Indian Army's frontline infantry soldiers will reportedly be equipped with new assault rifles under a Rs 700-crore contract between the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the US firm Sig Sauer.
MoD officials have told news agencies that the contract is for 72,400 assault rifles, which will be acquired under the fast-track procurement procedure.
The procurement is part of the Army's bid in October 2017 to acquire around 700,000 assault rifles that can fire the 7.62x51mm cartridge, 44,000 light machine guns (LMGs) and nearly 44,600 carbines. The purchase of new assault rifles has witnessed significant delays because of the Army's inability to finalise specifications, according to agency reports.
What weapon will the new gun replace?
News agencies quoted unnamed Army officials to report that the new rifle, known by its designation 'SIG716', will replace the INSAS rifles, the mainstay of India's infantry soldiers.
What's different about the new gun?
What becomes clear from agency reports is that the Army is looking to move to a rifle that fires a larger, more powerful rifle cartridge than the 5.56x45mm intermediate cartridge used by the INSAS.
And, among other things, that is the major difference between the two assault rifles. The SIG716 uses the more powerful 7.62x51mm cartridge.
Armed forces worldwide are adopting more powerful cartridges to deal with the increasing distance in military engagements and pierce armour worn by modern soldiers.
Any other features?
The Army was reportedly looking for a rifle that would be "compact, robust, modern in technology and simple to maintain in field conditions". The Sig Sauer rifle has met the criteria and been selected after an "open tender with small arms manufacturers from around the world", according to a release by the US firm.
"The SIG716 rifle underwent a comprehensive and exhaustive testing and evaluation process where it outperformed the competition, and was ultimately chosen, and met all the criteria, as the best rifle to modernise the Indian Army," the release said.
Who's going to use these new guns?
However, the land forces won't be the only ones to get the new rifle. The Army will get the bulk of the new rifles, at 66,400 units, while the Navy will get 2,000 and the Air Force 4,000.
When will we get the new guns?
Earlier this month, a senior official involved in the negotiation had told new agencies that the US firm would have to deliver the rifles within one year from the date of finalising the deal.
Why are we buying rifles from a foreign firm when the INSAS is an indigenous product?
According to agency reports, an assault rifle built by the state-run Rifle Factory, Ishapore, was rejected by the Army around 18 months ago. The guns reportedly failed the firing tests. Subsequently, the Army began looking for rifles in the global market.
Are these the only guns we are buying?
Earlier this month, the Army also started inducting new sniper rifles along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. According to agency reports, this development comes after the Army floated a tender to buy 5,719 sniper rifles from global firms in January.
Army sources told agencies that the new sniper rifles will replace Soviet-era Dragonov SVD rifles. These new rifles include the .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT by Beretta and the .50 calibre M95 by Barrett.
The Victrix Armaments .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT will also be given to troops along the LoC.
According to reports in a national daily in July last year, India's special forces will also be fielding new sniper rifles. The Indian Army's special forces battalions, the Para-SF, will be fielding sniper rifles from Finland's Sako. While the original report did not specify the make or model, given that it is meant for military applications, the rifle will most likely be a model belonging to Sako's TRG series.