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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

From Today's Papers - 20 Dec 2011

Goa martyrs from Punjab forgotten
Vijay Mohan Tribune News Service  Chandigarh, December 19 As the tourist state of Goa marks the 50th anniversary of its liberation from Portuguese rule, two martyrs from Punjab who were killed during the operations remain forgotten. Maj Shivdev Singh Sidhu and Capt V Sehgal fell to enemy bullets during the 36-hour battle that ended 451 years of colonial rule.  The two officers were killed on the night of December 18 when Portuguese guards fired on an unsuspecting Indian unit controlling prisoners in Aguada Fort. They were among the 22 Indian soldiers killed in the operation. Both were from 7 Cavalry, an illustrious armoured regiment that traces its history back to 1784.  Maj Sidhu, who hailed from Sidhwan village near Ludhiana, was a veteran of the 1948 Kashmir operations against Pakistan and was among those who had created a record in military history by driving tanks up to the 11,500-feet-high snow-capped Zoji La, an unparalleled feat that helped India wrest control of the strategically critical pass from Pakistani raiders, thereby nixing their plans to occupy Ladakh.  Maj Sidhu was mentioned in despatches for gallantry. Earlier, in 1945, after the Second War ended, he was part of the team that was sent to Japan to bring home Indian prisoners of war. He was 35 when he died, leaving behind his wife and three daughters.  His sons-in-law are military officers, with one retiring as a wing commander in IAF and two reaching the rank of Lieutenant General. His grandson has joined the army too, keeping alive the family tradition.  While Punjab government has named a street in Ludhiana after him, many veterans feel sacrifices of both martyrs deserve better recognition and a memorial should be erected in their honour.  Capt Sehgal, who sacrificed his life while being a bachelor in his early twenties, is reported to have studied in Ludhiana. Some Armoured Corps officers say that he belonged to Ludhiana. His brother is believed to be a resident of Chandigarh, but his name does not figure in the list of martyrs of Chandigarh or Ludhiana.  Code named Operation Vijay, the ground war to liberate Goa was fought by 17 Infantry Division along with 50 Independent Para Brigade under the command of Maj Gen KP Candeth, who was later the Western Army Commander during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The para brigade, which spearheaded the main thrust into Panjim, was led by Brig Sagat Singh.
US leaves Iraq to Iraqis But what did Washington gain?
The last of the US soldiers in Iraq has finally left for home. The task assigned to them in 2003 has been accomplished. The US under President George W. Bush entered the Iraqi war theatre after it had made substantial gains in Afghanistan where it had toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11. He found an excellent opportunity to use the anti-terrorism plank to achieve Washington’s larger objective of ensuring energy security. Unverified intelligence reports about Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein’s “secret” nuclear weapon programme were enough for President Bush to go ahead with his new plan. He also found out that Saddam had close connections with Al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden. British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave added strength to President Bush’s scheme of things by declaring that all that the US intelligence network had discovered was true. Thus, they made up their mind to go in for a regime change, irrespective of the cost involved.  World opinion was ignored. The US also did not bother about seeking the UN Security Council’s sanction for attacking Iraq. Even when it was conclusively proved that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that Saddam had no link with Al-Qaida — both being ideologically poles apart — Iraq was bombarded and Saddam dethroned. Later, he was captured and executed. Iraq was liberated from the clutches of the tyrant. What could have been done by the people of Iraq during the Arab Spring now was finished by the US with the use of its military might. But can this be justified legally, morally, ethically or otherwise? The debate is still on.  What did the US gain after spending billions of dollars and sacrificing 4,500 lives of its highly trained soldiers? That over one lakh Iraqis also died because of no fault of theirs cannot be ignored. US companies have got some lucrative contracts, but how far they will be allowed to do business after the US troop withdrawal remains to be seen. The Iraqis, divided on sectarian (Shia-Sunni) lines, do not sing songs in praise of the US. The government in Baghdad, though not anti-US today, does not hide its pro-Iranian tilt. Iran, a sworn US enemy, is the major gainer. Obviously, this was not the US objective when it entered Iraq.
DRDO plans 500-cr unmanned vehicle project for Indian Army
PUNE: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on an ambitious Rs 500-cr unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) programme that seeks to address the Army's requirement for various types of UGVs over the next 10 years.  The use of UGVs, which are state-of-the-art robots, has acquired a greater significance in counter-insurgency, urban- as well as jungle-warfare situations for varied tasks, including surveillance and reconnaissance operations and safe handling and disposal of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).  "We are in discussion with the Army to finalise the UGV programme soon," S Sundaresh, DRDO's distinguished scientist and chief controller of armament combat engineering and services interaction, said here on Monday.  "The ongoing efforts of four DRDO laboratories, including Pune's Research and Development Establishment (R&DE - Engineers), which are into developing various systems for UGVs, will be combined for rolling out products specified by the Army," he said.  "The robotics group at R&DE (Engineers) has been working on advanced systems for unmanned vehicles, while the Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (VRDE) at Ahmednagar is into developing wheel-based UGVs for surveillance and recce operations," he said.  "Similarly, the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment at Avadi near Chennai is into developing track-based vehicles, while the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Research, Bangalore, is working on image processing and sensors," Sundaresh added.  Key DRDO laboratories, like R&DE (Engineers), Pune, have diversified from conventional tasks of making bridges, mine-laying and mine-clearance equipment to the more advanced systems involving robotics and artificial intelligence applications. A small group of robotics, set up in 2001-02 for designing UGVs, has since evolved into a full-fledged robotics development laboratory 'Saksham', which has been spearheading the DRDO's UGV initiative.  According to Sundaresh, surveys relating to the global market for UGVs have revealed that governments of various countries have committed mind-boggling amounts for acquisition and deployment of UGVs. "There is immense potential and opportunity for scaling up this technology to the extent of developing unmanned battle tanks," he said.  Sundaresh said, "A UGV for nuclear biological and chemical ( NBC) surveillance operations is under development at VRDE, Ahmednagar, and will be ready for trials in a year. This equipment, which will be mounted on a Tata 104 vehicle and fitted with all sensors, can be remotely controlled to go into an NBC-affected area in a range of up to 5 km and measure and mark level of radiation for clean up exercise."  Alok Mukherjee, head of robotics laboratory at the R&DE (Engineers), told TOI, "We have developed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 'Netra', which is useful for surveillance and recce operations, for obtaining live videos of a terrorist situation in urban as well as jungle warfare."  "Netra is set to enter into the production phase following successful user and field trials, including those in high-altitude, cold and hot weather conditions," he said.  "We are in talks with para-military forces like the National Security Guards, which requires the UAV for counter-terror operations in an urban setting, and the Central Reserve Police Force, which is dealing with Maoists or Naxals in jungles," he added. "The Border Security Force; Indo-Tibetan Border Force and the state police are the other prospective buyers," Mukherjee said.  Apart from 'Netra', the R&DE (Engineers) is developing a gun-mounted robot, which can be deployed in anti-terrorist situations. "The robot will be equipped with a light machine gun and a grenade launcher," he said and added that the project is in design stage and will take two years to realise.  A smaller version of the remotely operated vehicle ( ROV) 'Daksh', which can be deployed in crammed places, like railway train compartments or aircraft isle, for detection, removal and disposal of improvised explosive devices is also being developed, said Mukherjee. "This project, too, is in the design phase," he added.
Mobile robots for disposal of IEDs
PUNE: The much-anticipated remotely operated vehicle (ROV) 'Daksh', meant for safe handling and disposal of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and hazardous objects, was formally inducted into the Indian army's corps of engineers here on Monday.  Six ROV 'Daksh' units were handed over to Maj Gen Rakesh Bassi, director general of combat engineers, as part of the limited supply order for 20 such vehicles, which the army had placed in 2009 with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).  'Daksh' has been indigenously developed by the robotics group at the Pune-based Research and Development Establishment (R&DE - Engineers), a premier DRDO laboratory, in partnership with key industries, including Tata Motors, Dynalog (I) Ltd, Theta Controls and Bharat Electronics, etc.  "We will hand over the remaining 14 units of the order in a year's time," S Sundaresh, DRDO's chief controller of armament combat engineering and services interaction, told reporters on the sidelines of the handing over function at R&DE .  Sundaresh said, "The ROVs will be deployed in the northern and eastern command areas of the army and, based on the latter's feedback, the DRDO will develop a further improvised variant called Daksh Mk-I."  The indigenously developed ROV has led to the equipment being offered at almost half the cost of an imported ROV of the same class. "The imported system, bought by the army from the United Kingdom in 2002, cost approximately Rs 1.80 crore each. If compared on a one-on-one scale for what the UK equipment provides, the indigenous equipment costs around Rs 90 lakh," said Alok Mukherjee, head of robotics at R&DE (Engineers).  Mukherjee said, "The R&DE (Engineers) is providing added features including x-ray; cartridges and shotgun, apart from a carrier vehicle, and the entire package costs Rs 1.70 crore."  According to Maj Gen Bassi, the equipment will be useful in route clearance operations for roads in the northern and eastern borders that are prone to terror elements using IEDs. "It can also be deployed in buildings for detection and disposal of IEDs without having to put any personnel at risk," he added.  Bassi said, "The army started thinking of acquiring counter-IED equipment in the 1990s, following instances of indiscriminate use of IEDs by terrorists and anti-nationals. We had to acquire 45 such equipment from the UK, while the DRDO was asked to develop the ROVs. The indigenous content and support carrier vehicle provides a unique feature to 'Daksh'."  Bassi, who monitored the field trials of Daksh at Nagrota in Jammu & Kashmir in 2007-08, said, "The Army had sought certain modifications in the ROV, like an additional camera in the rear; a cordless system and a carrier vehicle suitable for all terrain operations. All these have been met by the R&DE (Engineers)."  R&DE (Engineers) director S Guruprasad was also present at the function.
Cops thanked army officer for help
Suspended Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, was providing the police with information about Islamic fundamentalists while he was allegedly involved in activities of the right-wing Hindu group Abhinav Bharat, suggest letters written by senior police officers, copies of which are with HT.  The letters - by Himanshu Roy, then Nashik police commissioner, and KP Raghuvanshi, then Anti-Terrorism Squad chief - were written in 2005 and 2006, and suggest that the police appreciated his help.  As reported earlier, Purohit, a military intelligence officer, had conducted workshops for the Maharashtra police. The letters suggest that the army officer was also sharing sensitive information about Islamic fundamentalists that was aiding investigations.  In a letter to Purohit dated November 13, 2006, Roy said: “You have shared information of vital and sensitive nature with the police, which has proved to be useful. Your educative workshop on Islam, SIMI and ISI, conducted on November 11, was also of great help to our organisation.”  Roy, who is now joint commissioner of police, Mumbai crime branch, told HT: “There are many vital military installations in Nashik and in my capacity as police commissioner, I interacted with military officials. It’s a professional letter regarding a specific workshop and more should not be read into it.”  Similarly, Raghuvanshi had written a letter to Purohit’s senior, Lieutenant Colonel SS Raikar, on September 5, 2005, appreciating Purohit, who was then a Major. “My officers have immensely benefited from this interaction and hope that in the future we continue to benefit from the experience, knowledge and expertise of army officers like you and Major Purohit,” the letter stated.  Raghuvanshi, now the police commissioner of Thane, said: “If there had been any doubts about Purohit, we would never have called him.”  The ATS had held the banned outfit, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), responsible for the first Malegaon blast in 2006 and had made several arrests. Suspicion that Abhinav Bharat may have been involved in the 2006 blast as well arose last December after Swami Aseemanand, who has links with the group and was arrested for the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast, said in his confession that a right-wing group had been behind the 2006 blast.  Following this statement, the case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency, which recently did not oppose the bail plea of the nine SIMI activists arrested for their alleged involvement in the blast. Purohit provided information to the police for more than two years after the first Malegaon blast. His name cropped up only after the second blast, which took place on September 29, 2008, and he was arrested in November 2008.
Majors' woes stem from 6th Pay Commission
Since India gained Independence in 1947, there have been six pay commissions to review and fix Government officials' pay and allowances. Retired Majors and their equivalents in the Air Force and Navy did not have problems with recommendations of the first five Pay Commissions. The Sixth one reduced them to tears.  In war, a well-led army is one where the casualty rate of the officers, percentage wise, is more than that of the men.  During WW-I and WW-II, in the German, Japanese and the British army, the casualty rate of officers were higher than that of the men. The Israeli Army has maintained this ethos and fortunately for us, our Indian Army (and also the Pakistan Army) has been maintaining a healthy and honourable officer casualty rate statistics till now.  It is all about losing face and conquering fear that prevents one from running away from the battlefield. The officers have to set an example and lead from the front as it not possible to smartly, from behind, manage men to their deaths.  The only army in the world where the casualty rate of men exceeded that of the officers was the American army in the Vietnam war. Unheard of in the Indian Army, there were many cases of men firing at their own officers in the American Army in Vietnam.  The American Army officer is not the elite of the American society. We see the American Army ethos in Hollywood movies where the Sargent is shown making a monkey of the officer. On the other hand, British, German, and Japanese movies tend to maintain the officer mystique. Bollywood has been kind and shown Services officers as a gallant lot.  Two retired Battalion Commanders of the US Army elaborated upon the man management crisis faced by the US Army in their book, Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army. They had a lot of praise for the Indian Army.  If izzat gets eroded over time, there will be very little face left to loose.  The Indian Army is strung along politically hostile borders, in an eye ball to eye ball situation, and huddles in the world's most inhospitable terrain where men die not only by stopping bullets but by drowning in their own fluids in the lungs (pulmonary oedema) caused by high altitude effects. Our Army is not a chocolate-eating Swiss army, or decorative pieces like the Guards at the Buckingham palace. To not to ask why but to do and die, is what the Indian Army lore is about.  Since 1947, a couple of conventional wars were fought against China and Pakistan, and counter-insurgency operations conducted in Nagaland, Mizoram, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and UN-sponsored expeditions, which took a heavy toll on Army lives. Honourable and healthy officer casualty rates have been maintained throughout to sustain officer mystique.  Among the officers, it is the lieutenants, captains and majors who are the main cannon fodder. Battalion commanders (colonels) also face danger but not to the extent of company commanders (majors) and officers below the rank of Major. Brigadiers and above are relatively safe from bullets.  Over the years, the disparity in pay and allowances between the officers' ranks has been widening. In the case of retired majors, the Sixth Pay Commission has been insensitive as their pension has been reduced to below that of retired honourary captains. The difference between a retired Major's pension and a retired Lt Col's pension has taken a quantum leap, and is the largest between any two succeeding ranks. Retired majors have appealed to the Armed Forces Tribunal which passed judgments favourable to the retired majors. Instead of accepting it gracefully, overzealous babus have dragged the case to the Supreme Court.  Earlier to 2004, an officer became a Major after 11 years of service. Promotion from Major to Lt Col was through selection. After 2004, an Army Instruction was passed enabling an officer to become a Major with six years of service and get promoted to Lt Col, without a selection process, with 13 years of service.  In future there will be no major retirees but only Lt Col and above retirees. In this largesse to service officers, pre-2006 retired Majors have been neglected. Their travails and life threatening risks undertaken during service have been forgotten.  The number of retired majors living is few and the cost to the finance ministry for being fair to them will be miniscule compared to the huge defence budget.  A few retired majors have died without the satisfaction of availing a fair pension and many will be going over the cliff as time passes.  Services officers are not competing with IAS officers. When war breaks out and the chips are down, the lieutenants, captains and Majors will be competing with their counterparts in the Pakistani and Chinese Army in mortal combat.  How Pakistan and China rehabilitate their officers who commanded companies, squadrons or batteries, and completed 20 years of service, and retired as majors, should be looked into when deliberating upon an equitable pension of their equivalents in India.  Serving army officers are used to getting a fair hearing whenever they appeal for redress of a grievance. By virtue of the rigorous training undergone, it goes against their grain to rail roko and agitate violently just to be given a fair hearing.  Hard facts like hospital records and school leaving certificates showing evidence of the date of birth of the Chief are being ignored by the babu-politician nexus. The Chief's pleas are being trampled over, and the press do not approach him as Government rules order him to be mute.  If the Chief's izzat has come to this, lowly majors cannot look up to him with hope, expectations and admiration.  It is hoped that parliamentarians are listening; the ethos of the Services, and security of the country is involved.
What Kim Jong Il’s Death Means for India
India will be hoping Kim Jong Il’s death ushers in a new era in bilateral relations with a country with which it has had a testy relationship because of Pyongyang’s export of missile technology to Pakistan.  India’s Ministry of External Affairs says it will issue a statement later Monday on the death at the weekend of the North Korean leader. That statement is likely to be polite. New Delhi, unlike the U.S., has maintained diplomatic relations with Pyongyang since 1973. Both countries have embassies in each others’ capitals.  Beyond the pleasantries, India’s long-term interest is for a North Korea that does not help Pakistan develop medium-range ballistic missiles. North Korea’s tight embrace of Pakistan and China, including transfer between Islamabad and Pyongyang of missile and nuclear technology, have led to fraught relations in recent years. To disrupt this trade, India’s Navy has stopped North Korean ships carrying missile parts and conventional weapons on a number of occasions.  “India still maintains an embassy in Pyongyang. But it’s not a cordial relationship,” says Brahma Chellaney, an expert on India’s foreign policy at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, a think tank.
Our higher defence organisation
While determining the causes of military component of our defeat in 1971, Hamood-ur-Rehaman commission had pointed out lack of inter-services coordination as a major weakness. To address this inadequacy, the structure of our Higher Defensive Organization (HDO) was revamped in 1976. Evolution of HDO involves complex processes, taking into accounts numerous variables. Of these major ones are prevailing and anticipated geopolitical and strategic environment. HDO structures need periodic review to keep pace with the dynamics and fluidity of national security challenges.  Pakistan is passing through testing times, which demand timely and prudent decisions on national security measures reflecting unanimity among national institutions as well as aspirations of the people. Within the military component of leadership, there is a need to further strengthen the elements of unity of command and clarity in articulation of command to cut down the reaction time and ensure that military response to any contingency is timely and appropriate.  Our HDO in its current format has been problematic since its inception, in 1976. It has failed the nation many times over. Kargil is an ugly example of stampeding the HDO by an erratic service chief. Abbottabad fiasco, PNS Mehran incident and attack on Salalah border post have yet once again exposed its inadequacy. Well meaning analysts have all along been suggesting a revisit to our HDO. India did this exercise immediately after Kargil debacle and has once again instituted a National Task force to bring its HDO in line with its projected strategic ambitions. In our case, Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) is the highest policy making and direction giving echelon of HDO, presided over by the Prime Minister. DCC is an agenda oriented set up that does not have a back up secretariat for a systematic follow up on its decisions, nor does it venture into futuristic strategy reviews.  Defence Council (DC) is the next tier of HDO, headed by the defence minister. Periodic dated and erroneous statements of the Defence Minister on important national security issues indicate that this tier is kept out of decision making loop. This notion is further reinforced by the fact that DC rarely meets.  Next is the Joint Chiefs of Staff level. Since formation, this institution has been striving to carve a worthwhile niche for itself in the overall national strategic calculus, but has not been able to go beyond a debating club where participants prefer to disagree. Wisdom of the mandate of this echelon was questioned by its first Chairman, General Muhammad Sharif, who proposed to swap it with a potent post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Coups of 1977 and 1999 further weakened this entity because Chiefs of Army Staff elevated themselves as head of state and Supreme Commander.  Informal power ‘Troika’ also does not include Chairman Joint Chiefs of staff. Role of our Joint Staff Headquarters has all along been a source of controversy. It has been widely criticized for its inability to play a positive role both in the planning of higher direction of war and for its lack of initiative to take the Strategic lead. Arguments vary from making Joint Staff Headquarters an all-powerful institution to its altogether disbandment. While citing the example of India where the three chiefs rotate as the Committee Chairman, critics question our wisdom about having such a large HQ with at best a ‘co-ordinating’ role.  Pakistan adopted the American model of Joint Chief of Staff in 1976, based on America’s National Security Act of 1947. Americans did a massive revamping of their defence structures under the Gold Water-Nicholas Act of 1986 and further refined them in 2002. However, Pakistan continues to follow the 1947 version of the American model. Pakistan’s military is organized along lines of command that report to their respective service chiefs. These chiefs in turn make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the addition of a fulltime Chairman. Services Chiefs, as well as the Chairman report to Defence minister; all five report to the Supreme Commander as well. This system has led to counter-productive inter-service rivalries. Blame shifting saga between the services about some of the incidents which have occurred during this year, courtesy American aggressive mindset, has once again highlighted this weakness.  Goldwater–Nichols Act brought sweeping changes to the way the US military forces were organized. It increased the powers of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and streamlined the military chain of command, which runs from the President through the Secretary of Defence directly to Unified Combatant Commanders, bypassing the service chiefs. The service chiefs were assigned an advisory role and their responsibility was confined to training and equipping personnel for the unified combatant commands; they no longer exercise operational control over their forces. Military advice is centralized in the Chairman Joint Chiefs as opposed to service chiefs. The Chairman was designated as the principal military adviser to the President, National Security Council and Secretary of Defence.  Gold Water-Nicholas Act has brought the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and CDS models quite close to each other. The first successful test of Goldwater-Nichols reforms was the 1991 Gulf War (“Operation Desert Storm”), where it functioned exactly as planned, allowing the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Norman Schwarzkopf, to exercise full command and control over Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy assets without having to negotiate with the services chiefs. This Act increased the ability of the Chairman to direct overall strategy, but provided greater command authority to “unified”(like CENTCOM) and “specified”(like Transport Command) field commanders. Indeed Goldwater-Nichols module changed the way the American services interact and act.  It would be appropriate to constitute a National Commission to revamp our HDO while taking into consideration the contemporary practices and our regional compulsions. Our HDO needs to graduate from the narrower concept of ‘Defence’ to more comprehensive approach of ‘National Security.’ Keeping aside the nomenclature Pakistan must evolve a lean, effective and responsive HDO.  DCC or its equivalent should be able to meet within 1-2 hours of eruption of a national security crisis; meeting should culminate in spelling out policy direction for the national security apparatus and issuance of a policy statement for public consumption. Its membership should be discrete, limited to cabinet ministers; military component should be represented by the Chairman Joint Chiefs, who should be a nonvoting member.  Defence council or its equivalent should be a potent executive organ with adequate supervisory powers over the services through Chairman Joint Chiefs. All military matters must be routed to the DC through the Chairman Joint Chiefs.  Likewise, post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff or its equivalent needs strengthening to make him the real commander. There is a need to rationalise the articulation of command and redefine the warrant of precedence to do away with multiple reporting channels. Otherwise intermediary echelons of HDO would remain ineffective in short term perspective, and would degenerate into dormant entities in long term perspective.
Indian Army To Go Ahead With M-777 Howitzers Deal
Rubbishing all reports that deal for M-777 ultra light howitzers has run into rough weather. Defense ministry officials made it clear that India is going ahead with the deal. This deal was for 145 guns at a total cost of 650 million USD.  Antony told the Indian parliament on Dec. 12 that India is looking at buying the guns through the U.S. government's Foreign Military Sales program.  The procurement was stalled after a report on the trials was released, but the program is back on track now, Antony said.  "The field evaluation trial report of the guns was a confidential document. Four pages of draft field trial report were received in an anonymous envelope by the Army headquarters. An enquiry in the matter is underway," the minister said.  The Ultralightweight Field Howitzer (UFH), designated M777 in the USA, was selected in 1997 by a joint US Army / Marine Corps initiative to replace the existing inventory of M198 155mm towed howitzers. The first of five EMD systems was delivered in June 2000. The US Marine Corps is to procure 380 systems and the US Army 273 systems. A low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract for 94 systems was awarded in November 2002.  Operational testing with the USMC, during which nearly 12,000 artillery rounds were fired by four production systems, was completed in December 2004. A contract for full-rate production of 495 systems was awarded to BAE Systems in April 2005. In May 2005, the USMC began fielding the M777 with the 11th Marines unit at Twentynine Palms in California.  The first 18 systems were delivered to the US Army's 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery in Hawaii in October 2006.  The M777 will be the artillery system for the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT). The systems fitted with the digital fire control system are designated M777A1, and those with the software update which allows the firing of the Excalibur projectile, M777A2. M777A2 received full material release in July 2007, clearing the upgrade for fielding. All M777A1 systems will be upgraded to the A2 standard.  The M777 was deployed by the US Army and Marine Corps to Afghanistan in December 2007 and to Iraq in 2008.  In July 2008, Australia requested the foreign military sale of 57 M77 howitzers.  BAE Systems has developed a mobile version, the M777 Portee, which is mounted on a purpose-built 8x6 Supacat vehicle. The vehicle was first shown at Eurosatory in June 2006.  This gun is half the weight of all 155mm howitzers in the world but matches their fire power making it a deadly weapon in the hands of good artillery unit.  The maximum firing range is 24.7km with unassisted rounds and 30km with rocket-assisted rounds. The M777A2 will fire the Raytheon / Bofors XM982 Excalibur GPS / Inertial Navigation-guided extended-range 155mm projectiles using the Modular Artillery Charge Systems (MACS). Excalibur has a maximum range of 40km and accuracy of 10m.  The LRIP systems employ an optical sighting system for direct and indirect firing by day or night. Full production systems will be fitted with the General Dynamics Armament Systems Towed Artillery Digitisation (TAD) system. LRIP systems will be retrofitted with TAD.  The M777 is able to deliver up to five rounds a minute.  The TAD digital fire control system provides onboard ballistic computation, navigation, pointing and self-location, providing greater accuracy and faster reaction times. The TAD system also includes a laser ignition system, electric drives for the howitzer's traverse and elevation and a powered projectile rammer.

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