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By Bulbul Singh

10 Dec 13. The Indian government has finally cleared the purchase of 145 Ultra Light Howitzers from the U.S. subsidiary of BAE Systems on government-to-government basis. However, the delay by over three years has meant an increase of over 60 per cent in the cost in Indian Rupee terms as the currency has tumbled against the U.S. dollar since 2010 when the purchase was agreed.

“This has also led to a situation where the BAE Systems ULH facility faces closure and it is still not certain if the facility will stay open until the final inking of the contract,” said an Indian Army source. The guns are assembled in Hattliesburg, Mississippi, U.S.A while parts are made at BAE Systems facilities in UK.

The Indian Defence Minister, A K Antony told the Indian Parliament December 9 in a written reply, “The Government has not held up the purchase of 145 Ultra Light Howitzer (ULH) artillery guns from the United States. The Government is proposing the procurement of 145 Ultra Unit Howitzers through the Foreign Military sale route as per Defence Procurement Procedure.”

“Antony’s statement says clearly that the purchase is now through and awaits the formality of inking the deal,” said the source.

On August 7 2013 the Pentagon re-notified the US Congress of the sale to India of 145 BAE Systems M777 towed 155 mm/39-calibre ultra-light howitzers (ULHs) for up to $885 million which is a sharp increase in U.S. dollars the earlier notification of January 26, 2010, which had stated a maximum cost of US $647 million. Since 2010 one U.S. Dollar has appreciated from nearly 45 to 62 Indian Rupees.

India decided to buy the M777 Ultra Light Howitzer from the United States on government-to-government basis after the earlier 2008 tender in which Singapore Technologies and BAE Systems were in competition had was cancelled after Singapore Technologies was blacklisted in 2010 on alleged corruption charges.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has since begun a probe into the allegations but no report has been submitted on the matter so far. Singapore Technologies pleaded that until the corruption allegations are not proved, Singapore Technologies should be allowed to do business in India including competing in the ULH tender.

Last year unanimous complaints were made to the Ministry of Defence suggesting lack of transparency in the purchase of the ULHs from the U.S. which forced the government to set up an enquiry.

The Indian Army needs ULH for use in mountain terrain along the border with China. Unlike conventional artillery, ULHs can be lifted by helicopter to deployment areas high in the mountains. So far no 155mm guns have been procured since 1986 despite the Indian Army deciding in 2000 to replace all artillery guns with 155mm at a cost of over $5 billion.

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