A US soldier shows the power and accuracy of M4 Carbine during Indo-US joint military exercise

The primary weapon for the army is the assault rifle and the army in the RFP has specified that it should have an effective range of 500 m

NEW DELHI: The procurement of more than 70,000 advanced assault rifles, around 90,000 carbines and a large quantity of Light Machine Guns mainly for the army on a fast track basis has moved a step forward with the defence ministry today issuing Request for Proposals for the weapons, top ministry sources said.

The RFPs which also looks at meeting the requirements of the other defence services have been given to about 12 vendors, said sources. A RFP consists of the general specifications of an equipment, the numbers required, delivery timeframe, commercial aspects and evaluation criteria.

The primary weapon for the army is the assault rifle and the army in the RFP has specified that it should have an effective range of 500 m. Experts said that this is a perfect range for such a weapon, because anything beyond this changes the trajectory of the bullet due to the wind affect.

“The rifle will have a calibre of 7.62x41mm bullets and should weigh less than four kg,” said sources.

This calibre is more lethal than the 5.56mm calibre INSAS rifle being currently used by the army, added experts. The 7.62mm ammunition has longer range and better accuracy. Sources said that the Chinese PLA uses 7.62mm calibre rifles and the new assault rifle being procured by the army is to counter this. This assault rifle is being procured for the frontline soldiers, who have to engage the adversary first. 

Even the carbines and Light Machine Guns (LMGs) being procured on fast-track basis are also for the frontline troops. The three weapons will be procured without the relevant sights such as telescopic sight and night vision sight, which will be procured separately.

The progress in the procuring these weapons is important because the ones being currently used by the army are obsolete and have major problems, preventing their proper functioning. For instance, the army’s existing assault rifle is the INSAS, which was inducted around the time of the Kargil War, often jams when fired and its magazine easily breaks when it hits a hard object. The gun barrel also cannot be changed to the 7.62mm ammunition. Similar problems also affect the INSAS LMG. The ‘burst firing’ capability, which is firing three rounds in one-go, in the two weapons is also erratic. The 9mm carbine used by the army is of the World War-II vintage and often self-fires.

“These are some of the major problems we are looking at removing in the procurement of the new assault rifles, carbines and LMGs,” explained sources.

On January 16 this year, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cleared the procurement of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines on a fast track basis for Rs 3,547 crore. The fast track process of the defence procurement procedure is to ensure expeditious procurement of urgent requirements of the regular and special forces. It covers acquisitions under the ‘Buy category’ or outright purchase. It can also be for cases where delay is adversely impacting the forces.

For around a decade, the army has been trying to replace the INSAS rifle. It had rejected the DRDO’s Excalibur and Ghatak rifles as replacements, due to not meeting firepower requirements. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat when addressing the media in January had admitted to the delay, which was also due to changing the product specifications and looking for a rifle with a changeable barrel. General Rawat had also said that the new assault rifle with the 500 m range will be for the frontline soldiers and the other arms will be given an indigenous rifle to be made by the ordnance factories and the private industry.

In relation, the DAC on February 13 approved the procurement of seven lakh forty thousand assault rifles for the three services, which are to be made in India at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore. The DAC then also cleared the procurement of an “essential quantity” of LMGs on fast track basis. On February 28, the DAC approved the procurement of 41,000 LMGs and over 3.5 lakh close quarter battle carbines under the Buy and Make (Indian) category.