Two of the ultra-light howitzers India contracted from the U.S. last month will be delivered to the Army within six months, to kickstart the process of integrating the American artillery gun into the Indian arsenal.
India last integrated a modern artillery gun in the 1980s when Swedish gun-maker Bofors supplied artillery guns. However, the scandal surrounding its purchase and allegations of kickback resulted in the Army not procuring any new artillery guns for almost three decades. The purchase of the M-777 guns from the U.S. has broken that jinx.
By November-end, India signed the Letter of Acceptance (LoA) with the U.S. government under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme for 145 BAE Systems-built M-777A2 artillery guns in a $737- million deal.
“Two guns will be delivered to the Army within six months from the signing of the LoA for preparing the range tables and calibration,” a source told The Hindu .
A senior officer explained that range tables were required when integrating local ammunition in use by the Army with the gun and calibrating it against a whole lot of variables such as weather and temperature.
As per schedule, the first lot of deliveries will begin 21 months after the initial payment which, defence officials say, will be done about five weeks from the signing of the LoA. Of the 145 guns, 25 will be imported and the remaining 120 assembled in India. BAE Systems expects to sign an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defence soon to execute the contract.
M-777 ULH is the lightest 155-mm artillery gun making it ideal for employment by the Army’s mountain strike corps in the mountains. Weighing just over four tonnes, the gun can be transported underslung on helicopters. It is ideally suited for transport by the Boeing-built Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, 15 of which India has signed up for.
However, the small number of helicopters will limit their rapid mobility. For this, the Army has tested them for transport by the Russian-built Mi-17 V5 medium lift helicopters operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Officials confirmed that during the initial gun trails, its transportability was tested with Mi-17 V5 helicopters. There are 151 Mi-17 V5s in service with the IAF and plans are under way to procure 48 more.
The gun may not be airlifted entirely by the Mi-17s; it will have to dismantled slightly. But this will greatly enhance the rapid mobility when needed, one officer observed.
The US M-777 howitzer programme is managed by the Joint Project Manager Towed Artillery Systems (PM-TAS), part of the Program Executive Office (PEO) Ammunition located at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.
“The basic gun is the same as the howitzers that the U.S. military uses. However, they requested a different fire-control system. It’s the system that Canada uses on their howitzers; so it's already battle-proven,” Joe Lipinski, PM-TAS lead for International Acquisition Programmes, said in a statement.
In addition, PEO Ammunition and BAE Systems will provide technical manuals, training programmes and engineering support. The contract also covers five years of spare parts.