India will shortly take delivery of two M-777 ultra-light howitzers, manufacturer BAE Systems said on Thursday, the country’s first such acquisition in over three decades after a major corruption scandal in the 1980s.
The equipment is a part of a US$750 million deal New Delhi signed with the US last year to buy 145 howitzers as it seeks to modernise its artillery programme. India is seeking to update its ageing military hardware with new kit worth tens of billions of dollars in the face of long-standing tensions with regional rivals Pakistan and China. But it has not bought new howitzers for the army since 1986, when a deal to acquire 410 field guns from the Swedish arms giant AB Bofors became mired in corruption allegations.
The latest deal, worth nearly INR50 billion, was signed last year and will see 25 guns being delivered in ready-to-use condition with the rest being assembled by BAE Systems in India. “We are pleased to confirm that the first two weapon systems will land in India ahead of schedule over this weekend,” a BAE Systems spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.
India had been in discussions since 2012 to buy the artillery guns manufactured by BAE Systems through the US Foreign Military Sales programme, but agreement was held up by issues of cost and manufacturing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he wants foreign manufacturers that win lucrative defence deals to invest in India by partnering with local firms. Most of the howitzers in the latest deal will be assembled by BAE Systems in India in partnership with Mahindra Aerospace.
The weapons will be used by the army’s mountain artillery divisions along India’s high-altitude frontiers particularly along the border with China in the east of the country.
India has fought three wars with arch-rival Pakistan since independence in 1947, but China is increasingly seen as the main focus of its ambitious military modernisation and procurement policy.
A defence ministry source told AFP the delivery of the guns would be expedited from March 2019 onwards. “We hope all 145 howitzers would be inducted by 2021,” said the source, who asked not to be named.