Amid procurement gloom, M-777 gun offers army hope - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 2 August 2013

Amid procurement gloom, M-777 gun offers army hope

The M-777 purchase will give the Indian Army its first modern gun in a quarter century since the Bofors FH-77B

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Aug 13

The army is closing in on its first modern artillery gun purchase in almost three decades since the Bofors FH-77B field howitzer was bought in the mid-1980s. So politically paralyzing were the ripples from that controversial deal that buying artillery has been well nigh impossible since then.

Reaching the end of a lengthy evaluation now is the estimated $650 million (Rs 4,000 crore) purchase of 145 M-777 ultra light howitzers (ULHs), developed and built by BAE Systems, but to be procured through a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) contract. In this, India will buy the gun from the US Department of Defence (the Pentagon); the Pentagon negotiates terms with the supplier (in this case, BAE Systems), and charges a small percentage for its services.

A contentious element of this procurement --- offsets --- is now almost resolved. On Jan 22, 2010, Washington had indicated that there would be no offsets. Since then, BAE Systems has accepted an offset liability of 30 per cent of the contract value, amounting to almost $200 million. Of this, 30 per cent can be discharged by transferring technology, while at least 70 per cent must be discharged through sourcing equipment manufactured in India.

Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) sources tell Business Standard that, with the MoD changing priority from buying artillery to developing guns in India, BAE Systems has been asked for technology for manufacturing artillery ammunition, specifically bi-modular charge systems (BMCS). BAE Systems has offered to manufacture high-tech gun components in India, for its global supply chain for the “future artillery gun” and “future naval gun” programmes.

BMCS technology is urgently required by the MoD for the upcoming Ordnance Factory, Nalanda, where a range of ammunition will be built. First Denel, and then Israel Military Industries (IMI), were to supply technology, but the MoD has blacklisted both those firms for alleged corruption.

“Our discussions have enabled us to arrive at an offset package which will help support the development of the Indian industrial supply base, building sustainable world-class indigenous capabilities and strengthening our existing global supply network. As we go forward, we see the Indian supply chain as being particularly relevant across our air, land and sea programs both locally and globally,” says Dean McCumiskey, who heads BAE Systems India.

Given the on-going negotiations, the Pentagon has accepted the MoD’s request to extend the validity of its commercial offer. Anticipating an order, the BAE Systems assembly line in the US, where gun components manufactured mainly in the UK are integrated into the M-777, is being kept active.

A delay in finalising a contract, say US government sources, would mean added expenses for reviving a shut-down assembly line. Foreign exchange risk is another variable. But an early closure of the contract would see the first M-777 guns being delivered by early-2014.

Last month, New Delhi announced the raising of a mountain strike corps over the next seven years. The M-777 ULH is being procured for the artillery regiments of this new formation.

For BAE Systems, the M-777 offers possibilities well beyond the current order of 145 guns. It could end up equipping artillery regiments in up to seven more Indian corps that are deployed in mountainous terrain.

India’s 220 artillery regiments have been making do with equipment procured in the 1970s and 1980s. The obsolescent Russian 130 millimetre medium gun equips the bulk of the medium regiments. The most modern guns --- 410 Bofors 155 millimetre FH-77B medium howitzers --- were bought more than a quarter century ago. These are 39 calibre guns, which fire lighter projectiles than the 45 calibre, or 52 calibre, guns that are standard today.

Indigenous initiatives are underway to obtain modern artillery. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) has been asked for 140 guns, built from Bofors blueprints, which would be 45 calibre. Simultaneously, a major DRDO project has been launched, in partnership with private industry, to develop and manufacture a 155 millimetre/52 calibre modern artillery system.

But the M-777 will remain relevant, since the heavier indigenous guns would be too bulky for deployment in India’s rugged mountain borderlands. Built partly from titanium, a helicopter can lift the M-777 to remote gun areas, providing the army with deployment options that standard howitzers do not offer.

If India buys the M-777, it would be the world’s fifth user. More than 1000 M-777s are in service with the US Army, the US Marines, and the Canadian and Australian armies.


  1. hi ajay sir,
    india should take at least 400 of these guns,
    we need 2000 guns 155mm
    1000 towed & 1000 selp propelled
    now why dont we integrate the kalyani gun to a tata truck or a layland truck. we should allow them to test their gun at a firing range. it will be 100% Indian
    why cant we make a 1000 bofor guns we have the licence to make it
    ridiculous aint it

    1. Its me again ajay sir, can you please advise on what you feel of the army inducting 1000 bofor guns, why do we need another gun
      Is it possible to intigrate the bofors indian version on a truck would make it similar to the archer

  2. Who will finalise and sign the deal?? These inefficient, coward, corrupt, liar, traitor Congress party?? Forget about it....For them, political survivability is more important than the country's survivability....They cannot build a plane for 30 years, cannot import one for 15 years, last time they procured artillery, it led to their death and defamation of their famous Gandhi-Nehru family, so they chose political survivability over all these years than any concern for the security of the country....So forget about any deal....Don't waste media space...

    By the way, can someone tell me what is the need of these expensive artillery guns for deployment on Chinese border when what is actually required is an inexpensive ointment which can take care of
    all such acnes which may sometimes appear on the beautiful face(beautiful North East, Uttarakhand, Himachal and Ladakh).....

  3. Still need to keep fingers crossed, not done till it is army without worthwhile artillery is a police force

  4. 145 M-777 is not enough, we need minimum 400. Why don't we just add indigenous guns.

  5. It's a start. Any news on the Polish Krab SPG? Heard the army was interested.

  6. Tata had manufactured an artillery gun in collobration with a South African Company. Any further information of that?

  7. Why isn't the Army looking at a howitzer developed by Tata? I believe it can fire high caliber rounds upto distance of 52 KM away

  8. >The obsolescent Russian 130 millimetre ..

    Ajai saab,

    A Gun is a gun, what is obsolescent is the round.


    Just because the Indian Congress Party (a political party) was caught in a messy scam of bribery...they have put on stake the entire country's national security agenda on the back burner...with Govts' like these do we really need enemies like China or Pakistan.

    Ajay sir anything US is always need for any comparing products, countries with similar technology being offered to India...add the tag made or marketed by US and you go gaga over it...! It appears biased, if you do not write about comparative offerings and other countries willing to offer similar products.



    Making a Gun!!??The problem is not only with the OFB's and the DRDO (incompetency,mismanagement,cost and time over-runs,lack of a good indigenous research base, biting off more they can chew or produce ) but also with the Regiment of Artillery hierarchy. The big bosses have no vision of perspective planning and each Director General gleefully trashes what ever planning his predecessor has done . And God help if a three star Artillery General occupies a post in the IHQ in the FP , PP or any of the other Branches/Directorates where he can meddle with Artillery Perspective Planning , because he thinks he is an expert.!!Too many 'experts' spoiling the broth and what the Artillery is left now is dishwater. You mean you have not been able to convince the Chiefs and the MoD mandarins that we are fast catching up with the old Iraqi Artillery!! 122mm still in service , 130 mm guns with which the Russians pounded Berlin , Soltam 155 neither tried nor tested , vintage Grad MBRLs (life and range extended) searching for good engines , Pinaka and TATRA going for judicial separation , limited stock of WWR ammunition, SATA still waiting for WLR's and UAV's, firing ranges NA. Bore and Barrel prematures which kill your Gunners and shake their confidence , but no one in the Ordnance factories is sacked. SP guns existing in dreams. The M777 155mm Light-Weight Towed Howitzers procurement entangled in stupid bureaucratic procedures. . And to top it all you also want to throw out the versatile Mortars from Artillery!!?
    And it is not only modern ammunition(variety , type and range)but also a good weapon system--which mean lighter ,quick firing, long range guns which are accurate, consistent , have burst firing capability, inbuilt communication and survey/positioning ability with an auxillary power system and equally dependable gun/ammunition tractors
    Saint Barbara ---time you took charge. Amen


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