In a historic move on Wednesday (30 November), India signed a nearly Rs 5,000 crore deal with the United States for the purchase of 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers guns. A senior official from the Minister of Defence (MoD) signed the Letter of Acceptance (LOA) sent by the US in response to India’s Letter of Request showing interest in buying the guns. The letter was signed during the 15th India-U.S. Military Cooperation Group (MCG) meeting in New Delhi.
The deal has been in the pipeline for nearly a decade. The Defence Acquisition Council had already approved the purchase in June, but its re-endorsement became necessary following cost issues flagged by the Ministry of Finance. The final approval for the deal was given by the MoD on 20 October, following which the deal was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 November.
While India will receive the first 25 guns from the manufacturer in fly-away condition, the remaining will be assembled in India. According to India Today, the first three guns will be provided to India for user trials and familiarisation in the next three months. The first batch of 20 guns ( an artillery regiment has 18 guns) will be delivered in the next two years.
The manufacturer plans to set up an Assembly Integration and Test facility for the weapon system in India to assemble the remaining 120 guns in partnership with Mahindra. This also points towards the possibility of a follow-up order from the Indian army. The MoD has already expressed its interest in procuring 500 more M777 howitzers.
Being a light-weight system, the M777 is highly manoeuvrable and can be airlifted to areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh that remain inaccessible by road most part of the year due to inhospitable weather and rugged terrain.