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Hurdles cleared for howitzer deal, but FinMin has no money

Monday, 17 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Agency: DNA

The ministry of defence has cleared all hurdles to buy the M777 artillery guns for the army from the US.

According to a top defence ministry official, the Defence Procurement Board (DPB) headed by defence secretary RK Mathur gave its green signal on Friday to go ahead with the deal to purchase 145 M777 ultra- light howitzers.

India has not bought artillery guns since the Bofors deal in 1986.

However, the final purchase of the M777 will take place only in the next financial year as there is hardly any money left with the defence ministry for the current financial year.

Ministry officials told that, in October last year, the production line of BAE System, which manufactures M777 155 millimetre (mm)/39 calibre ultra-light howitzers, has shut down its production line in the UK, in the absence of any order or commitment from New Delhi.

"Since India failed to give its final order, the Letter of Acceptance with the US expired. In the absence of any valid documents, South Block has to re-engage the US government, possibly to re-issue the contract," said an officer.

The M777 guns are being bought from the US under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. Now, the US government will inform the ministry of defence about its ability to complete the demand in a given deadline.

It was reported that after India failed to finalise the contract with BAE Systems, the company shut down its unit, which led to massive job cuts. Nearly 200 jobs were cut in its manufacturing plant in the UK in October last year.

According to an army official, the M777 is essential for mountain warfare, especially for the newly created Mountain Strike Corps along the Sino-Indian border. Sources claimed that the army's 220 artillery regiments have received no new artillery since the 1980s, when the FH-77B, 155 mm/39 calibre Bofors gun were bought. Mired with the allegations of kickbacks, only 400 Bofors guns were delivered and the rest of the contract could not complete.

Significantly, the Bofors guns played a key role in the Kargil operation in 1999 against Pakistani intruders.

Also, the Ordnance Factory Board's effort to build a 155 mm/45 calibre indigenous gun is facing trouble after the gun barrel burst during its trials.

Salient features of M777

Used in Afghanistan by the US army
It's a 155 mm, 39-calibre towed gun
It's the world's first 155mm howitzer weighing less than 10,000 lbs (4,218 kg).
It can fire 5 rounds per minute, its firing range is about 30 km maximum
It has a digital fire control system

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