NEW DELHI: A top government panel led by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday decided to purchase 1,66,000 assault rifles and battle carbines, the basic weapon used by soldiers, on a fast-track basis for the armed forces.
- Government clears purchase of 1,66,000 assault rifles, battle carbines
- Will meet immediate requirement of troops deployed on borders
- Soldiers currently use AK-47s and INSAS, which was inducted in 1988
The armed forces had first accepted the need for new carbines 11 years earlier but an attempt to make the purchase finally collapsed in 2016 because only one bidder cleared the trials. The wait for the assault rifles is a little shorter, 7 years.
On Tuesday, the Defence Acquisition Council - the defence ministry's highest decision-making body on procurement - decided to cut the red tape and make sure that the armed forces get at least some of the weapons that they have sought without any more delay.
As part of this decision, the forces will now conduct trials, shortlist guns and sign a contract as soon as possible to buy 93,895 carbines and 72,400 assault rifles.
Indian soldiers currently use AK-47s and INSAS or Indian Small Arms System rifles, which are made in India, and were inducted in the Army in 1988 and were meant to be replaced this year with deadlier assault rifles of higher calibre, especially for use along borders and in counter-insurgency operations.
Gun manufacturers from around the world including Defence Research and Development Organisation, or DRDO, will be invited for trials.
But the Army had last year rejected 7.62mm assault rifles made by the Ordnance Factory Board. In 2016, the Army had also rejected an indigenously made gun called the Excalibur, once considered a possible replacement for the in-service 5.56 mm INSAS rifle which is presently the primary weapon for Indian soldiers.
The weapons now cleared for acquisition were meant for the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard.
Detailing the tardy progress made over the past decade, sources told NDTV that the armed forces had started the process to buy new battle carbines of 5.56 x 45mm calibre by documenting its need for the weapon, first in 2006 and then in 2008 with some tweaks. 36 global vendors had indicated their interest in response to the government's request for bids in 2010.
Four vendors were shortlisted but when confirmatory trials took place in 2015-16, only one gun manufactured by Israel Weapons Industries passed. But the procurement process collapsed since a "single vendor" situation emerged; only one company's guns complied with the requirements of the Armed forces.
Defence Ministry guidelines stipulate that at least two manufacturers need to quality the trials so that the government can pick the company which supplies the guns at the lower price. Unable to continue with the acquisition process, the government cancelled the tender in 2016.
In case of the assault rifle, sources told NDTV, the armed forces outlined the need for a multi-calibre gun, which could fire both 5.56 mm and 7.62 rounds.
Bids were sought in 2014 but had to be withdrawn because no one could give the army the gun with the specifications they wanted. In June 2016, the forces toned down their requirements for a 7.62 x 51mm calibre rifle that had an effective kill range of 500 metres.