WASHINGTON: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally cleared the long-pending purchase of 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers from the United States, the US media reported on Monday.
The $737 million arms deal is part of a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement between the United States and India, which aims to promote greater defence cooperation between the two countries.
The Pentagon’s FMS programme facilitates sales of US defence equipment and services to foreign governments.
Under the arrangement, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency serves as an intermediary, handling procurement, logistics and delivery of the purchased equipment.
“The contract will be signed within the next two months, and the deliveries are expected to start in mid-2017,” an Indian defence official told reporters in New Delhi.
“India is certainly looking forward for a much greater defence partnership under the leadership with newly elected US President Donald Trump,” the official said.
The official also told reporters that the artillery pieces would help India target militant bases inside Pakistan without crossing the border and that’s why acquiring the howitzers was a top priority. “It will be a game changer,” he added.
Last year, the Indian Ministry of Defence approved a proposal to buy M777A2 (LW155) howitzers from the US only after a commitment from the manufacturers to set up assembly, integration and test (AIT) facilities in India to boost India’s domestic defence industry.
Under the arrangement, US subsidiary of BAE Systems will dispatch 25 M777 artillery guns in fly-away condition; remaining guns will be assembled in India in partnership with private sector company Mahindra Defence Systems.
“Developing a supply chain in India is key to our vision to develop technologies and solutions in India for both the home market and for export,” the US manufacturer said.
The two companies will jointly set up an AIT facility for M777 artillery guns near New Delhi.
The Indian Army has not inducted any type of 155mm howitzers since 1986. The army is seeking a total of 220 ultra-light howitzers over the next 15 years.
The M777 is a 155mm 39-calibre towed gun which enables rapid deployment and accurate artillery fire support. It is the world’s first 155mm Howitzer weighing less than 4,218kg.
Highly mobile on land, at sea and in the air, the M777 has increased survivability through tactical and strategic mobility, low thermal and radar signature, rapid emplacement/displacement and low silhouette.