India re-launched on Tuesday its global hunt for new-generation assault rifles after similar attempts over the last decade failed due to unrealistic technical requirements and whiff of corruption, interspersed by debates on whether the gun should “kill” or merely “wound” adversaries.
The project is going to be a mega one, with the Army looking to induct 65,000 rifles in the first go, with another 1,20,000 to be manufactured in India. This, of course, would be just the beginning for the 12-lakh strong Army, with the overall programme cost slated to ultimately cross the $1 billion-mark.
In the RFI (request for information) issued by the defence ministry on Tuesday, it was mentioned that the Army was seeking “a 7.62mm x 51mm assault rifle with lethality to achieve the objective of shoot-to-kill” to replace glitch-prone 5.56mm INSAS (Indian small arms system) rifle.
The broad parameters specify the light-weight rifles should have an effective range of 500-metre at the very minimum, with duly-optimised recoil to achieve “accuracy better than 3 minutes of angle up to a minimum range of 500-metre”.
With multi-option telescopic sights, the rifles should also be capable of being fitted with the 40mm under-barrel grenade launchers manufactured by ordnance factory, Trichy. Compatible with visible laser-target pointers, holographic and other sights, the rifles should be “state-of-art” in terms of design, metallurgy and performance parameters to remain relevant for the next 25-30 years.
The RFI states the global tender or RFP (request for proposal) for the formal technocommercial bids will be floated in April 2017. It is bound to attract companies like Colt (US), Beretta (Italy), Sig Sauer (Europe), Ceska (Czech) and Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), which had also participated in the earlier tender.
As was first reported by TOI in May last year, the project was scrapped because of the Army’s overambitious experiment to induct rifles with interchangeable barrels, with a 5.56x45mm primary barrel for conventional warfare and a 7.62x39mm secondary one for counter-terrorism.
Then, the Army commanders’ conference last April had discussed whether the force required a 7.62mm rifle that “killed” or a 5.56mm rifle that “incapacitated” enemy soldiers. Subsequently, even as the Army rejected the 5.56x45mm Excalibur rifle offered by the DRDO-ordnance Factory Board combine, the decision was taken to go in for 7.62x51mm rifles with a higher kill probability.
Incidentally, other projects to get new close-quarter battle carbines, light machine guns, sniper rifles and the like for infantry battalions are also stuck in the long-winded procurement process.