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Ultra-light howitzers: Exhaustive field trials on in Pokhran

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The M-777 howitzers. A file photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): Exhaustive field trials are being carried out on two long-range ultra-light howitzers in Pokhran which the Indian Army received from the US after a gap of 30 years since the Bofors scandal broke out, an official said.

The test-firing of the guns is primarily aimed at collating and determining various critical data like trajectory, speed and frequency of fire of the M-777 A-2 ultra-light howitzers (ULH) which are expected to be mostly deployed along the border with China.

The trials will continue till September for formation of the "firing table" which is a major aspect of the overall induction process, said the Army official privy to the trials on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The 155 mm, 39-calibre guns will fire Indian ammunition.

Three more guns will 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 trials have been going on smoothly and various data are being collected for formation of the firing table," the official said, adding the aim was to ensure that there was no delay in the induction of the guns.

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.

The Army had received the howitzers in May as part of an order for 145 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.

In a major decision, the government last week had empowered the Vice Chief of the Army to procure critical ammunition and spares for key weapons systems to maintain combat readiness for short duration "intense wars".

The move, aimed at filling the "voids" in the Army's combat readiness, came amid nearly a month-long standoff between the armies of India and China in the Dokalam area as well as heightened Indo-Pak tension along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

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