To begin with, the long wait is finally over. In wake of terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on February 13 approved a major proposal for according more than 7,00,000 assault rifles, 5700 sniper rifles and nearly 17,000 light machine guns (LMG). The total cost of these deals is more than Rs 15,000 crore.
It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that the acquisition will enhance the firepower capabilities of the soldiers deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) facing Pakistan and Line of Actual Control (LAC) bordering China. This was a much needed and long requirement for soldiers guarding our borders on LoC and LAC bordering China and Pakistan. In fact, this should have been brought long time back! But better to be late than never!
To put things in perspective, chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the DAC met two days after the terrorist attack on an Army camp in Jammu. It is most shocking to learn that the go-ahead for such critical acquisition came almost 11 years after the armed forces gave the proposal for modern weapons for the soldiers engaged in close quarter battle with the enemy on the ground. This go-ahead should have come more than a decade ago but it has come so late!
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that giving details of the approvals, officials said that the DAC okayed procurement of 7.4 lakh assault rifles for the three Services. These rifles will be ‘Made in India’ under the categorization of ‘Buy and Make (Indian),’ through both Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) and private industry at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore. This is certainly a laudable step in the right direction even though it is happening quite late!
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that incidentally, the DAC last month in January had approved the procurement of nearly 72,400 assault rifles and 93,985 carbines on a fast track basis. This was done basically to meet the urgent operational requirements of the troops deployed on the borders and engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu &Kashmir and the North-East. The total cost of these two deals is Rs 3,547 crore.
Needless to say, the assault rifles will replace the Army’s existing standard issue Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) rifle of 5.56 calibre which was designed some three decades ago. The new rifle will be 7.62 calibre, meaning the rifle can fire bigger ammunition at a range of 500 metres. This will certainly help soldiers in better defending themselves and in killing the enemies.
It goes without saying that the rifles developed in India will eventually be the standard issue for the forces and also the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs). This will mean some 15-18 lakh such rifles in all. In June 2017, the Army had rejected the rifle made by the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB).
It must be brought out here that the OFB made eight such pieces which were being tested by the Army. The OFB was palpably not happy with the Army’s decision. The OFB said that the weapon did well in the trials.
To be sure, the carbines are seen as replacement for the Russian made AK-47 assault rifles. These will weigh less than 3 kgs and have the ability to fire at distances of up to 200 metres. The Army, however, needs another 3.25 lakh carbines.
Having said this, let me also point out here that besides the assault rifle project, the DAC, meanwhile, on February 13 also approved the procurement of LMGs through the fast track procedure at an estimated cost of Rs 1,819 crore. Officials said that this will meet the operational requirements of the troops of three Services. Rightly said!
Permit me to say: A concurrent proposal was now getting processed for the balance quantity of more than 32,000 LMGs to be procured under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ categorization, officials said, adding that the main purpose of these clearances was to equip the soldiers with modern and more effective equipment. The DAC also approved procurement of 5,719 sniper rifles for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of Rs 982 crore. While these high precision weapons will be bought with ‘Buy Global’ categorization, the ammunition for these will be initially procured and subsequently manufactured in India.
Truth be told, to enhance the anti-submarine warfare capabilities of warships, the DAC accorded approval for the procurement of Advanced Torpedo Decoy Systems (ATDS) for the Indian Navy. The ‘Mareech’ system has been developed indigenously by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and has successfully completed extensive trial evaluations. The Mareech systems will be produced by Bharat Electronics Limited, Bengaluru at an estimated cost of Rs 850 crore.
All said and done, this is a very good step that the major proposal to acquire 7,00,000 assault rifles, 5,700 sniper rifles and nearly 17,000 LMG has finally been approved. This will certainly go a long way in arming soldiers with the requisite firepower capable to meet any adversary on the border. One only hopes that this red tapism which ensured its delay for nearly more than a decade does not finally again surfaces to delay it once again! Centre must ensure that firepower-starved Army soon gets new rifles and also all other firepower which can make them self-sufficient in combating soldiers because it is these soldiers who guard our border round the clock always! How can their paramount interest be ignored?
By Sanjeev Sirohi