The Indian Army has inducted the first lot of Indian-assembled 155mm, 39 calibre M777A2 ultralight howitzers (ULH). This also coincides with its first M777 regiment getting its full complement of 18 guns.
These artillery guns are meant to provide rapid response, 30-km range sustained firepower capability for mountain warfare.
The commencement of supply of these combat proven titanium artillery guns from an M777 Assembly Integration and Test (AIT) facility at Faridabad is a big landmark in the estimated $750 Million programme to equip the Indian Army’s mountain warfare formations with light artillery. The facility has been set up by BAE, the original equipment manufacturer, in partnership with Mahindra Defence & Aerospace and forms the core of the Make in India element for this deal.
After L&T’s Hazira establishment, the BAE-Mahindra AIT is only the second artillery manufacturing facility in the Indian private sector.
Under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Government-to-Government contract signed with the US in 2016, 25 ready-built guns are to be imported while 120 are to be assembled and partly manufactured in India. The estimate of the long-term Indian requirement is 450 ultra light guns.
"The first lot of 3 Indian-assembled guns were accepted last month as part of a batch of 6. This completes the delivery and induction of the first 18 guns in the first M777 regiment," SP’s Land Forces has learnt from reliable sources.
Relocated from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the US, the AIT facility was set up in discharge of offsets obligations in this deal worth over $200 Million. The Hattiesburg facility was shut down after manufacturing about 1,100 howitzers in use by the forces of the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia. A reported 40 Indian companies have been brought into the BAE supply chain to meet the M777 offsets commitments.
The gun barrel is being supplied by the US Army’s Watervliet Arsenal facility in New York. Under the B erry Amendment of the US Congress, the barrel of an American gun cannot be made outside of the US.
The BAE-Mahindra AIT facility is also meant to ensure that life cycle support is available locally for the Indian Army M777s, thereby increasing operational availability of these weapons. "The facility is a fundamental part of the M777 production line. A domestic Assembly, Integration and Test facility will enable the Indian Army to access maintenance, spares and support for the M777 locally," Dr Joe Senftle, Vice President & General Manager, Weapon Systems, BAE Systems, said earlier.
"This arrangement involves the Transfer of Capability to the AIT facility in India... This is a fundamental part of the M777 production line, and the only AIT facility for the M777 outside of the UK," he said.
At 4,200 kg, the M777 is half the weight of a conventional 155mm towed gun, enabling it to be slung under helicopters for airlift to distant mountainous frontiers. The ultra light howitzer is intended to provide the principal artillery firepower to the Indian Army’s Integrated Battle Groups deployed in the mountains.
It was used in the recent high-altitude exercise codenamed Himvijay, conducted in Arunachal Pradesh to validate new concepts for mountain warfare. The principal external military challenges to India’s security and territorial integrity are along its disputed mountainous frontiers.
The Excalibur precision munition recently acquired for the Indian Army can also be combined with the M777, which is combat proven in Afghanistan. The Excalibur reportedly extends the range of this ultra light gun to about 40 km.
The first M777 guns were inducted in the Indian Army along with L&T-Techwin’s K-9 Vajra self-propelled tracked artillery in November 2018.