After rejecting the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-designed Excalibur 5.56x45mm rifle, the Indian Army is soon going to re-issue a request for information (RFI) for Rs 5,000-crore contract of 7.62x51mm assault rifles.
The army is also mulling re-tendering for 44,618 ‘5.56mm’ close quarter battle (CQB) carbines. The Excalibur, an upgraded version of the DRDO’s Indian Army Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56x45mm rifle, was rejected by the army in 2010 for being “operationally inadequate”.
Last year, the Modi-led government had decided to cancel RFP issued in 2011 to procure 66,000 multi-calibre assault rifles as none of the four competing models – Italy’s Beretta’s ARX-160, Czech Republic’s CZ 805 BREN, Israeli assault rifle manufacturer IWI’s ACE1 and US’ Colt Combat Rifle – met the army’s stipulated qualitative requirements during trials. These required each rifle to weigh not more than 3.6kg and to be able to convert from 5.56x45mm to7.62x39mm merely by switching their barrel and magazine for counter-terrorist operations and conventional use.
Meanwhile, the army is also planning to re-tender tender for 5.56mm CQB carbines, as one of two competing systems has been shortlisted for procurement – the IWI’s Galil ACE CQB carbine as rival Beretta’s ARX160 model was rejected on specious grounds.
Industry sources said the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) had rejected Beretta because a safety measure on its laser visible and invisible sight was found unsuitable. The ‘sight’ on offer by Beretta, widely used in the US and other armies across the world, was fitted with a small screw, which needed to be opened before use. This screw, sources said, added purely as a safety measure, dropped off during the trials, resulting in the DGQA rejecting the ARX 160 and leaving only IWI in the reckoning.
“The major reason behind re-tendering the CQB requirement is that with Beretta eliminated, the procurement becomes a single-vendor situation, which defence minister Manohar Parrikar opposes,” a source told the FE.
The ministry of defence has been wanting to delink the ‘sight’ from the weapon system, but the army was adamant and wanted it included. Parrikar is believed to be seeking a legal opinion on whether he can at this stage de-link the ‘sight’ from the carbine.
The irony is that the follow-on order for over 1,60,000 CQB carbines, to be licence-built by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), are to be equipped with a ‘sight’ developed by defence PSU Bharat Electronics (BEL). Fitting the initial lot of 44,618 carbines with imported sights, instead of a BEL-designed equipment, will cost the exchequer an additional Rs 800-1,000 crore.
“BEL’s sight can save the ministry a large amount of money, provided Parrikar is decisive and takes firm action,” said a senior infantry officer. If the carbine requirement is re-tendered, it will take the army another three-four years to procure one, he added. The army has been operating without a carbine since 2010, after it retired the licence-built World War-II sterling sub-machine gun. “CQB carbines are basic infantry weapons for employment on counter-insurgency operations,” said a two-star army officer. By delaying its induction, the operational efficiency of the army is being affected adversely, he added.