An M-777 155mm howitzer fires at a low ballistic trajectory in Afghanistan. Photo: U.S. Army

Nearly 27 years after the controversy over the purchase of howitzers from Swedish-based AB Bofors the Government of India approved today the purchase of 145 M77 155/39-caliber howitzers at a total cost of $650 million from BAE Systems. The decision to go ahead with the procurement of US made howitzers under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route was taken at a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister AK Antony. The projects approved by the DAC will now be put up before the Finance Ministry for clearance before they are taken up by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for final approval.

These lightweight guns are expected to deploy in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir that have border with China. It is widely believed that the deployment of the M777 in the areas bordering China is a direct reply to China’s forward deployment in these areas for the last 3 years.

The maximum firing range of the gun is 24.7km with unassisted rounds, and 30km with rocket-assisted rounds. The M777A2 can fire the the Raytheon / Bofors XM982 Excalibur GPS/Inertial Navigation-guided (GPS/INS) extended-range 155mm projectiles using the Modular Artillery Charge Systems (MACS). Excalibur has a maximum range of 40km and accuracy of 10m. The M777 matches the firepower of current generation 155mm towed systems at less than half the weight. The Howitzer is equipped with a 39-calibre barrel. The muzzle velocity (at Charge 8 super) is 827m/s. The Towed Artillery Digitization (TAD) artillery improvement package including a digital fire control system with onboard ballistic computation, navigation, pointing and self-location, providing greater accuracy and faster reaction times. TAD also includes a powered projectile rammer, a breech mounted laser ignition system, replacing conventional chemical primers and electric drives for the howitzer’s traverse and elevation.

At an overall weight of 3,745kg the M777 can be transported by helicopter, transport aircraft or ship. On land the howitzer can be towed by standard air-braked 4×4 vehicle greater than 2.5t. The gun is mounted on hydrostrut suspension system provided by Horstman Defence Systems of the UK, allowing travelling on road at a maximum speed of 88km per hour, or towed cross-country at a speed of 50km/h. The load on the towing eye is rated at 60kg. The towing ground clearance is up to 660mm.

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