Providing a potential boost to global arms suppliers, India’s armed forces have embarked on a shopping spree for modern assault rifles, body armor and helmets.
Scouting for a new model on the global market for 185,000 assault rifles, the 1.3 million-strong military is seeking to outfit its infantry with more up-to-date equipment and abandon its two decade-old Indian made rifles. Hundreds of thousands of helmets and tens of thousands of bullet proof vests are also to be bought by the Ministry of Defence of the country.
As the infantry continue to face the brunt of deadly attacks in disputed border areas such as Kashmir and the north-east, the moves are part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s $250 billion push to modernize India’s armed forces.
The military’s desire to balance the needs of troops against efforts to have equipment built domestically under Modi’s “Make in India” program, a key plank in his drive to boost local manufacturing and bureaucratic delays have however held back any plans to buy new equipment from overseas.
“It’s encouraging that they’re going ahead with this, but it’s discouraging that it’s not made under ‘Make in India’. The fact that it took 10 years for Indians to go ahead and say, ‘we’re importing’ means the bureaucracy is still holding back modernization of the armed forces. That’s problematic,” said Anit Mukherjee, a former major in the Indian Army and assistant professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Introduced in the late 1990s and built by the state-owned Ordnance Factory, the army currently uses the INSAS, or Indian Small Arms System, rifle. And yet the ministry was prompted to go to the global market for their replacement as the Indian and Nepalese soldiers issued with the guns complained the 5.56mm rifles were unreliable.
A request for information was issued by the ministry last month to identify possible vendors. It wants a larger, more deadly 7.62mm model that will “shoot to kill”, it said. The ministry said that India has asked global manufacturers to reply by November 7 and it needs 65,000 rifles within 28 months of signing the contract. In April 2017, it is expected that India will issue a tender for procuring rifles.
This is India’s second attempt since 2011 to procure assault rifles for its infantry. The Czech Republic’s Ceska zbrojovka, Israel Weapons Industry Ltd, Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, Italy’s Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A. and Swiss Sig Sauer Inc. were issued the tenders back in the 2011. However after the rifles offered up by the global manufacturers did not meet the multi-caliber requirements of the army, it was canceled in 2015.
In addition to sniper rifles, the army also sought to buy light automatic rifles and machine guns, apart from assault rifles. Initially, it planned to build 120,000 others at ordnance factories in India and to buy 43,000 carbines off the shelf from international companies.
However, according to a senior army officer who asked not to be identified discussing information that is private, earlier this month over procedural issues, a tender issued four years ago to buy the carbines was canceled.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)
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