$647-million US howitzers to bolster Indian Army arsenal

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 30 2010, 05:49am hrs
With the government speeding up the purchase of the military hardware before the end of this fiscal, the Indian Army will soon get 145 ultra-light howitzers from the US in its arsenal. The deal is worth $ 647 million.

While the Indian defence acquisitions committee (DAC) decided to take the foreign military sales (FMS) route, the Pentagon has notified the US Congress of a possible sale of 145 state-of-the-art lightweight towed Howitzers to India.

Describing India as an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South Asia, the Defence Security Cooperation Agency told the Congress, India intends to use the howitzers to modernise its armed forces and enhance its ability to operate in hazardous conditions.

A foreign military sale is a US programme of government-to-government sales of military hardware bypassing a lengthy system of competitive bidding.

Since one of the principal contractors will be US-based BAE of Hattiesburg and Mississippi, companys official spokesman in New Delhi Guy Douglas told FE, M777 is, by some considerable margin, the lightest 155 mm howitzer in the world and the only system proven in battle. A procurement of M777 should be seen as a victory in procuring the best equipment for the Indian armed forces.

Significant work share would be completed in India by the Mahindra and BAE Systems JV companythe intention is that the JV company will become an Indian centre of excellence for artillery systems, Douglas added.

Initially, there were two different ultra-light howitzers in competition for the Indian Armys estimated artillery modernisation programme Singapore-based ST Kinetics Pegasus and BAE Land Systems M777 made in the US.

While ST Kinetics was blacklisted last year after the company figured in CBI investigations, the DAC decided to go the FMS route before Prime minister Manmohan Singhs visit to that country.

The Army wants to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers, 158 towed and wheeled, 100 tracked, and 180 wheeled and armoured guns in the first phase as part of its field artillery rationalisation plan, the programme to upgrade its artillery divisions.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on January 22, This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the US helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of an important partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South Asia.

In a notification, it said, India intends to use the howitzers to modernise its armed forces and enhance its ability to operate in hazardous conditions. The howitzers will assist the Indian Army to develop and enhance standardisation and to improve interoperability with US Soldiers and Marines who use the M777 as their primary means of indirect fire. India will have no difficulty in absorbing these weapons into its armed forces.

While the BAE Systems has already completed transfer of technology in order to produce it in the US, so far 862 M77 are on contract and 572 are in active service around the world. An order of 145 from India would take the number ordered to over 1,000.

The M777 meets the requirement for the Indian Armys Ultra Lightweight howitzer programmeit is not only the lightest 155mm howitzer in the world but the only one in full production and proven in battlefield operations, observed senior officials.