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India gets first M777 artillery guns in 30 years to guard China border

NEW DELHI, May 18: India on Thursday received its first artillery guns in almost 30 years after the Bofors scandal unfolded in the late 1980s, hitting the modernisation of the Indian Army.

The two M777s that arrived in New Delhi are part of a $750-million contract with the United States for 145 ultra-light howitzers. The contract was signed in November 2016.

The two guns are part of the 25 ready-built weapons that will be supplied by the US over the next two years. The remaining 120 howitzers will be produced in the country under the Modi government’s ambitious Make in India initiative. Manufactured by BAE Systems, the guns will be built in India in collaboration with Mahindra Defence. Forty Indian companies will be eligible to be a part of the supply chain.

The 155 mm/39-caliber howitzers have been bought to increase the army’s capabilities in high altitude. The M777s will be deployed in the northern and eastern sectors. The army’s new mountain strike corps, being raised in West Bengal’s Panagarh, will be equipped with the new guns. Aimed at countering China in the Northeast, the government will spend around Rs 40,000 crore on the new corps that is likely to be fully operational by 2025.

The howitzers weigh only 4,218 kg, providing them superior tactical mobility. In contrast, 155mm towed howitzers weigh twice as much. The howitzers can be underslung from helicopters and swiftly deployed at high-altitude areas. The M777s are built with titanium and aluminum alloys. The guns have been bought under the foreign military sales programme of the US government.

More than 1,090 M777s are in service globally. The howitzers have been used during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. India will be the latest user of the howitzers operated by the US, Australian and Canadian militaries for accurate artillery fire support. The two guns that arrived on Thursday will be taken to Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan for trials.

The M777s will be followed by new 155mm/52-calibre tracked self-propelled guns. Private sector defence major Larsen & Toubro and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin (HTW) on April 21 signed a $720-million contract for the artillery gun programme. The army will be supplied 100 K9 VAJRA-T guns. L&T plans to begin production of the guns at Talegaon near Pune in Maharashtra and is expected to deliver them within three years.

An improved version of HTW’s K9 Thunder, the K9 VAJRA-T, has been designed to meet Indian requirements, including those of its desert formations.

India, Singapore kick off major naval exercise in South China Sea

NEW DELHI, May 18: India and Singapore on Thursday kicked off a major naval exercise "SIMBEX" in the contentious South China Sea, where China is locked in bitter territorial disputes with most of its neighbours.

India has deployed its stealth frigates, INS Shivalik and INS Sahyadri, anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kamorta and fleet replenishment tanker INS Jyoti as well as one Poseidon-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft, under the overall command of Eastern Fleet commander Rear Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta, for the SIMBEX exercise. Singapore, in turn, has fielded warships Supreme, Formidable and Victory as well as F-16 fighters and Fokker F50 maritime patrol aircraft.

"This year's edition of SIMBEX, the 24th such bilateral combat exercise, is aimed at further increasing interoperability between the two navies as well as developing common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations," said Navy spokesperson Captain D K Sharma.

"The thrust of the exercise, with the harbor phase scheduled from May 18 to 20 and the sea phase from May 21 to 24, will be on anti-submarine warfare, integrated operations with surface, air and sub-surface forces, air defence and surface encounter operations," he added.

With an eye firmly on China, India is steadily stepping up defence cooperation, ranging from expansion in military visits and exercises to training and technology-sharing, with Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia.

India has renewed its air force training agreement with Singapore for another five years. With land and airspace being a scarce commodity in Singapore, the city state has been utilizing Indian military facilities to train its own small but high-tech armed forces under special agreements signed in 2007 and 2008.

India, for instance, provides facilities to Singapore for exercises of mechanised forces at Babina and artillery at Deolali ranges as well as for fighters at the Kalaikunda airbase in West Bengal. The two countries also regularly hold the Simbex naval wargames, which have graduated from being purely anti-submarine warfare exercises to complex ones involving multiple facets of operations at sea.

As for the South China Sea, India has repeatedly stressed the need for all to respect the freedom of navigation in international waters, right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.



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