The Ministry of Defence on May 11, 2012, cleared the Rs. 3,000-crore deal to buy 145 M777 ultra light howitzers from the US defence manufacturer, BAE Systems. The deal having now been cleared, the new equipment will impart a longer operational reach to the formations deployed in the mountains.
India’s Defence Ministry has given the go-ahead to purchase 145 M777 ultra light howitzers from BAE Systems, the country’s first artillery purchase since the controversial Bofors deal in 1986. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) on May 11, 2012, cleared the Rs. 3,000 crore ($660 million) deal to buy 145 M777 ultra light howitzers from the US defence manufacturer, BAE Systems. The M777 artillery guns will essentially be used in the mountains. These guns are air transportable and are currently used in Afghanistan by the US Army where their performance has been commendable. India is procuring the M777 howitzers from the US through the foreign military sales (FMS) programme.
The M777 is a 155mm 39 calibre towed gun and is the world’s first 155mm howitzer weighing less than 10,000 lbs (4,218 kgs). The M777 can fire five rounds per minute and its firing range is about 30 km maximum. The US and Canada are currently using the howitzers. This gun also has a digital fire control system. The US Marine Corps and US Army inducted the M777 for the first time in November 2002.
The M777 matches the firepower of current generation 155mm towed systems at less than half the weight. The muzzle velocity (at Charge 8 super) is 827m/s. The lighter weight and smaller size allows the M777 to be transported by CH-47 helicopter or truck with ease, so that it can be moved in and out of the battlefield more quickly than other heavier guns. The smaller size also improves storage and transport efficiency in military depots and air/naval transport.
Operational Employment in Iraq and Afghanistan
It was first fielded in Iraq in May 2007 and in Afghanistan in February 2008. The M777 can be transported by helicopter, transporter aircraft and ship. The M777 is equipped with two wheels. When the M777 is in the firing position, a firing platform is lowered to the ground under the forward part of the carriage and the wheels are raised clear of the ground. It uses a digital fire-control system, similar to that found on self-propelled howitzers such as the M109A6 Paladin to provide navigation, pointing and self-location, allowing it to be put into action more quickly than earlier towed and air-transported howitzers.
Precision Guided Munitions for M777 Howitzer
Precision guided munitions (PGMs) gives a decision-maker the confidence of contemplating the use of force in circumstances where collateral damage would be unacceptable or call into question the viability of continued military action and hence may preclude the use of force as an option. Thus precision technologies have been used to design munitions which could be employed to overcome such inhibitions. PGMs will have to be increasingly employed to improve deterrence, reduce collateral damage, reduce logistic loads and reduce risk to the soldiery. The M777 System allows the firing of Excalibur projectile, a PGM designated M777A2.
The M777 will be the artillery system for the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT) in the US Army. The systems fitted with the digital fire control system are designated M777A1 and those with the software update allow the firing of the Excalibur projectile designated M777A2. In the US, all M777A1 systems are being/ have been upgraded to the A2 standard. We hope that the Indian Army is also inducting the M777A2 variant.
Severe Crunch of Suitable Artillery Platforms
The M777 artillery gun deal comes at a time when the Indian Army is facing a severe crunch of 155mm artillery weapons platforms. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155mm FH-77B howitzers with a range of 30 km from Bofors of Sweden in 1987, which got embroiled in political controversy. This gun proved its mettle in the Kargil conflict. After about 25 years of neglect during which the 100mm and 122mm field guns of Russian origin and the indigenously developed and manufactured 75/24 Howitzer joined the long list of obsolete equipment, the Army still awaits the procurement of about 1,500 Howitzers of 155mm, 52 calibre.