Indian government has authorized the purchase of 145 ultra-light M777 towed howitzers for the Indian Army. The US made gun will equip mountain artillery divisions deployed at high altitudes along the LAC and LOC.
A total of 145 guns are proposed to be acquired under a contract worth $650 million (nearly Rs 2,950 crore).
The acquisition is being made from BAE Land Systems (US) under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program without competitive bidding. It is part of the Indian Army’s estimated $2.5-billion artillery modernization program.
An open tender for purchase of ULH was earlier cancelled following the black listing of Singapore based ST Kinetics in 2009, along with six other firms which featured in investigations into the deals struck by the former director general of the Ordnance Factory Board in Calcutta.
Following the cancellation of the open tender, government initiated the FMS deal with the US, to buy M777 guns from BAE Systems.
On 22 January 2010 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the US Congress of a possible foreign military sale (FMS) to India of 145 M777 155mm light-weight towed howitzers with laser inertial artillery pointing systems (LINAPS) and associated equipment, training and logistical support for a complete package worth approximately $647 million.
In May, 2010, Janes's reported that Indian Army will conduct 'confirmatory' trials of the guns at Pokharan before acquiring them under the US FMS program.
The trials will validate the gun's ability to work with Indian-made ammunition.
Logistical and technical support for the trials will be provided by a joint venture between BAE Systems and Mahindra Defense Systems.
The 26:74 BAE-Mahindra joint venture was formed recently with a Rs 100 crore equity.
In January 2011, COAS General VK Singh told the press that winter trials of the gun have been completed; summer trials are scheduled in the middle of the year.
The deal was expected to be signed within FY 2010-11 and the guns expected to be inducted by the end of 2011.
However, procurement was stalled after MoD pointed out to the Army that purchase of ULH could possibly be contempt of court, as the Delhi High Court in May 2011 had ordered MoD not to proceed with the purchase of ULH under an open tender, in which Singapore Technologies was a participant.
The Army contended that the FMS deal with the US is a separate deal, and not part of the tender over which the Singaporean firm went to court. The government referred the entire issue to the law ministry for legal opinion.
In December 2011, there were reports in the Indian press that the trial report for the gun, listing shortfalls in QRs desired by the Army, had been leaked leading to the stalling of the procurement process.
In a statement to Parliament on December 12, 2011, Defense Minister Shri AK Antony confirmed that the government will use the FMS route to procure the gun in view of the single vendor situation, once quality assurance and maintainability trials are completed. The leak of the trial document would not have any impact on the procurement process.
Below is the relevant extract from a GOI Press Release.
"The procurement on Single Vendor basis from M/s ST Kinetics, Singapore is sub-judice. The option of procuring the equipment through US Government (FMS route) is also being pursued.
The field evaluation of Ultra Light Howitzer comprises three parts viz. user trials, DGQA trials and Maintainability trials. Out of these, only user trials of the gun proposed to be procured through US Government have been completed. The performance of the gun can be ascertained only after evaluation of all three trial reports.
The field evaluation trial report of the guns was a confidential document.Four pages of draft field trial report were received in an anonymous envelope by the Army Hqrs. An enquiry in the matter is underway. Detailed instructions exist about security of classified documents. Aberrations, if any, are dealt with as per the relevant rules."
The Hindu reported on December 7, 2011 that the MOD has asked DRDO Chief V.K. Saraswat to prepare a report on ultra-light howitzers, following questions being raised for the need for such a gun.
Deliveries of the guns, earmarked to equip the two new mountain divisions (Six regiments) being raised, will span 18-24 months.
Under the program, the army wants to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers, 158 towed and wheeled, 100 tracked, and 180 wheeled and armored guns in the first phase.
The Army last purchased a gun in 1987 when the last Bofor howitzer was delivered.
The M777 howitzer is replacing the M198 howitzer in the United States Marine Corps and United States Army.
The 155 mm gun's relative light weight of 3,175 kg (7,000 lb), achieved through the extensive use of titanium, allows it to be slung under a helicopter and quickly deployed in mountainous terrain.
In contrast to the M777's light weight, the 155 mm FH77B Bofors howitzer acquired by the Indian Army starting 1986 weighed 11,500 kg (25,353 lbs).
The M777's effective range varies from 24-40 km depending on the ammunition used. The 40km range comes the new Excalibur GPS-guided munition whose higher accuracy allows for extreme firing ranges.
In tests conducted by the US Army, firing at a target 24 km away the gun landed 13 of 14 Excalibur rounds that it fired within 10 meters of their target.
Other countries besides the US that use the M777 howizter are Britain, Canada and Australia. In September 2011, it was reported that Saudi Arabia had ordered 36 guns.