The fast-track procurement process for the rifles has not yet been finalised, and will likely be pushed back to April next year.
New Delhi: A rifle made by US-based SiG Sauer, the SiG 716, could well be the replacement for the Indian Army’s INSAS, after it emerged as the lowest bidder last week in a tender for standard-issue assault rifles.
The Army had issued a tender in February to buy 72,000 assault rifles, the primary weapon of the soldier in the frontlines, and 94,000 carbines through a ‘fast-track procedure’.
“But the procurement process is still being refined,” a defence ministry source told ThePrint.
The rifle procurement programme will most likely be pushed to the next financial year (April 2019), by when the country is scheduled to be in the throes of a general election.
For the Army’s requirement of close quarter battle carbines, UAE-based Caracal’s CAR816 has made the cut as the lowest bidder.
For any rifle-maker, Indian orders are potentially among the most lucrative in the world.
The total projected requirement for rifles of different calibre over 10 years is 7 lakh assault rifles, 4.4 lakh carbines and 41,000 light machine guns (LMGs).
This includes procurement for paramilitary forces that are usually dictated by what the Army chooses. But the procurement process for the paramilitary forces is not the same as those for the defence services.
What Army is looking for
The Army is, in the first instance, looking for two kinds of assault rifles, in a process that has been marked by confusion within the defence establishment and within the forces. The assault rifles for the frontline troops are required to have a range of 500m and those for the supporting soldiers, 300m.
It is also looking at the Russian AK-103, which is likely to be made in collaboration with the Ordnance Factory Board. Talks on this are likely during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi this week (4-5 October).
The fast-track procedure envisages procurement within 28 months of a contract being signed. Negotiations are yet to start. The government can at any time take an executive decision to contract, citing emergency reasons for procurement.
India’s search for a standard issue rifle to replace the INSAS began around the time of the Kargil war (1999). It has been through cycles of tenders and cancellations but, barring a few thousands that were bought mostly for special forces, the bulk order has languished.
In January, Army chief General Bipin Rawat sought to streamline the process.
“My thinking is, since a state-of-the art assault rifle will cost about Rs 2 lakh each in the global market, let us issue these only to frontline infantry soldiers who confront the enemy armed only with their rifles,” Gen. Rawat explained just before Army Day (15 January).
“Let us provide a cheaper indigenous option to other soldiers for whom the (assault) rifle is not a primary weapon.”
The “cheaper, indigenous” version is a potential order for 6,50,000 AK-103s likely to be licence-produced by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
A team of nine officers visited the US, Australia, Israel, South Korea and the UAE to evaluate the rifles earlier this year.