American made Victrix Minerva Scorpio-TGT sniper rifle

An army personnel shows an M-24 American sniper rifle with a telescope during a joint press conference at army’s 15 corps headquarters Badami Bagh in Srinagar on Friday, August 2, 2019

by NC Bipindra

The Indian Army plans to buy just 1,800 state-of-the-art sniper rifles and 2.7 million rounds of ammunition -- less than a third of its total requirement -- driven by budgetary constraints and the need to speed up deliveries, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The military pruned its original requirement of 5,720 sniper rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition, which would have cost $140 million, to prioritise spending and advance the purchase of more modern equipment, they said, asking not to be identified as the information isn’t public.

Indian Army spokesman Aman Anand said he had no comment to offer on the change in procurement plans.

The Indian armed forces have 450,000 infantry soldiers, of whom only half go into ground battle and an even smaller number of them use sniper rifles to take out specific enemy targets through precision firing.

The move is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s $250-billion modernisation plan for the Indian defence forces, as the infantry soldiers continue to face the brunt of deadly attacks in disputed border areas such as Kashmir and the northeast.

Plans to buy new equipment from global manufacturers, however, has been hit by bureaucratic delays and the Modi government’s desire to meet the needs of the armed forces through the domestic industry under his ‘Make in India’ initiative, a key plank to boost local defence manufacturing and woo his core supporters.

The 1.3 million-strong Indian Army’s previous efforts to buy 5,720 sniper rifles in a process that began in Feb. 2018 was scrapped in July this year after four vendors, including the U.S.-based Barrett, Indonesia’s PT Pindad and Russia’s Rosoboronexport, failed to meet technical requirements, such as technology transfers for manufacturing the ammunition by local industry.

Through the new bid to buy a smaller quantity of 8.6 mm sniper rifles and .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition, India wants to overcome the hurdles in first identifying the vendor to buy them in a fast-track mode, before placing future orders for 4,000 more sniper rifles.