• The long wait for artillery guns getting over

By Sangeeta Saxena

New Delhi. 18 May 2017. It has been a day of excitements. It  dawned with the news that the first M777s are all set to arrive this weekend, ahead of the scheduled time. And as the day progressed the news was the first two M 777 A-2 (Indian) ULH have arrived today for preparation of firing tables. During this event, the guns will fire 155 mm indigenous ammunition. And this was from the horses’s mouth-the MOD spokesperson.

A wait of more three decades now seems to be coming to an end. The weapon system was contracted on 30 November 16. As per the contract agreement firing tables are being prepared by the contracted agency US Government and BAE GCS Ltd with support of Indian Army.

The M777 is the lightest 155 mm Howitzer in the world. The second lightest Howitzer in the world is the Singapore Light Weight Howitzer – SLWH Pegasus 155. It weighs 5450 kg. It is heavier than the M777 by approximately 2220 kgs or 50%. This weight advantage translates to the M777  being capable of being air-lifted over longer distances and to greater heights by airlift helicopters. This is what made it a great asset to US in Afghanistan- this is what will make it special in India.

Long range is a capability which makes it the gun of choice. It can fire upto 20 to 50 km, depending on the ammunition and the length of barrel (caliber). Another asset is its indirect fire capability. A Howitzer relies on the shell trajectory, not on direct line of sight. It can engage a target on the other side of a mountain, similar to a person lobbing a ball across a high wall. Howitzers have elevation of +70 degrees to -5 degrees. A Howitzer will be able to hit a target on top of a mountain.

The M777 howitzer is a towed 155 mm artillery piece. It succeeded the M198 howitzer in the United States Marine Corps and United States Army in 2005. It made its combat debut in the War in Afghanistan.

It is manufactured by BAE Systems’ Global Combat Systems division. Prime contract management is based in Barrow-in-Furness in the United Kingdom as well as manufacture and assembly of the titanium structures and associated recoil components. Final integration and testing of the weapon is undertaken at BAE’s facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

India’s Ministry of Defence cleared the proposal for buying 145 guns for US$660 million on 11 May 2012 through the US Government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process. On 2 August 2013, India requested the sale of 145 M777 howitzers for US$885 million. On 24 February 2014 the purchase was again postponed. On 11 May 2014 the purchase was cleared by India’s Defence ministry. On 11 July 2014, the Government of India announced that it would not order the guns because of cost issues. On 22 November 2014, the selection process was restarted under the “Make In India” program. On 13 May 2015, the defence ministry approved ₹2,900 crore to buy 145 M777 ultralight howitzers from the US.

On 26 June 2016, it was announced that 145 guns will be purchased by India for US$750 million.On 30 November 2016 Indian government completed the deal to buy 145 howitzers from the US.The deal was completed in December 2016. Indian Army has received the 1st batch of two M777 howitzers today.

After firing tables are ready, three more guns will be received in the second stage in September 2018 for training. Thereafter, induction will commence from March 2019 onwards at the rate of five guns per month till complete consignment is received by mid 2021.