NEW DELHI --- Ending a three-decade-old howitzer drought, India today signed a contract with the US for buying 145 M777 ultralight howitzers for $737 million (Rs 5000 crore). A senior MoD official today formally signed the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) with the US government for the seven regiments of howitzers.
The acquisition is for the 'Ultra Light Howitzers', thus called because at 4.2 tons they weigh only a third of normal 155 mm howitzers. The guns, which can be carried underslung by heavy lift helicopters like the Chinook, will give the army tremendous flexibility especially along the mountainous border with China.
Sources said the first three M777 howitzers will be delivered within the next three months to allow high-altitude and desert trials with Indian-made ammunition. The three guns will also be used to train Indian gunners.
The first batch of 20 guns (18 guns make an artillery regiment) will be delivered by manufacturer BAE Systems in two years. The remaining 120 guns will be assembled in India between 48-54 months by BAE partner Mahindra Defence at their plant in Faridabad, Haryana.
The deal was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 15. It has been in the pipeline for nearly a decade since the Indian army mooted the acquisition of the M777 Ultra Light Howitzers (ULH) from the US under 'Foreign Military Sales'.
"We look forward to providing the Indian Army with the combat-proven M777," said Dr. Joe Senftle, vice president & general manager for Weapon Systems at BAE Systems. The Company anticipates signing a contract in the coming weeks with the U.S. Department of Defense to supply the M777 to the army.
The Indian army bought its first artillery guns this year after a thirty-year gap. Earlier this year, the government cleared buys of the first batch of Dhanush 155/45 mm howitzers built by the Ordnance Factory Board. The first six Dhanush howitzers are already undergoing user familiarization with the army's artillery units in Siachen and in the desert.
India signed its last howitzer contracts in 1986 but a bribery controversy that broke in 1987 scuttled the acquisition of more guns. The Bofors howitzers played a decisive role in the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. An artillery modernisation plan mooted in 2000 called for acquiring over 2200 new guns but multiple bribery controversies scuttled new gun acquisitions.