government, that two most modern and state-of-the-art gun systems are being inducted into the Indian Army. The first gun to be inducted today is 155-mm M777A2…The negotiations to procure gun systems started back in 2006. However, for whatever reasons it just didn’t move forward. The procurement process gathered steam only under the present government.”
She said that “rapid movements in procurement process” led to fruition of this deal in the last three years. “This gun is being procured from the US government as a foreign military sale at a cost of $737 million – 25 of these guns are being provided by the BAE Systems, and 120 more guns are being assembled and integrated in India.”
On K9 Vajra, Sitharaman said the first 10 guns have been assembled in India and the next 90 will be “manufactured largely in India and, of course, assembled in India.” Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre and Army Chief General Bipin Rawat were present at the ceremony, which also saw a firepower display of existing and newly inducted guns.
Post-ceremony, Sitharaman told the media, “A gun induction programme for the artillery of Indian Army is being held after nearly 30 years. Negotiations for the procurement like this had started in 2004, and even in 2006 and 2007. But that could not gather pace. After 2014, when the new government came to power, several issues such as lack of equipment, weapons and ammunition came to the fore. I am proud to say that the Prime Minister immediately gave directions in this regard.”
She said, “(On the PM’s direction) negotiations went ahead and after procurement within four years, we are witnessing the day of induction. There are more guns in line for induction. This also marks the contribution of ‘Make in India’ in the entire process. This is an important step for the operational readiness of Indian Army.”
Asked about her statement that the negotiations could not materialise under previous governments, Sitharaman said, “Today I am speaking about how we are delivering without delay. I can speak about it because it is happening in this government. I am sure you all are quite informed on reasons of delays in the past.”
Asked when the operational regiments of the newly inducted guns will be raised, Gen Rawat said, “The process has already started. The field guns are being phased out and medium-range guns are being inducted. The implementation and training in that direction has already started.”
The Army plans to raise seven regiments of M777 howitzers, with all the guns to be inducted by August 2021.
The process to induct the K9 Vajra guns will be completed by November 2020. The first batch of 10 guns will be delivered this month, the spokesperson said. The next 40 guns will be delivered in November 2019, and another 50 a year later.
— with ENS, Delhi