Today, India inked a $735 million defense deal with the United States for 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers, according to local media reports. A senior Indian defense official signed the so-called Letter of Acceptance (LOA) for seven new artillery regiments of howitzers on November 30, India Today reports.
The deadline for the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) original LOA for the purchase of 145 M777 howitzers from BAE Systems under the DoD’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program expired on November 7. A second LOA deadline, which expired on November 20, was extended for another 15 days in the hope that the Indian government would finally sign its first overseas order for artillery guns in 30 years.
The Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the purchase on November 15 (See: “India’s Prime Minister Clears Purchase of 145 Guns”). The Indian Defense Ministry’s (MoD) Defense Acquisition Council, led by Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, cleared the M777 procurement 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,” I reported elsewhere.
A formal FMS agreement between India and the United States is expected to be inked on December 1.
According to Indian defense industry sources, the first three M777 howitzers will be delivered within the next three months and undergo high-altitude and hot weather trials with various types of Indian ammunition. Another 22 guns will be delivered in ready-to-use condition within the first two years of the signing of the contract. (One source indicated that the first two guns will only be delivered within six months after the inking of the deal.)
“The remaining 120 M777s would be built in partnership with Mahindra Defense at a BAE Systems Assembly, Integration, and Test facility in India. The other guns will be delivered at a rate of two per month,” I explained last week. Deliveries to the Indian Army are expected to start in mid-2017.
“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.”
Furthermore, I noted (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.
The Indian Army is expected to procure up to 220 M777 ultralight howitzers over the next 15 years. As I reported previously, the Indian army’s 1999 Field Artillery Rationalization Plan aimed to acquire 2,800-3,000 155 mm/52-caliber guns of all kinds and 155 mm/39-caliber lightweight howitzers by 2027.