The defence ministry has approved the purchase of tens of thousands of small arms for the army on a ‘fast track basis’.
According to an official press release, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), which is chaired by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and consists of top officials from the armed services and defence ministry, greenlighted the procurement of 72,400 rifles and 93,895 carbines for a total cost of INR3,547 crores.
Of course, the proposed buy is not intended to arm every soldier. The army alone will need a million rifles and carbines. Instead, the purchase is intended to ‘enable the Defence Forces to meet their immediate requirement for the troops deployed on the borders.’
The ‘fast track basis’ means the deal has to be completed in six months, according to Ajai Shukla of Business Standard.
This may be a tough ask- the army will have to quickly identify a weapon of its choice, presumably chambered for the large 7.62×51 mm cartridge.
India has been struggling to fulfil its small arms needs for years now. There’s plenty of blame to share: DRDO and ordnance factories for not meeting the army’s requirements, the defence ministry for dragging its feet, and the army itself for failing to clearly identify what it wants.
After prolonged trials and botched General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs), the army decided late last year to import just 250,000 rifles in 7.62×51 mm instead of the 800,000 previously planned, according to Shukla. The rest of the army was to make do with a cheaper, locally-designed and produced 5.56x45mm rifle.
The army’s plan was unusual. Even within an infantry battalion, less than three-fourths of the men would be issued the new 7.62×51 mm weapon. And that’s assuming the army gets 250,000 imported rifles. At present, the DAC has only authorised the procurement of 72,400 units, meaning the army will be 177,600 rifles short of its scaled-down requirement. It’s still not clear if the army has further scaled back its requirements, plans to import more weapons later, or expects a technology transfer to a domestic manufacturer.
Given India’s seemingly perpetual struggle to efficiently arm its soldiers with the right sort of small arms, we should not be surprised if fresh complications show up in the coming months.
And even if the proposed purchase goes through, it will mean the army will field five different rifle-calibre weapons firing three separate cartridges: the imported rifle in 7.62×51 mm, the two locally produced rifles (both the current INSAS 1B and its planned replacement) and the imported carbine in 5.56.45 mm, as well as large stock of Kalashnikov clones in 7.62×39 mm. It’s a logistical, training, and maintenance mess and no one seems to want to clear it up.