Murphy's Law: The Impact Of Tradition

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July 16, 2016: In June 2016 the Indian Army announced that they had passed the final bureaucratic hurdle and received final approval to purchase 145 new M777 howitzers. The M777 is 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 older guns are also quite worn and less reliable as a result. Decades of pleas to parliament to speed up acquisition of new weapons were largely ignored or action was deferred. Until 2010 nothing much happened, but since then public pressure and the rapidly deteriorating (and publicized) state of Indian artillery led to some action.

The problems with buying new artillery are not unique, especially in India. Because of the complexity of the Indian procurement bureaucracy it often requires dozens of separate approvals and over a decade (at best) to actually get a new weapon or item of equipment. For example earlier in 2016 an Indian firm (Mahindra) and BAE (a major British arms manufacturer) agreed to jointly produce the 145 M777 howitzers for the Indian Army. It was only in mid-2015 that India and BAE finally settled all their contract differences and confirmed the M777 sale. One of the conditions was BAE finding an Indian firm to assemble the howitzers in India. The Mahindra M777 facility will begin production in late 2018.

India first approached BAE about buying the M777 in early 2010. Selling weapons to India is a very complicated process, made more complex since 2006 because of an escalating Indian crackdown (often just for show) on corruption in weapons procurement. Thus Indian procurement bureaucrats became even more troublesome and obstinate than usual after 2006. The M777 deal was almost completed in 2013 but more problems kept showing up. All those have been worked out. This sale went through the BAE American subsidiary, which because of its size, ownership and track record basically operates as an American defense firm.

With this purchase India is joining the United States, Canada and Australia in using the M777 towed 155mm howitzer. India is buying the lightweight (3.4 ton) M777 howitzers for about $5 million each. India is particularly attracted by the fact that the M777 can be moved slung under a helicopter, and thus quickly moved to inaccessible areas near the Pakistani and Chinese borders.

The M777 is a British design and, at four tons (for the standard version), is the lightest 155mm towed howitzer ever fielded. M777 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 Excalibur GPS guided shell. The guided round cuts ammo use enormously. India already uses a similar Russian guided shell called Krasnopol.

The helicopter is the preferred method of moving the M777 across rough terrain. An M777 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.

Meanwhile the Indian defense procurement system hardly changes at all.

 


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