NEW DELHI: Paving the way to end the Army’s three-decade-old wait to procure artillery guns, BAE Systems on Wednesday announced the selection of Mahindra as its Indian partner for the $700-million deal for supplying 145 M777 howitzers — ultra lightweight artillery guns having a strike range of 25 km. Sources in the Ministry of Defence claim the deal is expected to be inked within six months.
The gun deal would be through Foreign Military Sales, but the “spares, maintenance and ammunition will be operated through Indian systems”, defence sources said. “BAE Systems has down-selected Mahindra as its business partner for the proposed in-country Assembly, Integration & Test (AIT) facility for the M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzer,” BAE said in a statement.
India and the United States are in discussion for the supply of 145 M777A2 LW155 howitzers for the Army, the statement said.
“BAE Systems looks forward to working with Mahindra in the coming weeks to finalise details of this AIT facility and to negotiate the terms of its contractual arrangement,” the company said.
Last year, BAE developed and submitted a US-government-supported proposal offering a higher degree of indigenisation on the M777 weapon system.
The highlight of the deal is the commitment to establish AIT capabilities in India in partnership with a domestic company. “The selection follows a detailed assessment of Mahindra’s ability to fulfil the requirements and provide the best value to the M777 India programme grow its capability as a strategic partner for BAE Systems in India,” it said.
Joe Senftle, vice-president and general manager (weapon systems) of BAE Systems, said that as a founding partner of defence manufacturing in India, BAE “is pleased to partner with Mahindra”. The facility is a fundamental part of the M777 production line. A domestic Assembly, Integration and Test facility will enable the Army to access maintenance, spares and support for the M777 locally. “We will continue to support the two governments to progress to contract agreement so that we may begin the process of ‘Make in India’ for M777,” Senftle said.
On its part, Mahindra said M777 would give the Army a much-needed operational advantage and access to state-of-the-art technology. “The Mahindra M777 facility will also ensure that the life cycle support is available locally thereby enhancing operational availability of the guns,” said S P Shukla, group president, Mahindra Defence & Aerospace, Mahindra Group.