Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Indian Army may finally induct howitzers in 2011

The Army may finally exorcise its Bofors ghost this year by inducting its first-ever 155mm howitzers since the infamous scandal in the mid-1980s completely derailed its artillery modernisation plan.

"I am very hopeful that we should be able to see some induction of one type of artillery gun this year itself. For others, there are certain trials in progress and certain RFPs (request for proposals) in the pipeline,'' said Army chief Gen V K Singh.

The first gun to be inducted is likely to be the M-777 ultra-light howitzers, 145 of which India will buy from US in a direct government-to-government deal worth $647 million under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

The defence ministry has also now re-issued the fresh RFP for 155mm towed artillery guns, trials for which have been repeatedly held over the last several years but only to be scrapped.

The project to buy 400 155mm/52-calibre towed artillery guns, to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 1,180 of them after transfer of technology, alone is worth Rs 12,000 crore.

Different scandals starting from the infamous Bofors one in the mid-1980s continue to stymie the long-delayed acquisition of different types of 155mm/52-calibre guns, under the Army's overall artillery modernisation programme worth well over Rs 20,000 crore.

The planned acquisitions, stuck at different stages, include 1,580 towed guns, 814 mounted gun systems, 180 self-propelled wheeled guns and 100 tracked guns.

The M-777 howitzers, on their part, were "trial evaluated'' first at the Pokhran field firing ranges, then in high-altitude areas in Sikkim, in November-December. Depending on the trial reports, the commercial negotiations will begin soon.

India wants ultra-light howitzers because they can be swiftly deployed in forward and inaccessible areas by helicopters and aircraft. The all-weather 155mm/39-calibre howitzers, with laser inertial artillery pointing systems and a 30-km range, will arm five regiments.

This is in keeping with the ongoing Army focus on strengthening offensive capabilities in the mountains, with China on mind. The force has already raised two new mountain divisions (35,011 soldiers) in the North-East to strengthen defences in Arunachal Pradesh against China.

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