Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the green light for the procurement of 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers for the Indian Army, according to local media reports. The Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by the prime minister, approved the purchase last week, The Times of India reports, based on unnamed sources within India’s Ministry of Defense (MoD).
A final contract is expected to be signed within the next two to three weeks. “The Pentagon’s letter of offer and acceptance (LoA) to India is valid till November 20, but it can be extended for another 10-15 days,” according to a source.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) original letter of acceptance for the acquisition of 145 M777 howitzers from BAE Systems at a cost of around $750 million under the DoD’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program expired on November 7.
The Indian MoD’s Defense Acquisition Council, chaired by Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, approved the purchase of the guns on October 20 (See: “India to Buy 145 Ultralight Howitzers from US”). The MoD had previously signed off on the deal in July but disagreements over certain contract details delayed the ministry’s final decision on the deal.
According to some sources, frustrated with the Indian bureaucracy’s inertia, BAE Systems reportedly demanded a 10 percent increase in price should the Indian government fail to sign a contract before the September 5 deadline.
Under the government-to-government contract, India will procure 25 guns in ready-to-use condition. The remaining 120 M777s would be built in partnership with Mahindra Defense at a BAE Systems Assembly, Integration, and Test facility in India.
The first two guns are slated to be delivered within six months after the inking of the deal. The other guns will be delivered at a rate of two per month. Once in service with the Indian Army, the M777 155 mm 39-caliber towed gun will likely be deployed along the 4,057-kilometer (2520 miles) so-called Line of Actual Control (LoAC) with China and Pakistan as part of the newly created 17 Mountain Strike Corps.
As I noted elsewhere (See: “Mountain Warfare Against China: US Plans to Sell 145 Guns to India”):
The M777 allegedly is the world’s first 155 millimeter howitzer weighing less than 10,000 pounds (4,218 kilograms). Partly made of titanium, the gun can be airlifted swiftly to high-altitude terrain and is ideally suited for mountain warfare. The M777 has a firing range of up to 25 kilometers.
A Indian defense official interviewed by Defense News expressed surprise at the prime minister’s decision. He described it as an “unexpected move,” adding that “the deliveries are expected to start in mid-2017.” The need for artillery — the Indian military has not been able to procure a new howitzer since 1987 — became more acute after recent clashes with Pakistani militants in Kashmir in September. “It will be a game changer,” the official said when discussing the role of the new guns on the battlefield.
The prime minister’s approval of the deal is a major boost for the burgeoning defense ties between India and the United States. “India is certainly looking forward for a much greater defense partnership under … newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump,” the official said.