The US has finalised its proposal to sell 145 ultra-light Howitzers to India and will be sending its ‘Letter of Acceptance’ (LoA) to South Block this week. Once the Indian government formally accepts the LoA, the deliveries of the guns will commence, starting with two guns being delivered this year itself, each costing about $4.8 million (approx Rs 33 crore).
The addition of the M777 ultra-lightweight guns to India’s arsenal will increase its firepower, especially on the China border. The acquisition of these guns has acquired utmost priority because of shortfalls of artillery guns needed to equip the Indian army’s new Mountain Strike Corps on the China border, which is currently being raised as per schedule, according to a report in The Indian Express.
The $700-million (Rs 4,766 crore) deal, which has been in the pipeline since 2008, had hit a roadblock in 2013, and was almost scrapped, according to Defense World.
The then-defence minister Arun Jaitley had told Parliament in July 2014,
“The case for procurement of ultra-light howitzer guns through the US government has not progressed due to cost issues and because the vendor has not been able to come up with a proposal fully compliant to the offset requirements.” .
However, the deal was revived last year after the manufacturer, BAE, assured the Indian government that part of the gun would be produced in the country under the ‘Make in India’ scheme.
About $200 million (Rs 1,362 crore) investments are to be made by BAE in India as part of its offset obligations for the deal under the ‘Make in India’ programme. The company is already in talks with Indian firms, and some of the front runners are Mahindra, L&T and Tata.
India’s last major weapons buy was the Bofors gun, almost 30 years ago. Currently, the Ordinance Factory Board has been working on enhancing the gun and is at the trial stage of the upgraded gun, which has been renamed ‘Dhanush’. The gun has been upgraded to 45-calibre from the original 39-calibre to give it a 38-km range compared to the 30-km of the original Bofors gun, reports The Economic Times.
Even the acquisition of the howitzer has seen a bumpy ride. The first contract for getting these guns had initially been signed by the Indian government for the Pegasus lightweight howitzer, which is developed jointly by the Singapore Armed Forces, Defence Science and Technology Agency and Singapore Technology Kinetics.
But this deal was junked after bribery reports cropped up and the CBI was called in to investigate the mater. India then turned towards the M777 howitzer which had been its second preference.
The M777 gun is much lighter in weight compared to its peers as its barrel is made of titanium, which makes it possible for the howitzer to be carried via a sling on a Chinook helicopter, or Globemaster and Hercules aircrafts. While India already has the latter two air transports, PM Narendra Modi had signed a deal for 15 Chinook helicopters during his US visit in September last year, according to Swarajya website.