The Indian Army is slated to resume firing tests of four U.S.-made M777 155 mm 39-caliber towed howitzer guns at the Indian military’s test range at Pokhran in the Thar Desert region in northwestern India this month under the supervision of U.S. military personnel, according to local media reports.
“Firing will resume this month and continue in August. Local ammunition will be used and tentatively 100-150 rounds will be fired,” an Indian military official was quoted by The Hindu as saying. The principle objective of the test firing is to complete compilation of the howitzer’s “firing tables” using Indian ammunition.
Firing tables are charts giving data needed for firing a howitzer gun accurately on a target under various conditions, including wind variations and changing temperatures.
Test firings of the M777s were suspended last September after the barrel of a howitzer burst during user trials. U.S. investigators concluded that the accident was due to faulty ammunition indigenously manufactured by the Ordnance Factories Board. The Indian military, however, initially denied that the misfiring occurred as a result of defective locally-made shells.
In November 2016, the Indian government approved the procurement of air-mobile 145 M777 howitzers from BAE Systems at a cost of around $750 million under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Under the 2016 government-to-government contract, India is to import 25 guns in ready-to-use condition. The remaining 120 M777s will be built in partnership with Mahindra Defense at a BAE Systems Assembly, Integration, and Test facility in India.
Deliveries, at a rate of two per month, are expected to commence in March 2019. The first five M777 howitzers will likely be officially inducted into the Indian Army by the end of the year. The first three howitzers were delivered to India in May 2017 for user trials. Earlier this year, two more artillery pieces followed. 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.
The new howitzers will likely be deployed along the 4,057-kilometer (2,520-mile) so-called Line of Actual Control (LoAC) with China and Pakistan. However, the new artillery pieces will not be part of the 17 Mountain Strike Corps as the Indian government has recently decided to scrap plans for standing up this new unit for the time being.
The Indian military has not been able to procure new howitzer guns since 1987. In addition to the M777, the Indian Army is also slated to induct the indigenously designed and developed Dhanush 155-millimeter/45-caliber towed howitzer later this year or in 2019.