INDIAN AND US officials will jointly test the American-made M777 ultra-light howitzer Monday after its muzzle broke during tests at a firing range in Pokharan six months ago, The Indian Express has learnt.
The tests will be conducted in Pokharan by a joint investigation committee (JIC) comprising US and Indian officials. US officials have blamed the accident on ammunition indigenously manufactured by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) — the Indian side has denied the charge.
India signed a deal in November 2016 with the US to procure 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers for deployment on mountainous terrain in the northern and eastern borders. It was the first such induction of artillery guns since the Swedish Bofors guns in the late-1980s, which got embroiled in political controversy. As part of the Rs 5,070-crore deal, with delivery to be completed by 2021, two M777 guns were brought to India last May for field firing with Indian ammunition to compile “firing tables” that provide data such as range and elevation.
The accident, on September 2, 2017, involved one of these two guns when a projectile, the fifth in a series, exited in multiple pieces, damaging the barrel and breaking the muzzle.
The JIC, including OFB and Army officials, and representatives of the US Defence department and BAE Systems, the manufacturer, was formed to investigate the causes. But the two sides could not agree on the reasons in five meetings of the JIC held so far. The US officials claimed that the ammunition did not have explosive of the right consistency, which was denied by Indian officials.
The sixth meeting of JIC will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, after “instrumented firing” with specialised equipment from the US to check the differential pressure in the barrel while firing Indian ammunition.
Speaking to The Indian Express, official sources said, “All the team members will freely and frankly share their point of view during the JIC meeting. We will know more about the cause of the accident after the data from instrumented firing is analysed and presented to us.”
If the JIT reaches a conclusion this week, further testing to complete the firing table would be scheduled. According to the earlier schedule, the table was to be compiled by the end of September.
Official sources, however, were not willing to speak about whether the accident would lead to a delay in induction of the M777 howitzer guns.
Under the contract, 25 M777 guns will be inducted directly with the rest to be assembled at the BAE Systems facility in Maharashtra in partnership with Mahindra Group.