BAE U.S. 155 GUNS INVITED FOR TRIALS IN INDIAN GUN PROGRAM
By Bulbul Singh
17 Nov 10. Within days of U.S. President Obama’s visit to New Delhi, the Indian defence ministry has asked the U.S. subsidiary of BAE Systems to field two M-777 howitzer guns for trials, paving the way for purchase of 145 light howitzer 155mm guns by the Indian Army.
BAE’s U.S. subsidiary will field two M-777 guns for trials in the Rajasthan desert in November-December followed by higher altitude tests in Sikkim bordering China in January. After the tests are completed, the deal will be finalized for the purchase of 145 guns by the Indian Army costing over $650 million.
The all-weather 155mm/39-calibre howitzers, with laser inertial artillery pointing systems and a 30-km range, will be deployed along the Chinese border by the Indian Army as these can be transported underslung from helicopters. Currently the Indian Army does not have any 155mm light howitzers.
Currently the Bofors 155mm FH-77B howitzer, bought in 1986, is used for general support and counter-bombardment and is deployed in the mountains with six howitzers in Siachen and in both Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh bordering China. A total of 410 FH-77s against a projected requirement of over 2,000 were procured in 1986. These were involved in kick-backs, in the infamous Bofors Scandal. The army has not bought a single big gun since the last of the Bofors howitzer was delivered in 1987.
The Indian Army wants more light artillery guns, but there is still no decision on giving additional orders to BAE apart from the guns being under procurement now.
Sources in the Indian Army said, ”Several light artillery guns currently with the Indian Army, including the 130mm guns can be upgraded at cheap rates and used by the Indian Army. The Indian Army proposes to upgrade its 130mm guns to 155mm/45 calibre to equip artillery units in plains, deserts and mountains.” said a senior Indian Army official.
The upgraded 130mm guns will have the ability to fire ammunition up to a distance of 36 kilometres. The 130mm guns, both towed and Catapult self-propelled guns numbering around 400 were acquired from Russia between 1992-95 totalling around 700.
The 122mm D-30 towed howitzer used for close support by multiple regiments is deployed on the plains. In addition there are the 105mm Field guns, and the 105mm Light Field guns which can also be upgraded.
The Indian government went for direct purchase of the light howitzer 155mm guns from United States after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) blacklisted six defence companies, including Singapore Technologies which was one of the. The Indian defence ministry was forced to cancel the tender as Singapore Technologies was blacklisted by the CBI which has delayed the project by six years.
The army is to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers, 158 towed and wheeled, 100 tracked, and 180 wheeled and armoured guns in the first phase as part of its field artillery rationalization plan, the programme to upgrade all its artillery divisions.