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China specific M-777 ultra-light Howitzers land in India after a gap of 37 years

YB WEB DESK. Dated: 5/18/2017 5:54:38 PM

• This will be the first induction of modern 155mm artillery guns by the Army since the 1980s.
• The howitzers will be taken to the Pokhran ranges for testing
• The M-777 guns are primarily meant for the front with China

India has now exorcised the ominous Bofors ghost haunting its artillery modernization plans for the last 30 years. In the first modern 155mm artillery guns to be inducted by the Army since the 1980s, two of the 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers ordered from the US will touch down here on Thursday morning.

Defence sources on Wednesday said the two howitzers, which will come in a chartered aircraft from the UK, will be taken to the Pokhran ranges for testing and "compilation of the firing tables" for subsequent use. "The firing tables, with the guns being tested for different kinds of Indian ammunition with bi-modular charges, will take some time to be formulated," said a source.

The delivery schedule for the air-mobile howitzers, being acquired under the $737 million deal inked with the US in a government-to-government deal, will quicken from March 2019 onwards. "Five guns will then be delivered every month till all 145 are inducted by June 2021. While the first 25 guns will be imported, the rest 120 will be assembled in India with artillery-manufacturer BAE Systems selecting Mahindra as its business partner here," he added.

The arrival of the M-777 guns, which are primarily meant for the front with China, comes soon after the government also inked a Rs 4,366 crore contract with engineering conglomerate L&T for the supply of 100 self-propelled howitzers in collaboration with its South Korean technology partner Hanwha Tech Win. These 155mm/52-calibre tracked guns called K-9 Vajra-T, in turn, are to be delivered within 42 months, as was earlier reported by TOI.

The 13-lakh strong Army has not inducted a single 155mm artillery gun since the Bofors scandal brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government, and derailed all plans for technology transfer and indigenous manufacture.

Subsequent scandals revolving around other global artillery manufacturers, like South African Denel and Singapore Technology Kinetic's, further punched gaping holes in the Army's long-range, high-volume firepower. Interestingly, the original Swedish Bofors company is now owned by BAE Systems.

The Army has been demanding 155mm/39-calibre ultra-light howitzers like the M-777s, with a strike range from 24 to 40-km depending on the kind of ammunition used, for almost 15 years now as part of the overall plan to build robust conventional deterrence against China.

Weighing just over 4-tonne due to the use of titanium, the M-777 can swiftly be airlifted to high-altitudes areas up to 16,000-feet in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control with China.

The M-777 howitzers will equip the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps, which the Army is raising by cannibalizing its existing reserves, for the China front. With two infantry divisions geared for mountain warfare, and associated artillery, air defence and armoured brigades, the 17 Corps will be fully in place with 90,274 troops by 2021.


Pak Air Force narrows gap as IAF struggles to get fighter jets
As India struggles to beef up its fighter aircraft fleet due to slow induction of new jets, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is narrowing the gap with the Indian Air Force.
The IAF has 33 fighter squadrons compared with almost 25 units, including those for training, of the neighbouring country, translating into a combat ratio of 1.3 to 1, defence experts say. A squadron usually has 16 to 18 fighters.
That is a significant dip from 3 to 1 in IAF’s favour in the 1980s. Five years ago, the figure stood at 1.6 to 1.
“I don’t recall the combat ratio being below 1.8 to 1,” says air chief marshal Fali Major, who headed the IAF during 2007-08.
He, however, said a squadron-to-squadron comparison wasn’t fair. “The more important thing is how many aircraft are available for missions at any given time. The IAF’s serviceability is way better than the PAF’s,” he said.
The IAF hopes to strengthen its combat units with the induction of the Tejas light combat aircraft, more Sukhoi-30s, Rafale warplanes, Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and possibly a medium-weight fighter that could be built in India in collaboration with a foreign player.
Up in the Air ::
The upgrade plan, however, has hit a few hurdles.
The fate of the FGFA appears uncertain. While a government panel is to submit its report on the viability of the multi-billion dollar programme to develop the stealth fighter with the Russians, IAF sources said budgetary constraints could come in the way.
“We do need the platform but where is the money,” an IAF officer said on condition of anonymity.
There is a sense within the IAF that the FGFA programme is too expensive for the force. A final decision would be taken by the government after the three-member panel, conducting the cost-benefit analysis, submits its report.
Plans to build single-engine and twin-engine fighters in collaboration with foreign military contractors are yet to take off.
These proposals are covered under the government’s strategic partnership model that is still being fine-tuned.
The 36 Rafale fighter planes ordered from France after a long delay also fall short of the IAF’s original requirement of 126 medium-weight fighters.
Days before he retired in December 2016, former IAF chief air chief marshal Arup Raha said the 36 Rafale warplanes ordered for $8.7 billion were not enough and India needed at least 200 such fighter jets to sharpen its military edge.
The Rafale, equipped with latest weapons and tailored for Indian needs, will be delivered to the IAF between 2019 and 2022.
Tech Edge ::
The IAF fleet has 14 squadrons of ageing MiG-21and MiG-27 fighters that will be retired in phases by 2024. The IAF has ordered 123 Tejas aircraft that would be delivered by 2025, if all goes to plan.
Fighters such as the Rafale, Su-30, and the upgraded Mirage-2000s were superior to any fighter in the Pakistani arsenal, former chief Major said.
“The PAF’s planes such as the F-7s and older French Mirages aren’t relevant today. In terms of technology, they really don’t match us,” he said.
The PAF operates more than 80 F-16s, including second-hand F-16A/B Block 15 jets bought from the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
Bulk of the Pakistani fleet consists of older F-16A/B fighters, now upgraded to Block 52 standards in Turkey. It also has 18 F-16C/D Block 50/52 planes. Block refers to the F-16 evolution, with a higher number representing technological upgrades.

The PAF is also inducting JF-17 Thunder fighters, sometimes compared with the Tejas. Developed jointly with China, the PAF has nearly 90 JF-17s in its fleet.

Air vice-marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd) said India needed to act fast to retain the superiority it has traditionally enjoyed over the PAF.

“The IAF has conveyed the urgency to the government and it understands. We have been slow but if the planned inductions progress smoothly, there’s not much to worry,” said Bahadur, a distinguished fellow at New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Air Power Studies.


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