KOLKATA: Even as the Rafale controversy rages, Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) that has been supplying small arms to Indian defence forces since Independence has claimed that the Indian Army is ordering 72,400 SIG Sauer 7.62 x 51 mm assault rifles from the US without even trying out a similar weapon developed by it over the last couple of years. According to a source, SIG Sauer is offering the rifles ‘cheap’ at nearly Rs 100,000 apiece. D K Mahapatra, general manager, RFI, said that the price of the weapon developed and built at Ishapore, in the outskirts of Kolkata, would be around Rs 80,000.
“Ultimately, the customer is the King and can choose whatever item he wants. All I can say is that the weapon that we have developed through hard work and extensive R&D matches any weapon of its class in the world. We have already produced about 120 pieces of the 7.62 x 51 mm assault rifles and during trials they have fired 2,400 rounds continuously with only 2-3 stops. This is in accordance with international standards. The rifle weighs only 3.8 kg (without magazine) and can fire 600 rounds/minute. With this weapon, we have also moved forward from a manufacturer to a designer,” Mahapatra said.
The last weapon that RFI built for the Army was the Insas 5.56 mm rifle. After the terror strike on the Army camp at Uri in September, 2016, the Army decided that it required a more lethal 7.62 x 51 mm rifle that would kill and not merely maim the enemy. This was when RFI began designing the rifle and came up with a prototype.
“Many things changed in the design. We adopted modular technology and the rifle has a machined body with no rivets. We have always given the Army prevalence and used to build over 80,000 Insas rifles a year. The Army did not try out our new weapon. Over time, we have also developed the Ghatak 7.62 x 39 mm assault rifle. This is of the same quality as the AK-203 that the Ministry of Defence is now planning to build at Ordnance Factory Korwa in collaboration with Russia. The only difference is the Picatinny Rail (for fitting of accessories) that the Ghatak doesn’t have. That can always be fixed,” the GM added.
The factory now makes less than 2,000 Insas rifles per year. To survive, it has gone in for diversification and supplies nearly 42,000 weapons of various kinds every year to customers, both public and private. It is also exploring the export market for supply of its new weapons systems. Later this year, RFI will also offer its assault rifle to state police forces and other security agencies. According to Mahapatra, the Greyhounds of Telangana have already shown interest in the product.
A senior Army officer in Delhi, however, maintained that the SIG716 7.62 mm weapon is a tried and tested weapon used by several forces across the world. “Given the situation, we could not wait for a new weapon to be developed. Our frontline infantry soldier needs a weapon that will give him that edge over the enemy. That is why we went in for procuring the SIGs through the fast track procedure,” he said.