An American-made M777 ultra-light howitzer ‘malfunctioned’ recently while it was tested at a firing range in Pokhran, damaging the gun’s barrel. India plans to procure 145 such howitzers for deployment on mountainous terrains in the northern and eastern sectors.
The gun was undergoing field firing at the Pokhran ranges on September 2 when the accident took place, an Army insider said. The field firing was to compile firing tables that provide data such as the gun’s range and elevation. The ammunition used was made in India. “During the firing on September 2, a projectile, fifth in the series, exited the barrel in multiple pieces, causing the accident.
The gun’s barrel was damaged. The extent of the damage is being assessed by a joint investigation team,” the Army insider said, adding no one was injured. The joint investigation team is at the site of the incident.
The gun’s manufacturer, BAE Systems said “BAE Systems is aware of an irregularity recorded during routine field firing of the M777 ultra-light howitzer gun on September 2. We can confirm that there were no injuries and all personnel on-site are safe. We are working closely with the Indian Army and the US government to explore events leading up to the incident. The company stands ready to provide assistance as required.”
The Army is likely to ask for technical details of the gun from BAE Systems and to also determine the cause of the incident. Two ultra-light howitzers, including the one which suffered the accident, were brought to India in May. Last November, India entered into a contract with the US government under the foreign military sales programme for procuring 145 ultra-light howitzers for `5,070 cr and BAE Systems received the contract from the US Department of Defense in January.
M-777 howitzers weighing 4.2 tonnes are ultralight guns as they weigh only a third of normal 155mm howitzers. They have a range of 25 km. Partly made of titanium, M777 howitzers can be swiftly airlifted to high-altitude areas. Therefore, these guns are set to equip new 17 Mountain Strike Corps, which is being raised to get 'quick reaction force capabilities' against China.
In January 2010, Pentagon had notified plan to sell 145 M-777 guns for $647 million to India. Under the agreement, first two M-777 howitzers were delivered to India on May 18 this year. Over the next years, around 25 howitzers are to be imported from the US and over 120 guns to be assembled in India. The M777s, already in service with the US, Canadian and Australian armies, are supposed to increase Indian Army's ability in high altitudes.
This the second setback for the armed forces as in July, indigenously built 155mm artillery gun Dhanush had failed again after reaching the last phase of tests. During its testing, a shell hit the muzzle brake. Sources said the gun had faced a similar issue in the test-firing carried out in May. The guns are being manufactured at Gun Carriage Factory at Jabalpur.
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