Two of the 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers will arrive in India from the US on Friday. It will be the first induction of the howitzers after the Bofors scandal broke out nearly 30 years ago. The scandal had badly hit the artillery modernization of the Indian Army.
The Indian Ministry of Defence had approved the purchase of 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers from BAE Systems at a cost of about $750 million.The government to government deal will occur under the Pentagon’s so-called Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
Nearly three decades after the Bofors howitzers were inducted, the Army has got its first artillery guns from BAE Systems. Two 155mm/39 calibre ultra-light howitzers (ULH) will be firing at the Pokhran field firing range in Rajasthan on Thursday.
The acquisition of the ‘Ultra Light Howitzers’, thus called because, at 4.2 tonnes, 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.
The ultra light howitzer is being purchased primarily to deploy on mountains in eastern border with China to provide the much-needed firepower to the Indian Army in the region.
BAE Systems Inc. (formerly BAE Systems North America) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the British defence and aerospace company BAE systems plc. As per its special security Agreement, BAE Systems Inc. operates as a semi-autonomous business unit within BAE Systems controlled at a local level by American management.
BAE has described the rationale for expansion in the US, is by far the largest defence market with spend running close to twice that of the Western European nations combined. Importantly, US investment in research and development is significantly higher than in Western Europe.” The company’s 2004 strategy review confirmed a “strategic bias” for expansion and investment in the US.
Artillery is a class of large military weapons built to fire munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry’s small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach fortifications, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines.
A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles over relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent.
As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery developed for battlefield use. This development continues today, modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the largest share of an army’s total firepower.
The Bofors scandal was a major political scandal that occurred between Sweden and India during the 1980s and 1990s, initiated by Indian National Congress politicians and implicating the Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and several other members of the Swedish and Indian governments who were accused of receiving kickbacks from Bofors AB for winning a bid to supply India’s 155 mm field howitzer.
The scandal relates to illegal kickbacks paid in a US$1.4 billion deal between the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors with the government of India for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns, and a supply contract almost twice that amount.
It was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden, and money marked for development projects was diverted to secure this contract at any cost. The investigations revealed flouting of rules and bypassing of institutions.
The Indian Army has not inducted a new gun since 1989.
“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 in India.
Mahindra and Mahindra Limited (M&M) is an Indian multinational automobile manufacturing corporation headquartered in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. It is one of the largest vehicle manufacturers by production in India and the largest manufacturer of tractors in the world. It is a part of Mahindra Group, an Indian conglomerate.
The last artillery guns that India purchased were the much-controversial Swedish Bofors guns in the mid-1980s.
“In fulfilment of the United States’ Foreign Military Sale of 145 M777 ultra-light weight howitzer to India, we are pleased to confirm that the first two weapon systems will land in India ahead of schedule over this weekend,” a BAE Systems spokesman said in a statement.
“We continue to support the US government in integrating this new weapon system with the Indian Army’s artillery modernisation program,” he added.
“We are pleased that the Indian government is progressing the Foreign Military Sale of M777. This combat proven system will provide the Indian Army with superior artillery capability at an advantageous price with early deliveries,” a BAE Systems press release stated.