A Colt M4 Mk18 Close Quarters Battle Receiver with a 10.3-inch barrel upper receiver

Requests for proposal were issued to selected foreign armament companies today. The initial tenders were issued for 72,400 assault rifles, 93,895 CQB carbines and 16,479 light machine guns

by Rajat Pandit

NEW DELHI: The government after some delay has finally set the ball rolling for the acquisition of a small number of new assault rifles, light machine guns and close-quarter battle carbines, which were promised for infantry soldiers deployed on the borders with China and Pakistan under the fast-track procedure (FTP). 

Defence ministry sources said the initial tenders or RFPs (requests for proposal) for 72,400 assault rifles, 93,895 CQB carbines and 16,479 light machine guns, which will together cost an estimated Rs 5,366 crore, were issued to selected foreign armament companies on Friday. 

Under the Defence Procurement Procedure’s strict timelines for the FTP, which caters for urgent operational requirements, the RFP has to be issued within 10 days of a case being cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) to ensure the actual contract after technical and commercial evaluation is inked within a year. The delivery of the weapons is supposed to thereafter take place in three to 12 months.

But the three RFPs have been somewhat delayed after the Nirmala Sitharaman-led DAC approved the cases for the assault rifles (Rs 1,798 crore) and CQB carbines (Rs 1,749 crore) on January 16, and the one for light machine guns (Rs 1,819 crore) on February 13.

The Army will obviously be keeping its fingers crossed. The force had first asked for new assault rifles and CQB carbines for its 382 infantry battalions (each with 850 soldiers each) way back in 2005, while the case for the light machine guns was initiated in 2009. But the long-drawn procurement projects were repeatedly scrapped due to graft allegations or unrealistic technical parameters as well as the lack of indigenous options for well over a decade.

Moreover, the FTP route is only for limited numbers of weapons due to critical operational necessity. For instance, the overall requirement is for 8.16 lakh new 7.62x51mm caliber assault rifles to replace the existing glitch-prone 5.56mm INSAS (Indian small arms system) rifles. Similarly, the numbers are 4.58 lakh for close-quarter battle carbines (5.56x45mm) and 43,544 for light machine guns (7.62x51mm). While the bulk of the weapons are meant for the infantry, some have been earmarked for the Navy and IAF also.

The defence ministry has said that the huge shortfalls will be met at a later stage with Indian companies (private ones as well as Ordnance Factory Board) tying up with foreign ones to manufacture them under the “Make in India” framework, which could take at least four to five years to actually take off.