The Indian Army is set to get the first lot of 145 ultra-light howitzers it is purchasing from the US for $700 million this year.
According to a report in the current issue of India Strategic defence magazine, a team from the army, including from the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Directorate General of Qualitative Assurance (DGQA) and the defence ministry visited the US in January to establish the parameters of the BAE Systems M-777 gun being in conformity with the requirements.
This testing was part of the procedure, described as Maintainability Evaluation (ME), and now the final step is about discussions to finalize the price along with spares and maintenance support.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) had issued a notification indicating the possible sale of the gun to India on January 22, 2010.
The US Army sent two guns to India for trials, and the Indian Army tested the 152 mm/39 caliber system in the hot and mountainous terrains (Pokhran and Sikkim) the same year, pointing out some shortcomings, which have been rectified.
Although the M-777 gun is made by the multi-national BAE Systems in the US, it is being purchased from the US Army under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
Procedurally, the US would supply whatever is there in the contract, and if something is left out, then India has to send a Letter of Request (LOR) to the US Government again even if it is a simple nut or bolt. The company will have nothing to do with it.
For instance, in 2004, India purchased the first equipment - Raytheon's Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) - under FMS from the US, and willy-nilly, Indian officials did not cater for spares and support. Finally, Raytheon, which manufactures hi-tech weapon systems for land, sea and air, fixed it, more out of goodwill.
This time, the process should be thorough.
The M-777 is the first artillery gun to be partially made of titanium to reduce its weight and give it mobility, and is easily carried under-slung by heavy lift helicopters like the Chinook CH 47, 15 of which the Indian Air Force is buying from Boeing.
The M-777 has extensively been used in Afghanistan's tough hilly and mountainous terrain with effective fire.
Senior officers of the Army are confident that the acquisition of M-777 will not go beyond 2013, and if there is a delay, it would not be beyond fiscal April 2013-March 2014.
India Strategic also reported that summer trials of the upgraded Bofors FH 77B (155 mm/39 caliber), which India bought from Sweden more than a quarter century ago, would be held mid-year in the hot Rajasthan desert.
The upgraded gun is being developed by India's state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which had got the designs for indigenous production as part of the deal when the gun was acquired but did nothing about it for whatever reasons.
This in fact was the first case in which India got the rights for transfer of technology (ToT) but the opportunity was lost due to political allegations.
OFB's upgraded Bofors gun, being upgunned to 155 mm and 45 caliber, would be based on outdated technology though and in any case would be a stop-gap arrangement till the artillery gets the bigger 155 mm/52 caliber guns, both self-propelled and towed.
The Bofors guns proved extremely effective in neutralizing the Pakistani positions in the 1999 Kargil War, and several army officers swear by it, saying that it was the artillery fire which demolished the Pakistani soldiers, who had infiltrated into the Indian side and occupied a number of hilltop positions.