Bofors ghost laid to rest, India gets first two of the 145 ultra-light howitzers,120 of which will be made in India.
India on Thursday received its first artillery guns in almost 30 years after the Bofors scandal unfolded in the late 1980s, hitting the modernisation of the Indian Army.
The two M777s that arrived in New Delhi are part of a $750-million contract with the United States for 145 ultra-light howitzers. The contract was signed in November 2016.
Here are five things you should know about the new guns:
The two guns are part of the 25 ready-built weapons that will be supplied by the US over the next two years. The remaining 120 howitzers will be produced in the country under the Modi government’s ambitious Make in India initiative. Manufactured by BAE Systems, the guns will be built in India in collaboration with Mahindra Defence. Forty Indian companies will be eligible to be a part of the supply chain.
The 155 mm/39-caliber howitzers have been bought to increase the army’s capabilities in high altitude. The M777s will be deployed in the northern and eastern sectors. The army’s new mountain strike corps, being raised in West Bengal’s Panagarh, will be equipped with the new guns. Aimed at countering China in the Northeast, the government will spend around Rs 40,000 crore on the new corps that is likely to be fully operational by 2025.
The howitzers weigh only 4,218 kg, providing them superior tactical mobility. In contrast, 155mm towed howitzers weigh twice as much. The howitzers can be underslung from helicopters and swiftly deployed at high-altitude areas. The M777s are built with titanium and aluminum alloys. The guns have been bought under the foreign military sales programme of the US government.
More than 1,090 M777s are in service globally. The howitzers have been used during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. India will be the latest user of the howitzers operated by the US, Australian and Canadian militaries for accurate artillery fire support. The two guns that arrived on Thursday will be taken to Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan for trials.
The M777s will be followed by new 155mm/52-calibre tracked self-propelled guns. Private sector defence major Larsen & Toubro and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin (HTW) on April 21 signed a $720-million contract for the artillery gun programme. The army will be supplied 100 K9 VAJRA-T guns. L&T plans to begin production of the guns at Talegaon near Pune in Maharashtra and is expected to deliver them within three years.
An improved version of HTW’s K9 Thunder, the K9 VAJRA-T, has been designed to meet Indian requirements, including those of its desert formations.