Tuesday, February 2, 2010

India Shopping For Howitzers

Major Programs Update

Defense Technology International Feb 01 , 2010 , p. 30
Neelam Mathews

Printed headline: India Readies Howitzer Trials

As India plans to hold trials for towed howitzers in late February, the push for towed and ultra-light guns is drawing interest from two contenders, Singapore Technologies (ST) Kinetics and BAE Systems.
BAE Systems is offering its FH77B05 howitzer to India. Credit: BAE SYSTEMS

India wants to procure 400 towed 155-mm. howitzers and 144 ultra-light howitzers. The military is reportedly trying to procure BAE’s M777 ultra-light howitzer through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, an effort hastened, perhaps, by Pakistan’s acquisition last year of 67 M109 A5 Paladin self-propelled artillery guns from BAE through the U.S. Foreign Military Financing program.

Immediate attention is being given to the towed howitzers, which, due to India’s history of re-bids, are undergoing trials for the fifth time.

“ST Kinetics’ entry, the iFH2000, a 155-mm./52-caliber weapon, is the first 155/52 howitzer in the world with a self-propelled capability,” says Patrick Choy, chief marketing officer of the company.

ST Kinetics is working to meet a range of India’s strategic needs with land platforms, marine vessels, unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance systems. It has submitted bids totaling $3 billion for six defense contracts. Besides the towed and ultra-light howitzers, these include: Spider Light Strike vehicles (presently under technical evaluation); 34,377 compact personal weapons; SAR 21 lightweight assault rifles (flown in last year for trials); and 9-mm. carbines.

Guy Douglas, a spokesman for BAE Systems, says his company’s 155-mm. FH77B05 howitzer is the best choice for India since it has proven itself in previous trials. “It is the big sister of the FH77B02 that performed well in the Kargil conflict, so its pedigree is unquestionable.” The Kargil War of 1999 was fought by India and Pakistan in Kashmir, after India accused Pakistan of infiltrating paramilitaries across the Line of Control that separates the countries. The fighting included heavy artillery barrages in mountainous terrain at high altitude. Bofors, the manufacturer of the FH77B02, was acquired by BAE.

“Its ability to smoothly transition into India’s [arsenal] is vastly improved because of the artillery forces’ knowledge of working with the in-service FH77B02,” adds Douglas. The FH77B05 has been upgraded in the past 20 years with an increased firing range, to 40 km. (25 mi.) from 30 km.

The latest version of ST Kinetics’ FH2000 howitzer, the iFH2000, is undergoing trials. Credit: ST KINETICS

“Our new joint venture company with [Indian corporation] Mahindra will have a significant work share on the FH77B05, as well,” says Douglas, a reference to the offsets usually demanded by India for military contracts.

ST Kinetics for its part signed an agreement with Punj Lloyd and Mahindra for weapons manufacturing, and says it has no issues with technology transfer. Both companies say they intend to develop Punj Lloyd and Mahindra into internationally recognized centers for artillery systems.

ST Kinetics hasn’t started on an optimistic note, having been caught in a controversy related to the Ordnance Factory Board, a government agency that manufactures arms, ammunition and equipment for India’s military. This led to an investigation that resulted in trial delays of the 155/39-caliber ultra-light howitzer.

BAE Systems had withdrawn from the earlier request for proposals, leaving ST Kinetics as the only vendor offering a lightweight 155-mm. howitzer, the Pegasus SLWH, which is self-propelled and transportable by C-130 aircraft and CH-47 helicopters.

The 155-mm. M109 A5 gun that Pakistan acquired has a cruising range of 220 mi. at up to 35 mph. India’s plan to buy the M777 howitzer through the Foreign Military Sales program would speed procurement by eliminating competitive bidding. However, the deal must pass congressional muster, a U.S. official tells DTI.

Weight is an issue. The M777 is the world’s only 155-mm. howitzer weighing less than 10,000 lb. “We need to look at a weapon as a whole, and sometimes need to balance weight against mobility and ease of handling in battle,” Choy says.

The U.S. Marine Corps uses the M777 as a direct-support weapon. The U.S. Army uses the gun as a general-support weapon in its light forces and as a direct-support weapon in light cavalry regiments, replacing the 155-mm. M198 towed howitzer.

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