India has decided to enhance its artillery firepower along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, with the US-made M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers likely to be deployed along the LAC by the year-end. The development comes ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expected India visit next week. After India’s decision to hold its biggest mountain combat exercise — Him Vijay — in Arunachal Pradesh, it’s learnt that China expressed concerns over the war games.
- The howitzers will be game changers. They will be deployed by the year-end. The deployment is likely to be in areas such as Tawang, Kameng and Walong. The artillery regiments deployed in eastern Arunachal are already being trained to operate M777s.
- These will be the first set of guns to be deployed from the lot of 145 M777s, which India is procuring from the US. The Army is considering deploying about seven regiments of the 145 howitzers in India’s northern sector comprising Ladakh and the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh. A regiment usually has about 18 guns.
- India entered into a contract with the US in November 2016 for procuring 145 M777s for Rs 5,070 crore. The first 25 howitzers will be given off the shelf, while the remaining 120 will be assembled in India.
- The M777s, which have been used by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, will help India secure its borders with China in Ladakh and Arunachal.
- These howitzers have the advantage of being airlifted to areas close to the LAC. Once ready for deployment, they will be transported by the heavy-lift Chinook helicopters to forward area helipads, such as the Walong Advanced Landing Ground. While the first four Chinooks were commissioned into the IAF in March, a Chinook unit will come up in Assam’s Dinjan area.
- Bofors, the other important gun deployed in the region, will be taken to different locations by road. Transporting them near the LAC in the Kibithu region is an uphill task for the Army because the road connecting Tezu to this area is narrow and the turns are sharp, preventing adequate manoeuvrability.
- To overcome this obstacle, the gun has to be unhinged from its towing vehicle and taken separately. The process is the same for bridges that have not been designed to handle their weight. Each Bofors with its towing vehicle weighs 30-40 tonnes.
- The induction of these guns is aimed at ‘mediumisation’ of the artillery, which is phasing out guns of lower calibre such as 105 mm. The army also has 105 mm guns deployed.
- The move is to enhance firepower by having more guns of higher calibre for rapid destruction of the enemy's war sustaining capability. These guns have been deployed according to their range.
- The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the effective border between India and China.
- The LAC is 4,057-km long and traverses three areas of northern Indian states: western (Ladakh, Kashmir), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh).