After being blocked for years, a deal for the purchase of 145 M777 ultra-light howitzer guns will finally be signed within the next three weeks, a report published in the Times of India (TOI) said. According to the report, which quoted unnamed sources within the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had given the green signal for acquisition of howitzers on Wednesday.
"The Pentagon's letter of offer and acceptance (LoA) to India is valid till November 20, but it can be extended for another 10-15 days," TOI quoted a source as saying.
The M777 Howitzer is a towed 155mm artillery piece, manufactured by the US-based BAE Systems. It is one of the most capable guns in its class, currently in use in US, Australia and Canada.
The purchase of these guns will take place under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme and will cost India around $737 million (almost 5,000 crore). The deal will be a government-to-government one and is said to have a 30 per cent offset clause.
India and the United States have been negotiating the deal for several years. In 2015, the manufacturer BAE Systems proposed to create a special centre in India where howitzers would be assembled, integrated and tested by BAE Systems and India’s Mahindra. As a part of the deal, 120 out of 145 howitzers will be assembled in India in partnership with Mahindra and the remaining 25 will come to India in a fly-away condition.
Being a light-weight system, the M777 is highly manoeuvrable and can be towed to areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh that remain inaccessible by road most part of the year due to inhospitable weather and rugged terrain. None of India’s rivals operates a gun that is comparable in capability with the M777. India currently uses over 200 Haubit FH 77 guns, procured from Swedish manufacturer Bofors starting 1986.
With the signing of this deal, India will move a step closer to acquiring new artillery guns for the first time in last 30 years. The first two howitzers will be delivered six months after the signing of the deal and the remaining will follow at the rate of two per month. The Army will induct its first M777 by the end of 2017.