New Delhi, July 16: The M-777 A-2 ultra-light howitzers (ULH) guns, procured from the United States of America, is being test-fired by the Indian Army in Pokhran. The exhaustive field trials are expected to continue till September, when the Army would initiate the overall induction process. The ULH rifles are expected to be deployed for use along the border with China, said a top defence official, privy to the trials, while speaking to news agency PTI.
India has signed a pact with US in November 2016, procuring 145 ULH rifles at a cost of Rs 5,000 crores. Under the arms deal, 25 guns would be dispatched by US in ready-to-use condition, whereas, the remaining would be manufactured in India by arms supplier BAE Systems, in collaboration with domestic firm Mahindra Defence.
The 155 mm, 39-calibre ULH guns are the first major procurement by the Indian government, after the controversial Bofors deal of mid-1980s. The alleged pay-offs in the deal led to the downfall of the then government, apart from minimising the scope of Indian Army to import rifles in an expedited manner.
Over the past couple of years, the Indian Army has been appealing the Centre to speeden up the modernisation programme of the forces, considering the two-fold risk faced by the forces at western and eastern borders from Pakistan and and China respectively. Revamping the artillery is also essential to maintain the crackdown against internal insurgents in Jammu & Kashmir and parts of the northeast.
The field trials of ULH comes a week after the Defence Ministry empowered the Vice Chief of Army to procure critical ammunition and spares for key weapon systems, in order to maintain the efficiency of the incumbent artillery set-up. The decision was taken to maintain combat readiness in case of sudden “intense wars”.
According to reports, the Indian Army has communicated with Centre about the need to procure 46 different types of ammunition, 22 armaments and 10 weapon systems, ranging from artillery guns to military tanks. The cost for the modernisation programme is pegged at Rs 35,000-40,000 crores approximately.
The move to modernise the artillery gained momentum following the Uri terror attack last month, which compelled the Indian government to sign three arms deals – each with Russia, US and France – amounting to Rs 12,000 crores.
The empowerment of Army’s Vice Chief to procure weapons comes amid the ongoing stand-off between the Indian and Chinese forces at the Sikkim border, which erupted after the Army prevented the road construction party of China’s PLA to enter into Doklam. Apart from the escalating Sino-Indian tensions, the forces are constantly kept at vigil at the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, where the Pakistani troops continue to maintain turbulence.