India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) began price negotiations with Indian private-sector company Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in late December 2015 for 100 modified South Korean self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) for around USD800 million.

South Korean K-9 SPHs during a live-fire drill north of Seoul in November 2014. India is looking to procure 100 modified versions of the system. Source: PA

Military sources said the K-9 Vajra (Thunderbolt), which is an L&T-modified version of Samsung Techwin's K-9 155 mm/52-calibre tracked SPH produced under a collaborative agreement, was shortlisted for acquisition in late September 2015 following extended field trials that were concluded in early 2014.

In these the K-9 - which is in service with the armies of South Korea, Poland, and Turkey - bested an adaptation of Russia's MSTA-S 152 mm SPH that had been modified with a 155 mm/52-calibre gun.

Industry sources said the K-9 SPH, which is being procured for the Indian Army under the 'Buy Global' category of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), would be built at L&T's Telegaon plant near Pune in western India.

MoD officials said this DPP classification sanctions domestic companies to enter into tie-ups with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to offer co-operatively developed equipment and platforms to the Indian military.

It is likely that the L&T-built K-9 will contain 50% indigenous content, as this would help it bypass a mandatory 30% offset investment into the domestic defence, internal security, and civil aviation sectors.

Industry sources said the SPH deal is likely to be signed during the upcoming financial year, beginning on 1 April, and includes an option for an additional 50 K-9 systems.

"The SPH procurement is long overdue and would plug a major operational gap in the army's depreciated artillery profile," said military analyst Major General Sheru Thapliyal (retd). Once inducted, the K-9 systems would provide the army with a high level of battlefield flexibility, the former artillery officer added.

Constructed of all-welded steel armour capable of withstanding 14.5 mm armour-piercing rounds and 152 mm shell splinters, the K-9's design incorporates an automatic fire control and loading system, a modular azimuth position system (MAPS), and a powered gun elevation and turret traverse system.