BAE Systems will be delivering two out of 145 M777 155mm/39-calibre ultra lightweight howitzer (ULH) guns in June, for the army to carry out a few tests with Indian ammunition. Company officials, talking to FE on conditions of anonymity, said,

“This is routine procedure, so that the army can generate its ‘range tables’ — the idea is to calibrate the guns for the various types of Indian ammunition that the guns would fire once inducted.” These trials will be carried out for high-altitude and desert terrains. Under the contract, 25 guns will come to India in a fly-away condition (two per month will be delivered), while 120 will be assembled at the proposed assembly integration and test facility for the weapon system in India in partnership with Mahindra Defence, located in Faridabad. FE was the first to report that the Indian partner for contract was Mahindra Defence.

The $750-million deal was formalised last year on the sidelines of the 15th India-US Military Cooperation Group (MCG). The proposal had hit an impasse before being finalised over offsets and price issues as it also involved direct import of the howitzers from the US in a foreign military sales route (FMS) under the buy (global) category of the Indian Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).

The Indian Army plans to use these Howitzers in defensive troop deployment spread across the country’s vast rugged terrain. The gun will come with laser inertial artillery pointing systems (LINAPS), maintenance, personnel training and training equipment, technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services.

The offsets, under which BAE Systems, manufacturer of the gun, will invest about $200 million, will be pursued independently.

A major portion of the M777 is being currently manufactured in the company’s UK plants. The UK facility produces core components like titanium forgings and fabrications, which make the M777 light enough to be lifted by helicopters like the Chinook to high-altitude deployment areas. The final integration and testing phase, which is being handled at BAE’s Hattiesburg facility in Mississippi, US, will be shifted to India. Mahindra Defence will be in charge of assembling, integrating and testing the guns at the AIT facility. This will enable the army to have unhindered access to spare parts and it further drastically reduces the maintenance time and cost of the guns. Significantly, the gun barrel of the American gun cannot be made in India.

This is barred by the Berry Amendment, a Congressional Act in the US.