SIG 716 Assault Rifle
PC : Indian Army

NEW DELHI: The defence ministry on Monday approved arms acquisitions worth another Rs 2,290 crore, including the procurement of 72,000 more assault rifles from the US, amid the ongoing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China.

The Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) cleared the Rs 780 crore acquisition of the assault rifles from US firm SiG Sauer. The 13-lakh strong Army has already inducted 72,400 SiG Sauer rifles, which are 7.62×51 mm caliber guns with an effective “kill” range of 500-metre, under a Rs 647 crore fast-track procurement (FTP) deal inked in February last year.
The DAC on Monday also gave the nod for the indigenous procurements of smart anti-airfield weapons for Rs 970 crore and static HF trans-receiver sets for Rs 540 crore.

The Army was planning to order a second lot of 72,000 SiG Sauer rifles for frontline troops due to the continuing delay in the project to manufacture Russian AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles in India.

India in March this year had also inked a Rs 880 crore deal to acquire 16,479 Israeli Negev 7.62×51 mm light machine guns (LMGs) for its frontline troops deployed on the borders with China and Pakistan. But the limited number of new assault rifles and LMGs will also only meet partial requirements of the armed forces.

The bulk of Army soldiers are slated to get 7.62×39 mm caliber AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles, with an effective range of 300-metre, to supplement the limited number of the more advanced US-origin rifles with a longer kill range.

But the much-touted ‘Make in India’ project to manufacture 6.71 lakh AK-203 rifles at Korwa ordnance factory in Amethi district of Uttar Pradesh is yet to take off due to price issues.

The defence ministry in June had appointed a “costing committee” to fix a “reasonable price” for manufacturing AK-203s after the JV between Indian Ordnance Factory Board and Russian Rosonboronexport and Kalashnikov company quoted an “unreasonable and unacceptable” price for the rifles. The DAC, incidentally, had granted “acceptance of necessity” to procure 6,71,427 AK-203 rifles at an estimated cost of Rs 4,358 crore in January 2019.

The Army had first asked for new assault rifles and close-quarter battle carbines for its 382 infantry battalions (with 850 soldiers each) way back in 2005, while the case for the LMGs was initiated in 2009.

But the long-drawn procurement projects were repeatedly derailed due to corruption allegations or framing of unrealistic technical parameters, with the lack of effective indigenous options also compounding the problem for over a decade.