NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday finally inked the Rs 647 crore contract for 72,400 new assault rifles for its frontline infantry soldiers from the US under the fast-track procurement (FTP) route, in the first such procurement after well over a decade.
The 7.62x51mm rifles from SiG Sauer, with a longer “kill range”, will be delivered within a year to replace the existing glitch-prone 5.56mm INSAS (Indian small arms system) rifles. “The new rifles are compact, robust, modern in technology and simple to maintain in field conditions,” said an official.
TOI had last week reported
+ the assault rifles contract was set to be inked, while another FTP case for 93,895 close-quarter battle (CQB) carbines from UAE company Caracal was also in the pipeline. The FTP route is only for limited numbers of weapons due to critical operational necessity. The overall requirement of the armed forces, primarily the 13-lakh strong Army, is for 8.16 lakh new 7.62mm caliber assault rifles. The number for the CQB carbines, in turn, is 4.58 lakh.
The defence ministry had issued the RFPs (request for proposals) for the limited number of assault rifles and carbines, which will equip soldiers deployed along the borders with Pakistan and China, under the FTP route in March last year.
The defence ministry has said the huge shortfalls in the basic infantry weapons will be met at a later stage with Indian companies (private ones as well as Ordnance Factory Board) tying up with foreign ones to manufacture them under the “Make in India” framework, which could take at least four to five years to actually take off.
The Army, incidentally, had first asked for new assault rifles and CQB carbines for its 382 infantry battalions (each with 850 soldiers) way back in 2005. But the long-drawn procurement projects were repeatedly scrapped due to graft allegations or unrealistic technical parameters as well as the lack of indigenous options for well over a decade.
General Bipin Rawat, on his part, had last year publicly declared that the entire Army could not be equipped with top-notch rifles and other weapons due to budgetary constraints.
Consequently, the new modern rifles and carbines will be only for infantry battalions deployed on the front, while the bulk of the weapons with “reduced technical specifications” for the force would come through the indigenous route.