Even as US secretary for defence Robert Gates is expected to visit India later this month, New Delhi is now actively exploring the option of importing 145 air-mobile ultra-light howitzers (ULHs) for around Rs 2,900 crore from Washington in a direct government-to-government deal.
This comes in the backdrop of the Army getting desperate to kickstart its long-delayed Rs 20,000 crore artillery modernisation programme, with the acquisition of different types of 155mm/52-calibre guns still stuck in different stages due to scandals.
Army needs the ultra-light howitzers to ensure that artillery can be swiftly deployed in forward, inaccessible areas with the help of helicopters. In fact, the two new mountain divisions being raised primarily for the eastern front with China, with around 15,000 soldiers each, are also to be equipped with ULHs.
But, as reported by TOI earlier, the field trials of the only ULH to make it to the trial stage in the Army’s procurement project, the Pegasus gun of Singapore Technology Kinetic’s (STK), have been put on hold after STK’s name surfaced in connection with the corruption scandal against former Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) chairman Sudipto Ghosh.
Consequently, the direct foreign military sales (FMS) route with US government is now “also being progressed” for the BAE Land Systems’ M-777A1 ultra-light howitzers.
“An Army team will soon go to US to witness how the gun performs in trials there. We will also later hold trials in India to see if the gun is suitable for us,” said a top defence ministry official.