M777 Howitzers
Firing rounds with an M777_Howitzer Afghanistan, 2009Specialist Evan D. Marcy, U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

Defence and aerospace major BAE Systems has announced a partnership with Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd, the defence arm of Mahindra Group, to set up an assembly, integration and test (AIT) facility in India for M777 ultra lightweight howitzers.

Mahindra said in a statement it was selected following a detailed assessments of its "ability to fulfil the requirements and provide the best value to the M777 India programme," and also as a future strategic partner for BAE Systems in India.

BAE Systems is also slated to finalise the details of the AIT facility as well as the terms of the contractual arrangement in the "coming weeks."

India is set to buy 145 BAE Systems M777 155 mm/39-calibre lightweight howitzers for the Army through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. And recently, the US has given its letter of acceptance (LoA) to India's Ministry of Defence for this sale. The defence deal is said to be worth $700 million, IHS Jane's 360 reported.

"The facility is a fundamental part of the M777 production line. A domestic Assembly, Integration and Test facility will enable the Indian 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," Dr Joe Senftle, Vice-President & General Manager, Weapon Systems, BAE Systems Inc was quoted as saying in the Mahindra statement.

Both companies share the common values and vision with regards to the "Make in India", said SP Shukla, Group President, Mahindra Defence and Aerospace.

M777 howitzers are expected to play an important part in modernising the artilleries of the Indian Army. Many defence analysts were concerned about the dwindling artillery strength of the Indian Army.