Two M-777 155mm, 39- caliber Ultra Lightweight Howitzers (ULH) which reached India on May 18 in a chartered aircraft will soon be reaching Pokharan field firing range here in Thar desert of Rajasthan for a three month long test bed fires. As per the officials of BAE and Indian Army, these two Howitzers, the first lot of the artillery guns for Army from the BAE Systems, are all set for test bed fires for ‘preparation of firing tables’. Officials revealed that the guns were cleared by the Customs department in New Delhi on Saturday and thus the guns would be reaching Pokharan by this week.
“Following this, the guns with a strike range of 24-40 km (depending on kind of ammunition used) will be tested for different kinds of indigenous 155mm Indian ammunition during three month long period of test bed fires for drawing out the firing tables and calibration of the range of the guns with different kinds of ammunition for hitting the target etc “, said an official source adding that the officials from both BAE and Army have already reached here for the pre induction test bed fires which shall commence almost immediately after the guns reach the site.
After an almost three decades wait for artillery guns by the Indian Army since the induction of Swedish Bofors, the $737 million deal for 145 of these M-777 weapon systems was finally inked with the United States on November 30, 2016 under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route as a government-to-government deal. Induction of Howitzer’s is a part of the Army’s prestigious artillery modernization plan.
BAE officials said that with these two weapons systems landing ahead of their schedule in India, India has joined the U.S., Canadian and Australian forces in gaining the M-777’s unmatched strategic and tactical mobility. After the induction of the first 25 guns in ‘ready to use’ condition directly, rest shall be pieced together in India by Mahindra Defence Systems Limited. ” We continue to support the US Government in integrating this new weapon system with the Indian Army’s artillery modernization program”, said the BAE official.
The Army in a statement said that as per the contract agreement firing tables are being prepared by the contracted agency i.e. US Government and BAE GCS Ltd with support of Indian Army. 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.
These ultra light guns weighing a little over four tonnes shall arm the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps being raised by Indian Army with unparalleled rapid reaction and deterrence capabilities along the treacherous mountainous terrains of Indo-China border. These guns have been successfully deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Howitzers having used Titanium for weight reduction can be easily airlifted to high altitudes.
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