Two days after yet another deadly terrorist strike in Jammu claimed six Indian lives, the government restarted a faltering procurement aimed at strengthening the firepower of the frontline infantry soldier, who bears the brunt of counter-insurgency operations and deployment along the Pakistan and China borders.
On Tuesday, the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, cleared the capital purchase of assault rifles, sniper rifles and light machine guns worth about Rs 159.35 billion ($2.5 billion).
“In the last one month, to equip the soldiers on the border with modern and more effective equipment, the DAC has fast-tracked procurement of the three main personal weapons, i.e., rifles, carbines and light machine guns”, a defence ministry release stated.
The “Fast Track Process” of the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016), is directed at concluding an acquisition within a year. Over the preceding decade, the defence ministry has gone through several long-running acquisition processes for small arms – which include assault rifles, carbines and light machine guns – but cancelled them all, most recently last year.
The core of the approvals accorded today relate to the infantry’s basic weapon – the assault rifle. Approval was accorded for procuring 740,000 assault rifles for an estimated cost of Rs 122.80 billion ($1.91 billion). The ministry stated the rifles will be procured under the category of “Buy and Make (Indian)”.
This involves buying a limited number of fully-built rifles from the chosen global vendor, who then transfers technology to India to build the bulk of the order in the public sector Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and by private firms. The DAC also approved procurement of 5,719 sniper rifles for long-range shooting by the army and the air force at a cost of Rs 9.82 billion ($153 million). Given the complexity of these high precision weapons, they will not be built in India; but procured fully-built under the “Buy Global” category of the DPP.
However, “the ammunition for these will be initially procured [from abroad] and subsequently manufactured in India”, said the defence ministry release. The DAC also cleared the purchase of an “essential quantity” of light machine guns for an estimated cost of Rs 18.19 crore ($283 million).
This initial procurement is intended to meet the immediate “operational requirement of the troops deployed on the borders... [while a] concurrent proposal is being processed for the [remaining requirement] to be procured under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ categorisation,” said the ministry. As Business Standard earlier reported (November 4, “Infantry to get foreign rifles, others to get 'made in India'”), the government is proceeding on two parallel acquisition tracks to procure small arms at affordable prices.
Frontline combat soldiers will be armed with sophisticated, relatively expensive foreign-origin rifles, with reflex sights, to give them an edge on the battlefield. These will be heavier 7.62 millimetre (mm) rifles, designed to kill rather than merely injure enemy soldiers.
Meanwhile, non-frontline soldiers will get indigenous rifles. In procuring these, the army would choose between the INSAS-1C, developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), and the OFB-developed Ghatak rifle. These are 5.56 mm rifles, lighter and less lethal than the infantry’s 7.62 mm assault rifles. But, with an estimated cost of about Rs 50,000 apiece, these will be significantly cheaper.
“Since a state-of-the-art assault rifle will cost about Rs 200,000 each in the global market, let us issue these only to frontline infantry soldiers who confront the enemy armed only with their rifles,” army chief, General Bipin Rawat had told Business Standard in November. “Let us provide a cheaper indigenous option to other soldiers, for whom the rifle is not a primary weapon,” he said.
Besides green-lighting the acquisition of rifles and light machine guns, the DAC also approved the procurement of an Advanced Torpedo Decoy Systems (ATDS) for the Indian Navy. This system, named the “Mareech” has been developed indigenously by the DRDO and has successfully completed extensive trial evaluations. “The 'Mareech' systems will be produced by Bharat Electronics Limited, Bengaluru at an estimated cost of Rs 8.50 billion”, announced the defence ministry.