With a Russian AK-103 factory in the pipeline, India's rifle acquisitions could match its diplomatic priorities.
- Indian army plans to spend Rs 3,500 cr on rifle acquisition
- Army has cited urgent operational requirements for procurement of weapons
- An official said the rifle procurement is a top priority for the infantry
The UAE arms firm Caracal's CAR 816 close-quarter carbine finished 'L1' in a separate bid for 94,000 carbines, when price bids were opened this week.
The SIG weapon chambered for the 7.62x51 mm round beat two contenders, a Caracal battle rifle and a rifle from Israeli Weapons Industries. Caracal's 816 carbine chambered for the 5.56x45 round, priced out a competitor fielded by Thales-Australia.
The army plans to spend Rs 3,500 crore on these rifle acquisitions for which it had issued RFPs on 17 global arms manufacturers in February this year. It has cited urgent operational requirements for the procurement of these weapons. A senior army official called the rifle and carbine procurements a "top priority" for the infantry.
Contract negotiations with the vendor are expected to last over three months before a deal can be signed. The rifle makers have to deliver all their weapons within a year.
Significantly, these will be India's first major purchases of a US-made rifle. Apart from small consignments of M16 rifles for the SFF in the 1960s and M4s for the Special Forces over a decade ago, the Indian army has used European rifles, the FN-FAL, AK-47 type weapons and the indigenous INSAS rifles.
The new carbine will replace the 9 mm Sterling carbines which are being gradually phased out. The new battle rifle which chambers the heavier 7.62x51 round will replace the indigenous INSAS assault rifles which are to be retired soon.
The bulk of the Indian army will, however, be equipped with a new assault rifle chambered for the 7.62x39 round, the same as used by the AK-47 assault rifle. A Request for Information or RFI, the first stage in a lengthy procurement process was floated by the defence ministry last month.
SIG Sauer, a firm with origins in a Swiss-German weapons consortium, is headquartered in New Hampshire, USA. Carbine-maker Caracal is based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Both countries are top diplomatic priorities for the Modi led government. These two FTP procurements are to be followed by a government-to-government deal with another diplomatic priority for the Modi government-Russia.
India plans to license-produce the AK-103 assault rifle in one of three Indian ordnance factories which have the capability to build assault rifle.
The AK-103 is a more modern variant of the iconic Russian assault rifle. Talks for the production line were initiated by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Moscow in April this year. The Russian rifle is expected to meet the requirement for the 650,000 assault rifles for which RFIs were floated recently.
Both the SiG and the Caracal carbine are based on the AR-15 rifle designed by legendary US designer Eugene Stoner in the 1950s. If acquired, it will be the first large-scale induction of short-stroke piston-based rifles.
The piston is a feature of gas-operated automatic rifles that use gases generated by a fired cartridge to fire other bullets. (The army's Para-Special Forces units use a small number of US-made M-4 rifles using a similar firing mechanism). The INSAS uses the long-stroke piston used by the AK-47 family of weapons.
The fast track procurements are the closest the Indian army has come to equipping its infantry soldiers with new small arms in over a decade.The process to replace the troubled INSAS rifle began over a decade ago but has muddled along as the army changed specifications for the replacement two times. It first wanted a rifle which could shoot two types of cartridges-an AK-47 bullet and an INSAS bullet -- then scrapped it for a modified INSAS rifle. This requirement too was scrapped in favour of a new 7.62x51 battle rifle which it now seems likely to acquire.