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India Finalises Small Arms Procurement Plan

Replacing ageing weapons

The Indian Army has finalised one of its biggest procurement plans for infantry modernisation under which a large number of light machine guns (LMG), battle carbines and assault rifles are being purchased at a cost of nearly Rs40,000 crore to replace its ageing and obsolete weapons.

The broad process to acquire around seven 7.62x51mm LAKH assault rifles (to replace INSAS rifles), 44,000 LMGs and nearly 44,600 carbines has been finalised and the Indian defence ministry (MoD) is on the same page with the Army in moving ahead with the procurement, official sources, who remain unnamed due to obvious reasons, told MT.

Apart from kick-starting the procurement process, the government has also sent a message to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to expedite its work on various small arms, particularly on an LMG. Sources told MT a mew request for information (RfI) to procure LMGs will be issued in the next few days, months after the MoD scrapped the tender for the 7.62 calibre guns as there was only one vendor left after a series of field trials. The plan is to initially procure around 10,000 LMGs.

In June, the Army had rejected an assault rifle built by the state-run Rifle Factory, Ishapore, after the guns miserably failed the firing tests. The procurement of assault rifles has witnessed significant delays due to a variety of reasons including the Army’s failure to finalise the specifications for it. The Army had issued an RfI for the rifles in September 2016 and around 20 companies responded to it. This June, the Army had kick-started the initial process to procure around 44,600 carbines, nearly eight months after a tender for it was retracted, also due to single-vendor situation. Around half a dozen firms including a few global arms manufacturers have responded to the RFI.

Earlier this year, the Indian government approved the building of a private sector small arms factory at Malanpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Previously, the Indian small arms industry has been entirely nationalised, with the MoD-run Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) overseeing the production of everything from armoured vehicles to small arms. Punji Lloyd are partnering with Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) to open the very first private sector small arms factory in the nation. The factory is part of a new effort to meet the long-unfulfilled needs of the Indian military for modern, quality small arms in the wake of the government’s decision to scale back issuance of the troubled INSAS assault rifle in favour of older models like the AKM.

This decision may result in the adoption of an Indian-made license-produced IWI rifle and possibly also a machine gun as a replacement for the aging fleet of Indian infantry weapons, including the INSAS. The betting horse in this case is likely the TAVOR (X95) which has been used by Indian Special Forces since 2002, and which has also been license-produced by the OFB. However, it is also possible that the 7.62×39 GALIL ACE may be chosen instead, due to its compatibility with the existing AKM architecture in Indian service. Regardless of which is adopted, the establishment of the new factory constitutes an implicit statement regarding the Indian government’s loss of faith in the ability of the OFB’s factories to produce quality weapons to meet Indian defence needs.

Brian Kindamo

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