NEW DELHI: Seeking to arm its infantry soldier with a lethal and sophisticated assault rifle from a foreign vendor, the Army has started the field trials for procuring over 60,000 assault rifles in a deal worth Rs 13,000 crore.
Of the 40 overseas vendors, whom the Ministry of Defence sent a request for proposal, only four have applied for the tender and the winner will replace the 1990’s vintage indigenous 5.56 mm INSAS assault rifle inducted by the Army in its inventory reluctantly.
The four vendors had submitted their bids by mid-February. The Army wants its latest rifles to be equipped with detachable under-barrel grenade launchers, night-vision devices, laser designators and so on. The other requirement is that the rifles should be able to fire locally-produced ammunition. Sources said, “The trials have begun and considering the requirements of the force, the guns will be tested in deserts, extreme cold weathers, high-altitude regions and so on. At all the places earmarked, the guns for testing will be fired to check its accuracy, stoppages if any and any other technical requirements.”
The tender for 66,000 rifles was dispatched to over 40 overseas vendors in December last year. According to Army officials, the size of the deal is set to increase as the force would equip all its infantry soldiers. The Central Paramilitary Force and state police undergoing modernisation programme would soon follow suit. According to the Indian Procurement Policy, the selected vendor will have to transfer of the technology to the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) which will then manufacture the guns under licence within the country.
The present INSAS rifles were inducted into the Army in 1997-98 and has been employed extensively in the counter-insurgency in the area. However, the Army has always felt the rifle inadequate in meeting its operational requirement. On many a occasions in cold regions, the firing mechanism of the guns used to get jammed. The gun was designed by the military research body Defence Research and Development Organisation over a period of 10 years and manufactured by the OFB in another four years.
Seeing its track record, the Army decided to import one lakh Kalashnikov-designed AK-47 rifles from Bulgaria in 1995 for counter-insurgency operations. Its special counter-insurgency force Rashtriya Rifles continues to use AK-47. The INSAS Assault Rifles malfunctioning became an issue of contention between India and Nepal in 2005, when Nepalese Army complained that the rifles supplied by India to fight Maoist guerillas malfunctioned repeatedly, resulting in heavy casualties.