The armed forces are the backbone of a country’s defence. For a nation such as ours, which is surrounded by enemy states all round, defence is a top priority. It is important to keep pace with an ever changing world where technological advances are being made in every field at a rapid pace. The defence sector is no exception to this. One of the areas where the Indian Armed Forces were lagging behind was in the use of modern and updated arms and ammunition. The rifles at the disposal of the forces at present are at least two decades old. As a part of PM Modi’s modernization initiative, the forces are now embarking on a shopping expedition to purchase assault rifles, helmets, body armour and other such modern equipments.
The forces need bullet proof vests and helmets in particular because they have to face cross-border firing in volatile areas of Kashmir valley and the north-east. The process has been slowed down because of the need to balance purchasing quality military equipments from abroad and supporting the Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Having to face hostilities along the borders, the need is for modernized equipment so that the casualties are as low as possible. Items in the shopping list include assault rifles, body armours and helmets. It seeks to replace 5.56 mm rifles with deadlier ‘shoot to kill’ 7.62 mm model. Specifications say that the rifles should have a range of 500 meters at the minimum, multi-option telescopic sights, compatible with laser target pointers and having the capacity to be fitted with 40 mm under barrel grenade launchers among others.
The aim is to procure weapons that have a superior design, metallurgy and performance parameters that would remain relevant for at least the next three decades. Helmets and body armours of a better quality are sought to be added to the arsenal so that they are lighter and easier to use and also to lower battle casualties. Safety, shelf life, modernity and relevance are of utmost importance while choosing weapons so that the forces can deal effectively with infiltrations and cross border firing.
At present the forces use Indian Small Arms System (INSAS), rifle, introduced in the late 1990s and built by the state-owned Ordnance Factory. However, the Indian and Nepalese soldiers who were issued the guns complained that the 5.56mm rifles were unreliable. This is the reason that prompted the ministry to go for their international replacement.
The Ministry needs to identify potential vendors and it has processed a request for information. The demand is for larger and deadlier weapons which have to be delivered within 28 months of signing the contract. Tender for the same is expected to be issued in April 2017.
Attempts and delays
Earlier procurement attempts were made in 2011 but the tenders were cancelled in 2015 because the manufacturers did not meet requirements of the army. The army sought to procure assault rifles, light automatic rifles, machine guns and sniper rifles. Besides this they require modernized personnel equipments such as body armour, helmets and bullet-proof vests.
The delay in procurement is a cause of concern and another worry, according to defence experts, is the inability of Indian firms to manufacture small arms systems. Make in India program is collaboration between foreign and Indian firms. This should speed up the procurement process. The dysfunctional military innovation cycle also needs to be addressed.
The vision of PM Modi is to modernize the Armed Forces so that we may be able to face the hostilities of our neighbours. However, for the fulfilment of his vision depends on removal of red tapism and procedural delays. Over a period of time these efforts will certainly bear fruits.