All you need to know about M777 howitzers!
The Indian Army received the first two out of a total of 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers manufactured by BAE systems in the US. The development has given the Indian Army's artillery modernization plan has received a much needed boost as it hasn't received a single new gun since the Bofors scandal 30 years ago. Here's everything you need to know about the M777 howitzers.
The Bofors scandal which brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government in the late 1980s derailed all plans for the induction, technology transfer and indigenous manufacture of artillery systems. Potential artillery orders from manufacturers like South Africa's Denel and Singapore Technologies Kinetics were also riddled in scandals causing further delays. Interestingly, Bofors is now owned by BAE Systems, the company manufacturing the M777 howitzers.
In 1999, the Indian army's field artillery rationalization plan was drawn which envisaged the acquisition of 2,800 to 3000 pieces of 155 mm/52-calibre guns and 155 mm/39-calibre lightweight howitzers by 2027. This includes 814 truck-mounted guns, 1,580 towed guns, 100 tracked self-propelled guns, 180 wheeled self-propelled guns and 145 ultra-lightweight howitzers. The modernization plan has been lagging behind by decades.
The decision to purchase the M777 howitzers was first proposed some 10 years ago. Last year, New Delhi signed a Rs. 5,000 crore deal with BAE Systems during the 15th India-US Military Cooperation Group. The first two guns were delivered a month ahead of schedule.
The two guns are the first of 25 ready-built howitzers which will be manufactured and shipped from the US over the next two years. The remaining 120 guns will be manufactured under PM Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' initiative by Mahindra Defence in collaboration with BAE Systems. Nearly 40 Indian companies may be part of the supply chain, bringing much-needed expertise for future projects.
Over 1090 M777 howitzers are in service in the militaries of the US, Australia and Canada. The howitzers saw action during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, earning respect for their accurate artillery fire support and 30km range.
The M777 howitzers have been purchased to augment the army's capabilities in high altitude warfare and will likely be deployed in the northern and eastern sectors, bordering China. They will be used by the army's new China-specific mountain strike corps which is being raised in Panagarh, West Bengal at a cost of Rs. 40,000 crore. The corps will likely be fully operation by 2025.
The M777 howitzers weigh just 4,218 kg, making them ideal for rapid tactical mobility. The Army's 155mm towed howitzers weigh twice as much. The M777 can be underslung and airlifted by Chinook helicopters, which India has purchased from America, allowing them to be deployed swiftly in high-altitude and inaccessible areas. They can also be moved inside transport planes and on the back of trucks.
Besides the M777, India is in line to induct the Dhanush artillery guns. These are indigenously upgraded and manufactured variants of the Bofors guns. Larsen & Toubro and South Korea's Hanwha Techwin (HTW) have also won a Rs. 4,700 crore contract to deliver 100 K9 Vajra-T tracked self-propelled artillery. These will be produced in Talegaon, Maharashtra and start getting delivered within three years.