NEW DELHI: Indian soldiers deployed on the borders with Pakistan and China are now finally getting new assault rifles almost 15 years after the Army first demanded them. These US-origin rifles with “a longer kill range” are meant only for frontline soldiers, with the bulk of the 1.3-million force slated to get Russian Kalashnikov rifles at a later stage.

Sources on Wednesday said the Army has received 10,000 of the 72,400 rifles ordered from US firm SiG Sauer for Rs 638 crore in February this year under the fast-track procurement (FTP) route for critical operational requirements.

“The delivery of all these 7.62 X 51 mm calibre rifles, with an effective range of 500-metre, will be completed by early-2020. The Army will get 66,400 of these SiG-716 rifles, while 4,000 are for the Indian Air Force and 2,000 for Navy. These guns are compact, modern in technology and easy to maintain in field conditions,” said a source.

The Korwa ordnance factory in Uttar Pradesh, in turn, will progressively manufacture 7,45,000 Kalashnikov AK-203 rifles in a joint venture with Russia, which could eventually be worth over Rs 12,000 crore with even the demands of police forces being met. The 7.62 X 39 mm calibre AK-203 rifle, a derivative of the iconic AK-47, has “an effective range” of 300-metre.

“While Army will get a little over 7 lakh of these Kalashnikov rifles, the Indian Air Force will get 29,000 and Navy 13,600. The final contract with Russia should be inked early next year,” said the source. General Bipin Rawat, incidentally, had earlier publicly declared the entire Army could not be equipped with advanced rifles and other weapons due to budgetary constraints.

It was way back in 2005 that the Army first asked for new assault rifles, along with close-quarter battle carbines, for its 382 infantry battalions (each with 850 soldiers) to replace the existing 5.56 mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles. But unrealistic technical parameters as well as corruption allegations repeatedly derailed the procurement projects.

Apart from the new assault rifles, the Army has also gone in for emergency induction of 210 Israeli “Spike” anti-tank guided missiles and 12 launchers, which have a strike range of up to 4-km, for the western front with Pakistan, as was earlier reported by TOI.

Similarly, the force has acquired over 30 new sniper rifles, Beretta’s .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT and Barrett’s .50-calibre M95 guns, which have an effective kill range from 1,500 to 1,800-metre, for use along the 778-km long line of control.

But these limited numbers will not meet the overall requirements of infantry soldiers, who are often forgotten in the hunger to induct major weapon systems from fighters to submarines. The Army, for instance, requires 4.58 lakh close-quarter battle carbines.

The defence ministry says the huge shortfalls in basic infantry weapons will eventually be met 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.