Tribune News Service
New Delhi, May 18
Thirty-one years after the Bofors artillery guns were imported from Sweden and the resultant bribery scandal, the first-ever addition to the Indian artillery has happened, breaking what is termed as the ‘Bofors jinx’.
The first two pieces of the Ultra Light Howitzer (ULH) M-777, arrived at an airport in India on Thursday morning. These of the 145 orders from the BAE systems at a cost of US $ 737 million are set to be formally handed over to the Army in the next two to three weeks. The Army wants to start firing the guns immediately in the peak summer at Pokhran in Rajasthan.
The BAE Systems spokesperson said on Wednesday: “In fulfilment of the United States’ Foreign Military Sale of 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers to India, we are pleased to confirm that the first two weapon systems will land in India ahead of schedule.”
The 155 MM 39 calibre guns will be moved from the airport, to the company’s India facility for integration as each of the guns have been shipped in two parts that need to be assembled. As per the contract BAE systems will assemble, integrate and test the guns at a facility it has created with Mahindra. This will be the main ground-based weapon for the Mountain Strike Corps.
India had not ordered any new 155 MM artillery guns since March 1986 when 410 pieces of the Swedish company Bofors’ FH-77B 155mm/39 calibre howitzer were bought for approximately Rs 1,437 crore.
In June last year, the Ministry of Defence, then headed by Manohar Parrikar, okayed the purchase of 145 artillery guns meant especially for deployment in the Himalayas.
The BAE will supply the first 25 guns in ready-to-use condition. The ULH was originally proposed back in 2008. Made of titanium, each gun weighs 4,000 kg making its transportable by CH-47 Chinook helicopters, C-17 Globemaster and the C-130 Hercules aircraft or on trucks with ease to provide increased mobility in the mountains.
Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, drawn in 1999, aimed to acquire 2,800-3,000 155 mm/52-calibre guns of all kinds and 155 mm/39-calibre lightweight howitzers by 2027. The projection includes 814 truck-mounted guns, 1,580 towed guns, 100 tracked self-propelled guns, 180 wheeled self-propelled guns and 145 ultra light howitzers.
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