M777 Howitzers
The air portable 155mm/39 calibre gun, with a maximum range of 30 km, is manufactured by BAE Systems. Credit: Reuters

Enhancing its firepower in the north-eastern sector facing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, India has decided to deploy US-manufactured M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers by the year-end.

The Economic Times reported that the development has come just before Chinese President Xi Jinping's likely visit to India next week for the second round of informal talks with India.

Earlier this month China had raised serious concern over India's decision to conduct its biggest mountain combat exercise — Him Vijay — in Arunachal Pradesh. But the Indian Army later clarified that "as the 17 Mountain Strike Corps is a new raising, not yet fully formed, its troops conduct familiarisation and orientation drills in-depth areas which are generally in the high altitude as a matter of routine."

One of the officials said, "The howitzers will be game-changers. They will be deployed by the year-end." The M777 howitzers are expected to be deployed in Tawang, Kameng and Walong areas. The artillery regiment posted in the forward bases is already being trained to operate M777 howitzers, the official further added.

Notably, these will the first batch of the guns to be deployed from the lot of 145 M777s which India has bought from the United States. Moreover, the Army is also planning to deploy around 7 regiments of the 145 howitzers in India's northern sector securing Ladakh and the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh. A regiment usually has around 18 guns.

In picture: An M777 howitzer in action.BAE Systems official literature

India and the US signed a contract worth Rs. 5070 in November 2016 where India agreed to procure 145 M777s. The first batch of 25 howitzers will completely be manufactured in India while the remaining 120 will be assembled in India. The M777s has been extensively used by the US Army in Afghanistan and Iraq operation and will also help India secure its borders with China in Ladakh and Arunachal region.

The ultra-light howitzers can be airlifted towards forwarding bases in the LAC with help of heavy-lift Chinook helicopters which are stationed at forwarding area helipads, such as the Walong Advanced Landing Ground added another official.

As the first four Chinooks are already commissioned into the IAF in March another unit of the US-made choppers is expected to be deployed in Assam's Dinjan area. Interestingly, the Bofors which are other gun deployed in the region will now be transported to another region in the LAC. The transportation of these guns will be a challenging task for the Army giving the hostile terrain and road in the region.