NEW DELHI: The Army is now firmly pushing ahead with its long-delayed roadmap to induct new assault rifles, close-quarter battle carbines, and light machine guns to arm infantry soldiers after several setbacks over the last decade. The overall requirement for these basic weapons for foot-soldiers, who are often forgotten in the race to acquire howitzers, tanks, missiles, helicopters, and the like, is huge for the over 12-lakh strong force. With over 380 infantry and 63 Rashtriya Rifles battalions, the Army requires around 9.5 lakh assault rifles, 4.6 lakh CQB carbines, and over 57,000 light machine guns (LMGs).
“Some emergency procurements from abroad as a critical operational necessity are already underway. The bulk of the requirements will be met by `Make in India’ projects with foreign collaboration,” said a senior officer. For starters, amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China, the contract for the second lot of 72,000 Sig Sauer assault rifles from the US is set to be inked by December. The Army has already inducted 72,400 Sig Sauer rifles, which are 7.62×51 mm caliber guns with an effective “kill” range of 500-meter, for frontline troops under a Rs 647 crore fast-track procurement (FTP) deal inked in February last year. Simultaneously, the Army wants the stalled ‘Make in India’ project to manufacture over seven lakh Kalashnikov AK-203 rifles, at the Korwa ordnance factory in Uttar Pradesh with Russian collaboration, to take off as soon as possible. “The requirement for longer range assault rifles has been met through the over 1.4 lakh Sig Sauer rifles. We do not require the 7.62x51mm rifle prototype developed by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which has time, quality, and pricing issues,” said another officer. “The 7.62×39 mm caliber AK-203 rifles (with an effective range of 300-meter) will take care of the remaining requirement,” he added. The deliveries of 16,479 Israeli Negev 7.62X51 mm LMGs, in turn, will begin from January under an Rs 880 crore deal inked in March this year. “Four to five companies have already been shortlisted for the subsequent project to manufacture the rest of the LMGs here. The trials will begin early next year,” he said. It is also learned that the OFB has also shown interest in this project. The RFP (request for proposal) to manufacture 4.6 lakh CQB carbines in India will also be issued early next year. This comes after an earlier FTP procurement to buy 93,895 such carbines from UAE firm Caracal was scrapped recently. “Four to five foreign companies, including Caracal, have expressed interest. They can tie-up with OFB or private companies here,” he said.
All this, of course, will take a lot of doing. The contract to manufacture the AK-203 rifles through the JV between OFB and Rosoboronexport-Kalashnikov, which was set up in February 2019, for instance, is still stuck due to costing issues
The Army had first asked for new assault rifles and CQB carbines way back in 2005, while the case for LMGs was initiated in 2009. 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.