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Indian Army's M-777 howitzer damaged during firing in Pokhran

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NEW DELHI (PTI): The Indian Army's new long-range ultra- light (ULH) howitzer M-777 was damaged during a field trial in Pokhran firing range and a probe has been ordered into the incident, Army sources said here.

The sources said the barrel of the US-manufactured gun exploded when it was firing Indian ammunition on September 2.

India had received two M-777 ultra-light howitzers in May, each worth around Rs 35 crore, after a gap of 30 years since the Bofors scandal broke out, and the accident took place in one of them.

The field trials of the 155 mm, 39-calibre guns manufactured by BAE systems were being carried out at Pokhran in Rajasthan with an aim to collate and determine various critical data like trajectory, speed and frequency.

"During the firing, the projectile which was fifth of the series, exited the barrel in multiple pieces, causing the accident," an army source said.

There was no injury to anyone.

"The barrel of the gun has been damaged, extent of which is being assessed by Joint Investigation Team," the source said.

A spokesperson of the BAE systems said the company was aware of an "irregularity" recorded during routine field firing of the M777.

"We are working closely with the Indian Army and the US government to explore the incident," the spokesperson said, adding the company stands ready to provide assistance as required.

The Army had received the howitzers as part of an order for 145 guns. Three more guns are to be supplied to the Army in September 2018 for training.

Thereafter, induction will commence from March 2019 onwards with five guns per month till the complete consignment is received by mid-2021.

The Army badly needs the howitzers considering the evolving regional security scenario.

India had last procured howitzers in the mid-1980s from Swedish defence major Bofors. The alleged pay-offs in the deal and its subsequent political ramifications had severely crippled the Indian Army's procurement of artillery guns.

India had struck a government-to-government deal with the US last November for supply of the 145 howitzers at a cost of nearly Rs 5,000 crore.

While 25 guns will come in a fly-away condition, the rest will be assembled in India by the BAE Systems in partnership with Mahindra Defence.

The Army has been pressing the government to speed up its modernisation programme.

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