NEW DELHI — In a surprise move, India's prime minister has cleared the long-pending purchase of 145 M777 ultralight howitzers through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route to bolster a greater defense partnership with new US leadership, according to a top Ministry of Defense (MoD) official.

"Finally the contract will be signed at $737 million within the next two months, and the deliveries are expected to start in mid-2017," according to the official, who described the decision as "indeed an unexpected move."

"India is certainly looking forward for a much greater defense partnership under the leadership with newly elected US President Donald Trump," the official added.

India is gearing up its military preparedness following an attack on a military camp in Kashmir by Pakistani militants in September, and induction of the howitzers is a top priority, a senior Army official said.

"It will be a game changer," he added.

In 2015, the MoD cleared the proposal to buy M777A2 (LW155) howitzers from the US only after a commitment from the origin equipment manufacturer to set up assembly, integration and test (AIT) facilities in India to boost  India's domestic defense industry.

As per the contract terms and condition, US subsidiary of BAE Systems will dispatch 25 M777 artillery guns in fly-away condition; remaining guns will be assembled in India in partnership with private sector company Mahindra Defence Systems.

The two companies will jointly set up an AIT facility for M777 artillery guns near New Delhi.

In a February news release, the company said: " The selection [Indian partner] follows a detailed assessment of Mahindra's ability to fulfill the requirements and provide the best value to the M777 India program, and in the future, grow its capability as a strategic partner for BAE Systems in India."

e to by ultra light howitzer guns from US on government to government route after cancellation of global tender of 2008 that led to blacklisting Singapore  technologies on alleged corruption charges.

The Indian Army has not inducted any type of 155mm howitzer since 1986 v all procurement has been delayed for nearly two decades.

The service is seeking a total of 220 ultralight howitzers over the next 15 years.