Indian Army Seeks Repeat Order for American Assault Rifles

Lack of progress on AK-203 JV forces case for importing 72,000 additional Sig Sauer rifles under fast track process

Issue: 2-3 / 2020 By Vishal Thapar

The Indian Army has moved a case for importing from the US a second batch of an estimated 72,000 SiG Sauer SiG-716 assault rifles for its frontline troops.

The first batch of these 72,400 7.62x51mm calibre rifles has been inducted following a 647 crore contract in February 2019 under the Fast Track Process of India’s Defence Procurement Procedure.

The process for a repeat order to meet an urgent requirement has been initiated amidst a combination of factors including border tensions with China and slow progress on the Joint Venture (JV) with Russia to manufacture AK-203 rifles at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh.

The AK-203 was intended to fulfil the bulk of the requirement of an estimated 8,00,000 assault rifles to replace the over two-decade old INSAS inventory of the Indian Army. The JV between India’s Ordnance Factory Board and Russia’s Rosoboronexport has reportedly hit an impasse over the “unreasonable and unacceptable” price quoted by the Russians.

An ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ was accorded by India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in January 2019 to purchase a reported 6,71,427 AK-203 assault rifles from this India-Russia JV for an estimated 4,358 Crore. It has been reported that the Ministry of Defence has set up a new ‘costing committee’ to arrive at a reasonable price with the Russians.

In the meanwhile, the case for a repeat order for 72,000 SiG-716 rifles will be taken to the DAC for approval under the fast-track process, as was done earlier.

With Infantry modernisation deemed a priority by the present dispensation, the Indian Army has sought limited numbers of up to date small arms through fast track procurements on account of very slow progress of programmes to acquire these weapons in larger numbers, the bulk of which are intended to be manufactured in India with foreign tie-ups.

The Indian Army’s case for replacement of INSAS assault rifles and Sterling carbines for its 382 Infantry battalions dates back to 2005. In 2009, it made a case for a new Light Machine Gun (LMG). With little headway on these procurements, it was decided in 2018 to kick start Infantry modernisation with limited imports.

Under this process, a 880 crore deal was signed with Israel’s Negev in March this year to import 16,479 7.62x51mm LMGs. Like the SiG Sauer, the Negev LMG is also intended to meet part requirement urgently. UAE’s Caracal was shortlisted similarly to acquire close quarter battle carbines, but a deal has not been signed so far.

Italian Beretta .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT and American Barret .50 M95 sniper rifles have also been inducted recently in limited numbers for equipping forces along the Line of Control with Pakistan.

To shore up the Army’s precision firepower, deals with the US and Israel respectively were also signed in 2019 for an unspecified number of Excalibur precision guided munitions for 155mm artillery and a reported 210 Spike anti-tank guided missiles along with 12 launchers as part of financial powers delegated to the Vice-Chiefs for emergency purchases.