Deliveries are expected to start in mid-2017.
In an effort to modernize the artillery capacity of Indian military, the Defense ministry has cleared the long-pending deal of acquiring 145 M777 ultralight howitzers.
The new defense deal between India and US was made possible through the Foreign Military Sales program that allows the US to sell arms, defense equipment, defense services, and military training to foreign countries.
According to top defense officials, the latest defense deal with US and India will help in bolstering the burgeoning relationship between the two democracies.
Defense News quoted an official saying, “Finally the contract will be signed at $737 million within the next two months, and the deliveries are expected to start in mid-2017,” according to the official, who described the decision as “indeed an unexpected move.”
He also added: “India is certainly looking forward to a much greater defense partnership under the leadership with newly elected US President Donald Trump.”
Indian Military has been engaged in fierce cross-border attack from Pakistan and the border security has been beefed up after unprovoked attacks unleashed by Pakistan. According to a military spokesperson, the induction of howitzer will give India an edge over Pakistan and this has been one of the top priority for the army for the past several months.
He also said that “it will be a game changer,” as India has upped the ante after the Uri attack, in one instance even crossing the LOC to conduct a surgical strike on terror camps.
The proposal to buy M777A2 Howitzers from the US was first moved in 2015 after the manufacturers of the artillery piece committee to set up assembly, integration and test facility in India to boost India’s domestic defense industry.
Going by the contract, the US Subsidiary of BAE System will dispatch 25 M777 artillery guns in fly-away condition, with the remaining guns being assembled in India in partnership with private sector company Mahindra Defense Systems.
The two companies will jointly set up an AIT facility for M777 artillery guns near New Delhi.
In a February news release, the company said: “The selection [Indian partner] follows a detailed assessment of Mahindra’s ability to fulfill the requirements and provide the best value to the M777 India program, and in the future, grow its capability as a strategic partner for BAE Systems in India.”
The 1978 model Fälthaubits 77 or FH77, inducted to Indian Army in 1986, was the last howitzer bought by India and it has been in service for nearly two decades. Interestingly, Bofors AB, the manufacturers that supplied India 155 mm field howitzer was later acquired by BAE Systems, the manufacturers of 145 M777 ultralight howitzers.
The M777 ultralight howitzers have a striking range of 38 Km when compared to the 25 km of the FH77 model that India uses currently. The artillery piece made out of titanium is just over 4 ton and can be moved to high altitude locations up to 16,000 feet, thus making it perfect for the mountains of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
A total of 220 ultralight howitzers will be handed over to India over the next 15 years.