The ‘Artillery Regiments’ of the Indian Army have a reason to cheer. India and USA are in the final phases of completing a multi-million dollar deal for artillery guns. USA has in-principle agreed to supply the Indian Army with M777 howitzers by submitting a Letter of Acceptance (LOA). The letter is in response to the Indian Army’s 2009 tender for artillery guns. USA has designated ‘BAE Systems’, as the vendor for the deal. The deal is to be fortified under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channels.
BAE Systems has selected ‘Mahindra’ as its local business partner. Mahindra will now work with BAE systems to locally manufacture the artillery gun. Mahindra piped out Tata Power, L&T, Punj Llyod, Kalyani group and the state-run Ordinance Factory to win the deal. The company will play a crucial role in fulfilling the future needs of the Indian Army.
A major part of the ultra light M-777 howitzer is currently being produced in UK. The final integration and testing phase is being handled at the BAE’s Hattiesburg facility in Mississippi, USA. The company aims to gradually transfer this Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) facility to India in the near future. This will enable the gun to feature high degrees of indigenization in its design. The army will have unhindered access to spare parts and this also promises to drastically reduce the maintenance time and cost of the guns.
BAE Systems and Mahindra will now form a working group to supply 145 pieces of 39 calibers – M777 A2 LW 155 howitzers. This is the first phase in India’s effort to acquire more than 1600 artillery guns to equip its 50+ artillery regiments. India aims to import around 400 artillery units from abroad and the rest 1200+ pieces are to be indigenously manufactured by OFB and various private entities.
The total deal for the M777 is expected to cost around US $700 million dollars. BEA systems will supply the first lot of the guns within six months of signing the final agreement. The howitzer once inducted to the force will be one of the first artillery pieces to be acquired by the Indian Army after the infamous Bofors Scam. The Indian Army in the future may opt for 500+ M777 howitzers in successive follow-on orders.
These howitzers are crucial to support the infantry and can be battle-decisive weaponry systems in mountainous regions. These howitzers are the true force multipliers for ground forces. The might of the artillery guns have been proven in the Siachen and Kargil operations. The Indian Army has an acute need for these guns to counter the Chinese along the Northern and Eastern frontiers. All future mountain strike corps of the Indian Army will be extensively equipped with these artillery pieces to inflict punitive strikes on the enemy. A single C130J Super Hercules aircraft – India’s strategic airlift aircraft – can ferry up to 2 M777 howitzers in a single sortie.
M777 A2 LW 155 Howitzers
The M777 howitzers are manufactured by ‘BAE Systems’ under its ‘Global Combat Systems’ and are perhaps the most advanced and lethal artillery guns ever put into service. The howitzer was introduced in 2005 as a replacement to the bulky M198 howitzers. It is classified as ultra light weight artillery howitzer and weighs about 4,100 kilograms.
The gun uses titanium alloys and this proved as a major revolutionary technology in drastically reducing the weight of the total system. A crew of five highly trained marksmen is required for the smooth functioning of the gun. The gun uses a digital fire control system and state-of-the-art mission computers, self allocates the target information using ingenious navigation, pointing and self-locating technology.
M-777 howitzers can fire up to 5 – 155mm GPS guided accurate munitions and artillery shells per minute. The optimal range of the gun is speculated to be around 25 kilometers and the longest recorded shot to have been fired from the howitzer is 36 kilometers. A single shot from the gun can incinerate enemy bunkers and ground based targets.
Being the lightest howitzer in service the gun is highly portable. The howitzer can be towed along narrow and treacherous mountain roads with ease. The gun can also be rapidly transported by slinging it to the underbelly of a transport helicopter. A single C130J strategic lift aircraft can carry up to 2 battle ready M777 howitzers and Para-drop them with high degree of accuracy.
These guns are a major force multiplier and are a morale booster for the infantry. Targeting enemy territory with accurate artillery rounds, the gun is undoubtedly a battle-decisive weaponry system.