NEW DELHI (Sputnik) — One of India's newly purchased M777 howitzer has reportedly disintegrated following an accident during recent field trials in the Pokhran firing range in the western state of Rajasthan. India had received two out of the contracted 145 ultra-lightweight guns from America's BAE Systems in May this year and they were intended to be deployed along the border with China.
"During the firing on Sep 2, 17 the projectile which was fifth of the series; exited the barrel in multiple pieces, causing the accident," a defense official who did not wish to be named told Sputnik.
BAE Systems acknowledged the "irregularity" during the field trial and said, "we are working closely with the Indian Army and the US government to explore the incident."
On August 12 this year, two US soldiers were killed and five injured in northern Iraq while forces were firing an M777 at Daesh when the gun malfunctioned and the shell exploded. This was not the first case of shell explosion during the discharge of an M777. In March 2011, ten US military personnel were injured in an accident caused by the in-bore explosion of a M777A2 at Fort Bragg during live fire. Three years later in February 2014, a soldier had lost his life and two seriously injured during another live firing with lightweight howitzer M777 at the same place. Interestingly, even in the stipulated three year inquiry, the US government did not reveal the findings of the 2011 accident. In March 2014, three Australian soldiers were injured during a training exercise involving M777A2 howitzer field gun at the Shoalwater Bay base near Rockhampton.
India and the US had begun discussions on the purchase of 145 M777 in 2010 and in 2011 Indian Army's classified field evaluation trial report was leaked, which revealed that the M777 had failed to meet certain critical performance requirements.
"The howitzer had fared poorly in direct firing and air portability trials. Non-compliance on parameters such as barrel life, minimum range, and anti-skid mechanism was also recorded," Hindustan Times reported on February 21, 2011.
Nevertheless, India went ahead and signed the deal last year for the purchase of 145 M777 from BAE Systems out of which 25 are to be received in flyaway condition and the remaining 125 would be assembled in India.