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30 years after Bofors, Indian Army finally gets new howitzers

18 May 2017

Nearly three decades after a kickbacks controversy over Bofors howitzers put India's field artillery plans on hold, the first modern 155mm artillery guns to be inducted by the Army since the 1980s - two 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers from BAE Systems - landed from the US on Thursday morning.

The two 155mm/39 caliber ultra-light howitzers (ULH) will be firing at the Pokhran field firing range in Rajasthan later today.

The two howitzers, which came in a chartered aircraft from the UK, will be taken to the Pokhran ranges for testing and "compilation of the firing tables" for subsequent use. The firing tables, with the guns being tested for different kinds of Indian ammunition with bi-modular charges, will take some time to be formulated, Army officials said.

Having initiated the deal for M777 guns with the United States in 2010, the government finally announced a deal for 145 guns on 26 June last year. The Rs2,900-crore 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. The controversy over alleged kickbacks in the deal, put all deals for the modernisation of India's artillery on hold.

The Army plans to equip 169 regiments with 3,503 guns by 2020 but acquisition plans, which include indigenously manufactured guns, have been delayed considerably.

The M777 guns have been designed for firing Indian ammunition in Indian conditions, and are already in service with the US, Canadian and Australian armies. The 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, is capable of carrying two M777 guns at a time.

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