June 14, 2015:
India and BAE (a major British arms manufacturer) have finally settled all their contract differences and confirmed the sale of 145 M777 howitzers. Thus India is joining the United States, Canada and Australia in using the M-777 towed 155mm howitzer. India is buying the lightweight (3.4 ton) M-777 howitzers for about $4.9 million each. India is particularly attracted by the fact that the M-777 can be moved slung under a helicopter, and thus quickly moved to inaccessible areas near the Pakistani and Chinese borders. This sale went through the BAE American subsidiary, which because of its size, ownership and track record basically operates as an American defense firm.
Selling weapons to India is a very complicated process, made more complex over the last few years because of a major Indian crackdown in corruption in weapons procurement. Thus Indian procurement bureaucrats became even more troublesome and obstinate than usual. The M777 deal was almost closed in 2013 but more problems kept showing up. All those have been worked out. Well, almost, as BAE has not yet selected an Indian firm to do the manufacturing in India.
The M-777 is a British design and, at four tons, is the lightest 155mm towed howitzer ever fielded. M-777 fire control is handled by computerized system that allows faster response time and more accurate shooting. The M777 can use all current 155mm ammunition, including the Swedish/American GPS guided Excalibur shell. The guided round cuts ammo use enormously. India uses a similar Russian guided shell called Krasnopol. The helicopter is the preferred method of moving the M-777 across rough terrain. An M-777 on a mountain top, with a few dozen Excalibur or Krasnopol rounds, provides precision fire support for troops within a 30-40 kilometer radius. Indian land borders are largely mountainous, and difficult to reach by land routes, especially for artillery that could not be flown in. The M-777 changes that.
The M777 is also the first new artillery for the Indian Army since the late 1980s. Currently most Indian artillery is either obsolete or soon to be. All these guns are also quite worn and less reliable as a result. Decades of pleas to parliament to speed up acquisition of new weapons. Until 2010 nothing much happened, but since then public pressure and the rapidly deteriorating (and publicized) state of Indian artillery led to some action.