NEW DELHI: India has now exorcised the ominous Bofors ghost haunting its artillery modernization plans for the last 30 years. In the first modern 155mm artillery guns to be inducted by the Army since the 1980s, two of the 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers ordered from the US will touch down here on Thursday morning.
Defence sources on Wednesday said the two howitzers, which will come in a chartered aircraft from the UK, will be taken to the Pokhran ranges for testing and “compilation of the firing tables” for subsequent use. “The firing tables, with the guns being tested for different kinds of Indian ammunition with bi-modular charges, will take some time to be formulated,” said a source.
The delivery schedule for the air-mobile howitzers, being acquired under the $737 million deal inked with the US in a government-to-government deal, will quicken from March 2019 onwards. “Five guns will then be delivered every month till all 145 are inducted by June 2021. While the first 25 guns will be imported, the rest 120 will be assembled in India with artillery-manufacturer BAE Systems selecting Mahindra as its business partner here,” he added.
The arrival of the M-777 guns, which are primarily meant for the front with China, comes soon after the government also inked a Rs 4,366 crore contract with engineering conglomerate L&T for the supply of 100 self-propelled howitzers in collaboration with its South Korean technology partner Hanwha Tech Win. These 155mm/52-calibre tracked guns called K-9 Vajra-T, in turn, are to be delivered within 42 months, as was earlier reported by TOI.
The 13-lakh strong Army has not inducted a single 155mm artillery gun since the Bofors scandal brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government, and derailed all plans for technology transfer and indigenous manufacture.
Subsequent scandals revolving around other global artillery manufacturers, like South African Denel and Singapore Technology Kinetic’s, further punched gaping holes in the Army’s long-range, high-volume firepower. Interestingly, the original Swedish Bofors company is now owned by BAE Systems.
The Army has been demanding 155mm/39-calibre ultra-light howitzers like the M-777s, with a strike range from 24 to 40-km depending on the kind of ammunition used, for almost 15 years now as part of the overall plan to build robust conventional deterrence against China. Weighing just over 4-tonne due to the use of titanium, the M-777 can swiftly be airlifted to high-altitudes areas up to 16,000-feet in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control with China. The M-777 howitzers will equip the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps, which the Army is raising by cannibalizing its existing reserves, for the China front. With two infantry divisions geared for mountain warfare, and associated artillery, air defence and armoured brigades, the 17 Corps will be fully in place with 90,274 troops by 2021.