In a symbolic exorcising of its Bofors Scandal ghost, the Indian Army received the first three of its eventual 145 BE Systems M777 155mm/39-caliber ultra-light howitzers on November 9. These three guns represent the first new artillery pieces inducted into Indian Army service since 1987 when the procurement of Swedish Bofors 155mm FH-77B towed howitzers erupted into scandal over bribes paid to government officials and resulted in the collapse of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government.
Major capability enhancement of #IndianArmy, Raksha Mantri @nsitharaman dedicated M777 A2 ULH, K-9 #Vajra-Tracked Self Propelled Guns & 6×6 Gun Tower to the Nation. The ceremony was held at Firing Range Devlali
— PIB India (@PIB_India) November 9, 2018
In addition to these three M777s, ten K9 “Vajra-T” (Thunderbolt) 155mm/52‑caliber self-propelled tracked howitzers (SPHs) were also inducted. These SPHs were imported from South Korea’s Hanwa Techwin in semi-knocked down state and assembled by local partner, Larsen & Toubro (L&T). These ten units represent the initial batch of a 100-gun, $700 million order placed on March 29, 2017.
The K9 Vajra-T SPHs are based on the Samsun Techwin K9 Thunder platform. The 90 units which remain to be delivered will be mostly produced in India by L&T at its Gujarat facility. Of these 40 are slated to arrive by November 2019 and the final 50 pieces by November 2020.
The Indian Army requirement for the K9 Vajra is ultimately expected to grow beyond the initial 100 guns to a total of more than 250 systems.
The M777 ultra-light howitzers, meanwhile, were ordered under a $737 million government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement with the United States signed on February 16, 2016. The M777 deal featured a 30 percent offset clause and calls for 120 of the 145 howitzers to be assembled, integrated and tested in India at the assembly, integration and training facility established by BAE Systems in cooperation with Mahindra Defense on the outskirts of New Delhi.
By May 2019 up to 25 M777s are to be delivered with the first regiment specifically equipped for these howitzers being stood up. Following delivery of these initial 25 units (all arriving fully-built from the United Kingdom) the remaining 120 guns will be built at the BAE-Mahindra facility in India. Completion of delivery on the full order is slated for mid-2021.
Once these M777 pieces are delivered the Army will deploy them on India’s high-altitude borders with China and Pakistan. The ultra-light howitzers may be airlifted by the CH-47F Chinooks ordered by India on September 28, 2015.
The Indian Army’s artillery rationalization, modernization and procurement effort falls under the Field Artillery Rationalization Plan (FARP) introduced in 2000 following the short Kargil War with Pakistan and Pakistan-supported Kashmiri militants. That brief conflict in 1999 served as a wake-up call to Indian military planners of the importance of fielding adequate artillery pieces in sufficient numbers. The FARP called for purchases of 3,000-3,600 155mm howitzers in two calibers (39 and 52) that would come in towed, mounted and self-propelled forms (both wheeled and tracked).
The ambitious initiative – estimated at cost of $5-$7 billion with final deliveries targeted for 2027 to coincide with the end of the Army’s 14th Five-Year Finance Plan – had to date made extremely little traction.
For the Indian Army there now appears a little glimmer of hope that improved direct and indirect firepower capabilities are on the horizon.