India has signed a USD 1.029 billion (or INR 5,000 crore) deal with the US for acquiring 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers.
The Indian Defence Ministry confirmed the news, saying in a statement that it was the first major deal signed by New Delhi for artillery guns since the Bofors scandal in 1980s. According to the statement, India will deploy the howitzers near its borders with China.
The ministry issued the statement soon after senior officials of the two countries signed the ‘Letter of Acceptance’ in New Delhi on November 30. A top Defence Ministry official said that India, with the signing of Letter of Acceptance, formalised the contract with America for these guns.
Earlier this week, the visiting American officials thanked India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for clearing the deal. The US officials, who arrived in New Delhi to attend the 15th India-US Military Co-operation Group (MCG) meeting, also said that the two countries made considerable progress as far as bilateral defence co-operation was concerned. According to them, India has emerged as the most important strategic partner of America in Asia.
After attending the meeting, Commander of US Marine Corps Forces (Pacific) Lieutenant General David H Berger held talks with Chief of Integrated Staff (HQ Integrated Defence Staff) Lieutenant General Satish Dua and DCIDS (Operations) Air Marshal AS Bhonsle to discuss various aspects of the bilateral defence co-operation.
Commenting on the M777 deal, Lieutenant General Dua said that they planned to deploy the ultra-light howitzers in high-altitude areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. He told the media that while 25 guns would come to the South Asian country in a fly-away condition, the rest would be assembled at the proposed Assembly Integration and Test facility for the weapon system in India.
Meanwhile, the visiting American officials informed their Indian counterparts that the US would take necessary steps to strengthen defence ties with India. They said that the US Congress would pass the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2017 next week seeks and the move would help Washington executive action to “recognise India’s status as a major defence partner of the US”. According to the draft bill released on Wednesday, technology transfer to India and defence co-operation must be “consistent with US conventional arms transfer policy”.