U.S. troops fire rounds to calibrate an M777 howitzer on Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, Dec. 8, 2009.

U.S. troops fire rounds to calibrate an M777 howitzer on Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, Dec. 8, 2009. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eileen Kelly Fors

India Stocks Up on Howitzers to Defend Its Border with China

New Delhi’s defence ministry approved the purchase of 145 ultra light howitzer guns from the British weapons manufacturer BAE Systems.

After a remarkably long wait of 30 years, the Indian Army will finally get its hands on new artillery guns.

On Saturday (June 25), India’s defence ministry approved a proposal to purchase 145 ultra light howitzer guns from the British weapons manufacturer BAE Systems. The deal is worth about Rs5,000 crore ($750 million).

The country’s defence ministry wants to give these guns to the Mountain Strike Corps—consisting of over 90,000 troops and to be raised by 2021—to defend India’s 4,000-kilometre-long border with China. The government hasn’t fixed a timeline on the delivery schedule for these guns.

The new gun, the Howitzer M777, has a range of over 30 kilometres and can fire 10 rounds in under two minutes.

The 155-millimetre gun can also be slung under helicopters, unlike many traditional guns that need to be moved by land and, therefore, become difficult to deploy at high altitudes. “Highly portable by land, sea, and air, the system features a minimal logistical footprint alongside maximum reliability,” is how BAE describes its artillery gun. The M777 has been used in Afghanistan since 2006.

The Indian Army, the world’s fourth largest, is currently heavily dependant on the Bofors cannons. India purchased 410 of these in 1987 from the Sweden-based company, but the deal became embroiled in a corruption scandal, with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi being accused of having received kickbacks.

Make in India

India is currently the world’s second-largest importer of military equipment.

In 2014, it purchased Rs36,900 crore ($5.57 billion) worth of arms, ammunition, and related goods from abroad. But under prime minister Narendra Modi, the country is now looking to manufacture much of its defence goods at home, even as overall defence spending is expected to swell to $620 billion (Rs38 lakh crore) by 2022.

That’s perhaps why BAE will assemble 120 of the artillery guns in India, while the remaining 25 will be brought in ready-to-use condition within six months of signing the contract. BAE has already chosen homegrown automobile and defence equipment maker Mahindra Group to partner it in the assembling process, Reuters reported.

The government has also asked the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) in Jabalpur to provide indigenously produced 155mm 45 caliber guns, named Dhanush, to address the severe shortage of artillery. India requires between 2,800 and 3,000 such guns and the government wants its public defence manufacturers to step up efforts to deliver.

By the end of the month, OFB will provide three Dhanush guns—modelled on the Bofors FHB02—to the army. Three more will be supplied by September. Subsequently, some 18 such guns will be supplied, although a timeline for their delivery has not been set.