Rs 3k-cr Howitzer deal gets green signal

Rs 3k-cr Howitzer deal gets green signal

In a govt-to-govt transaction, India will procure 145 M-777 ultra light-weight guns from United States

After more than quarter of a century, the government has finally decided to purchase new artillery guns for the Indian Army.

The Defence Acquisition Council headed by Defence Minister A K Antony and attended by three service chiefs on Friday sanctioned a Rs 3,000-crore deal to procure 145 M777 ultra light-weight howitzers from the USA in a government-to-government transaction.

Manufactured by BAE Systems, M777 is one of the lightest 155mm howitzers (39 calibre) in the world suitable for mountain deployment. The US Army used these guns in Afghanistan.

India would deploy these guns in the mountainous terrain of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh close to Sino-Indian border, reliable sources said.

The last long range artillery gun India purchased was Bofors Guns in 1986. Though Bofors served with distinction in Kargil conflict, they are too old now compelling the Army to cannibalise many of them to keep others battle ready.

Letter scare

Even though the Obama Administration informed the Congress the approved sale of 145 M777 to India through the Foreign Military Sales route more than a year ago, a cloud was hanging above this deal after an anonymous letter along with photocopied pages of a classified Army document reached Army headquarters in the first quarter of 2011 alleging that M777 did not meet trial parameters.

The government was rattled by the letter as it came along with four pages of the Army’s draft field trial report for M777, exposing the deep connections between arms manufacturers and a section of government officials. The letter was suspected to be the handiwork of rival companies. The BAE System’s guns were pitted against ST Engineering’s FH-2000.

The Army launched its enquiry while the defence ministry formed a panel headed by V K Saraswat, director general of Defence Research and Development Organisation to re-examine the artillery gun’s trial performance against the stipulated parameters.

Sources said that the Saraswat panel found no deviation of M777 from general staff qualitative requirement and recommended its deployment in high-altitude areas. Antony on Tuesday said in Rajya Sabha that the defence ministry received the report and it would be taken up at the DAC.

Incidentally, the government decision comes almost three weeks before the retirement of Army Chief Gen V K Singh, who in January 2011 promised the induction of M777 guns before the year ended. The controversy, however, held back the final decision.

The DAC also cleared a separate Rs 3,000-crore proposal to procure 65 radars for L-70 air defence guns.

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