New Delhi: The much-awaited Army trials for nearly 41,000 light machine guns (LMGs), under the Make in India initiative, has been delayed again as Reliance Armament of Anil Ambani has sought more time to showcase its weapon.

While trials for the 7.62X51 mm belt-fed LMGs were to begin from 22 February, they have now been postponed to April due to Reliance Armament. The new LMGs are to replace the 5.56x45mm INSAS LMG, which is a derivative of the INSAS assault rifle.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said this is not the first time that Reliance has sought an extension. Sources said Reliance Armament wrote to the Army in February seeking more time to showcase the weapon, which the company says is an indigenous one.

A questionnaire sent to Reliance Defence remained unanswered at the time of filing this report.

The Anil Ambani group is one of the contenders for the project along with Bharat Forge of the Kalyani Group, Adani Group’s PLR systems and the state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).

The Bangalore-based SSS Defence, which was one of the original contenders, is understood to have pulled out of the trials as it wants to focus on sniper and the carbines contract.

Reliance Also Tight-Lipped About Partner

While Reliance has been tight-lipped about who it has tied up with for the contract, it is learnt that a South Korean firm could be in the picture. Reliance is also said to be working on multiple vendor options, including American and European manufacturers.

Reliance Infrastructure’s annual report for 2019-20 stated that the group has established multiple companies such as Reliance Armaments Ltd, Reliance Ammunition Ltd and Reliance SED to cater to the specific requirements of small arms, ammunition and defence electronics.

It had also said that Reliance Armament has received RFPs (Requests for Proposal) for LMGs, sniper rifles and other small programmes with the Ministry of Home Affairs valued at over Rs 6,000 crore over many years.

Of the other contenders for the LMG project, Bharat Forge has tied up with Bulgarian firm Arsenal, while the OFB has come out with an indigenous product.

Adani Group’s PLR systems is a joint venture with the Israel Weapons Industry (IWI) and they are fielding the Negev NG-7.

The IWI already has a fast-tracked procurement contract from the Army for about 16,000 of these Negev NG-7 and the first tranche has already reached soldiers in the Northern Command.

The Army contract, however, is directly with IWI and not with the Indian joint venture, which now manufactures various Israeli weapons at its Gwalior plant.

Final Contract Will Take Time

Even if the trial does take place on time, sources said that a final contract will be delayed. This is because the RFP allows any Indian company to present a product for trials.

If the weapon is selected, the Indian company will be given 18 months for Transfer of Technology (ToT) from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and for the setting up of a production plant in India.

Once the plant is set up, the company will manufacture 10 serial production LMGs, which will be tested by the Army again to see if it fits the bill as the original.

It is not clear if the second round of trial planned will be as stringent as the first, which itself is yet to start.

Industry sources said that the frontrunner for the LMG contract is PLR systems because its parent IWI already has a contract with the Army and the firm has a running production plant in Gwalior, which has started supplying various small arms to central armed police forces and the state police.