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Domestic arms makers say Army plan to reorder SIG rifles from US setback to ‘Make in India’

Army's fresh order for SIG assault rifles would mean over 1.4 lakh rifles will be bought off the shelf from US despite a domestic industry that manufactures a range of assault rifles.

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New Delhi: The Army’s decision to go ahead with a second order of 72,000 SIG 716 assault rifles from the United States is yet another “setback” to the private small arms industry in India, and sharpens focus on the government’s inability to kickstart the AK 203 production factory in Amethi.

When the order for the SIG assault rifles is placed ⁠— under the option clause of the original contract signed for 72,400 rifles ⁠— it would mean that over 1.4 lakh 7.62×51 mm rifles in total will be bought off the shelf from abroad without a ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The domestic industry said the Army’s decision isn’t surprising, but is indeed a setback to them and doesn’t align with the government’s aatma nirbharta (self reliance) push. For now, domestic manufacturers are placing their bets on the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), special forces and the state police, besides the export market for their range of assault rifles.

Defence sources said the SIG assault rifles procurement had to do with a weapon already in service with troops. The fact that an option clause was part of the deal means the plan was always to buy more rifles, depending on the feedback and necessity.

On the ‘Make in India’ initiative, a source said it was being promoted through the AK 203 manufacturing factory, which is expected to be the mainstay of the armed forces. The source added that there are several other tenders in the works in which private domestic players are participating.

The Indian Army had been trying to replace their standard INSAS assault rifles for many years but has been unable to so due to varying factors.

The second batch of SIG rifles will arrive after the delivery of the first order this year, which was placed through the Fast Track Process (FTP). The option clause allows the Army to reorder the rifles for the same price within a similar delivery time-frame.

The new rifles will go to troops in the Northern Command and other operational areas, while the rest of the troops will be equipped with AK 203.

However, the SIG order draws attention to the fact that the government has not been able to start production of AK 203 rifles, chambered to fire 7.62×39 mm ammunition (same as the AK-47), at the Amethi factory that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last March.

The Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited, established between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Kalashnikov Concern and Rosoboronexport, the Russian state agency for military exports, has seen a delay in starting production.

Earlier this year, the defence ministry had formed a committee to work out the cost of the AK 203 since the Russian partner and OFB are yet to arrive at an agreed price.

Also read: Indian Army deploys US-, Italy-trained snipers with deadly new rifles along LoC

Domestic industry unhappy

A source in the defence industry said that when the Army suddenly decided to acquire AK 203 under a government-to-government initiative in 2018, it was the first blow. The SIG rifles deal was also a “setback” for private manufacturers.

“The Army’s decision to order for another tranche of rifles from the US is not surprising but is indeed a setback. A number of companies in India have come up with their own rifles and other systems or tied up with foreign companies and set up manufacturing facilities,” the source said.

A second source said, “The arms manufactured by India have to go through multiple tests. From summer trials to winters to high altitude and desert. However, under the FTP model, the foreign manufacturer shows off the ability in their own factory and is selected under emergency clause.”

A third source said, “The talk now is of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbartha’. But when domestic industry is offering world-class rifles, the focus is still on procuring from abroad. Do note that the 1.4 lakh rifles from US will be straight import without any Make in India or technology transfer.”

Also read: Two new Israeli assault rifles Arad and Carmel now set to be manufactured in India

Domestic manufacturers up their game

One of the early companies to set up an arms manufacturing plant in India was PLR Systems in a tie-up with Israeli Weapons System (IWI).

Under the deal, the companies began producing weapons like Tavor series, the mainstay of the special forces in India, along with others like the Galil sniper rifle, Uzi Pro submachine gun, Masada pistol and the Negev Light Machine Gun (LMG) with indigenous content ranging from 40-60 per cent.

In case of a repeat order, though, it is sent to IWI directly instead of the local manufacturing unit since there will be a change in the name of the firm.

“This means that there will have to be fresh trials even when it is the same rifle manufactured in India with a large indigenous component,” a third source said.

Bengaluru-based SSS Defence is another company in the domestic market. The company manufactures a sniper, assault rifle and light machine gun.

The rifles are completely indigenously designed, with SSS Defence holding the Intellectual Property Rights for its design.

Bharat Forge of the Kalyani Group also works in the small arms market and has tie-ups with a foreign player for indigenous manufacturing for an Army contract bid.

Also read: AK 203 and Kamov delayed, India and Russia aim for missile deal ahead of Modi visit

Army’s quest for assault rifles

In 2011, the Army issued a global tender for procurement of assault rifles wherein Colt of United States, Beretta of Italy, IWI of Israel and Ceska of Czeck Republic participated.

However, this attempt failed since only the IWI weapon qualified the trials and was declared the resultant single vendor.

The Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), DRDO and OFB also tried to design and develop assault rifles to replace the INSAS. However, none of their weapons made the cut.

Yet another Request for Proposal (RFP) for procurement of assault rifles was issued in 2017 with assurance of a floating RFP in 2018.

Given the situation, it was felt that a certain quantity of rifles needed to be procured on an urgent basis for the frontline troops.

Accordingly, the Indian Army planned to procure 72,400 assault rifles of Calibre 7.62x51mm through the Fast Track Process route.

Later, the Army backed the idea of manufacturing AK rifles jointly with Russia, a project that the Russians had been pushing for a while.

Also read: Militant snipers add grisly new chapter to Kashmir insurgency with three kills


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  1. India’s dependence will remain ever on foreign make. Nothing is going to happen in Make in India or Made in India initiative. These words will remain in the books of slogan. Indian corrupted politicians funds their election expenditure on commission earned from purchase on foreign make. With Tejas also there was attempt to discard the production for purchase of foreign birds.

  2. Whether UPA or NDA , our Govts are masters at delay. The AK-203 should have entered production by now , but is stuck in cost issues. This is exactly how the Rafale deal got stymied under Antony. No one here has the motivation or initiative to see a way out of log jams and each one is intent on saving his / her reputation.

  3. The $1.3 billion Igla-S (SA-24) VSHORADS and $2 billion Kamov-226T helicopter deals are not part of the on-going purchase from Russia.
    Deals in the pipeline are: 1) S-400 air defence systems ($5.43 billion); 2) BrahMos anti-ship missiles ($2.6 billion); 3) Krivak III frigates ($2 billion) and 4) AK-203 rifles ($1 billion).
    Then there’s the $787.6m deal to
    supply 12 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI and 21 mothballed for decades MiG-29 fighter jets to Indian Air Force (IAF).
    Just these purchases will take the value of on-going arms imports from Russia to $15 billion – far more than any other country, including the US. Make in India is just a slogan.

  4. Successive chiefs of both the Army and the Air Force have been harping for many years, pointing out that more than 90% of the nation’s air defence weapon systems is obsolete. The Army has an immediate requirement for 800 launchers and over 5,175 missiles. 
    The RFP was issued by the Indian Government in 2010.
    By 2012, when the field evaluation trials began, just 3 contenders were left in the fray for the mega then ₹ 27,000 crore ($5.2 billion) – now worth ₹ 35,000 crore – competition. These were the French MBDA, Sweden’s Saab and Russian Rosoboronexport.
    Used to direct arms sales to India without user trials for decades in the past, Russians was initially reluctant to be part of the open competition.
    Though not fully compliant with the technical specifications as mentioned in the GSQRs (General Staff Qualitative Requirements, as the lowest bidder (under $1.47 billion), Russia’s Igla-S system was finally chosen for the very short range air defence missile system (VSHORADS) programme. Saab’s price tag was $2.6 billion and MBDA’s $3.68 billion.
    The Russians see the newer Igla-S (SA-24) variant as a natural replacement for the IGLA-M (SA-18) MANPADS supplied previously to the Indian Army. It has a longer range, more sensitive seeker, improved resistance to latest countermeasures, and a heavier warhead.
    Since the 2010 tender did not specify any “Make in India” stipulations, production of the Igla-S will take place mostly in Russia.
    VSHORADS are the ground forces’ last defence against attack from enemy ground strike aircraft. With each passing day the existing outdated VSHORAD systems of the Army and the Air Force are sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of obsolescence.
    In early June, on account of skirmishes in eastern Ladakh, India has requested accelerated delivery of the Igla-S anti air missiles, assault rifles and ammunition for various Russian origin systems. The government had given emergency procurement powers to the three armed forces, in which orders worth ₹ 500 crore could be undertaken at the earliest to meet urgent requirements.

  5. The deal for 200 twin-engine Kamov 226T light utility choppers first announced in December 2014 and was to be the first major ‘Make in India’ project. These choppers were to replace around 430 ageing Cheetah and Chetak choppers of the army, air force and coast guard, which has been in service for well over 40 years ago. 60 choppers were to come in fly-away condition from Russia and 40 choppers assembled in India using kits shipped from Russia. 
    The inter-government agreement was inked in October 2016. A production facility has also been set by the JV – Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd. in Tumakuru, about 150km from Bengaluru, but the deal is in limbo. The first helicopter is to be delivered in 36 months of signing of deal.
    The problem with military purchases from Russia is that when indigenisation is involved, the price goes up inordinately. Like in the case of the AK-203 assault rifle, where the main cause for delay is the unacceptable cost and the indigenous content component.
    Under the original RFP, there is a requirement of 70% indigenisation of Russian content. However, the Indo-Russian joint venture set up to make these Kamov choppers in India, is unable to meet the 70% indigenous content requirement. So, once again Russians the chopper to be put together with parts received from Russia – just like in the case of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, which is assembled from the Russia supplied kits.
    Russia is chary when it comes to transfer of technology. They prefer to deliver ‘ready-to-use’ equipment and then make money with spares, repairs and upgrades.

  6. santoshbanerjee:
    ‘ATMA NIRBHAR BHARAT’ does not mean that the armed forces will buy locally, irrespective of the quality, price and the time taken for product delivery.
    Because of the indifferent quality, scant regard for timelines and high price, the OFB has no right to consider themselves automatically eligible for orders.
    In any case, OFB units are busy making PPEs. 😆😆

  7. The Ceska Bren 805/806 assault rifles and The Ceska Scorpion evo smg are both superior to the Galil and Tavor bullpup rifles ,and the scorpion is superior to the Uzi smg,it seems that our defence minister is a minister with little knowledge of weapons delaying the Kalash 203 is extremely stupid .

  8. The need for the Armed forces to be well equipped takes priority over ‘Make in India’ – especially with China breathing down our neck. The current lull could just be the time they taken for a breather or for making new friends.

  9. Have patience. We will soon have a made in India Rafale as Mr.Anil Ambani;s jpoint venture with France is expected to start production very soon.Hopefully.

    • Observor:
      Three A-nil Ambani run ADAG firms hold the tag of WORST WEALTH DESTROYERS OF THE LAST DECADE: ▫️
      1) Reliance Power fell from ₹ 155.10 in December 2009 to ₹ 3.49 on December 31, 2019; ▫️
      2) Reliance Capital from ₹ 857.05 to ₹ 14.75 and ▫️
      3) Reliance Infrastructure from ₹ 1,146.90 to ₹ 29.40. ▫️
      And he was also able to run the successfully running Reliance Communication to the ground. (Share price is now ₹ 2. This is a 99% loss in value for those who purchase the scrip 5 years ago.) SBI has moved the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) under Section 97(3) of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to recover more than ₹ 1,200 crore given under A-nil Ambani’s personal guarantee. ▫️
      An UK court has ordered Anil Ambani to pay $717 million (₹ 5,448 crore) to 3 Chinese banks ▫️
      A-nil Ambani led Reliance Naval & Engineering Ltd. (RNEL) has failed to execute a single Naval order. In fact, the navy  encashed bank guarantees of debt-ridden RNEL worth over ₹100 crore, after the company overshot the deadline by five years for the naval offshore patrol vessels project. They haven’t delivered a single vessel yet. ▫️
      IDBI bank has filed a petition to initiate insolvency resolution process (CIRP) against RNEL to recover ₹1,159 crore. ▫️
      But… we mustn’t forget that France’s Dassault Aviation – makers of the Rafale fighter jet – was so very impressed with the younger Ambani’s technical acumen and advanced knowledge of aeronautics ❲😜❳, that they picked him from all the possible Indian partners. So, nobody should be surprised if he produces a fifth generation version of the Rafale at his facility in Nagpur. ❲😜 😆😆❳

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