NEW DELHI — India has begun a global hunt to buy 185,000 7.62x51mm-caliber assault rifles, with more than $1 billion set aside for acquisition project, putting into question the fate of the homegrown assault rifle Excalibur, which is still in development by the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

The fresh request for information (RFI) issued last week contains modified requirements and is expected to receive positive results, according to an official with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The official said the formal tender will be issued in April 2017.

"That project [Excalibur] does not have any future as Indian Army's requirement is of 7.62x51mm, whereas Excalibur is 7.62x45mm," a senior Indian Army official said.

Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier and defense analyst, said: "DRDO projects will remain technology demonstrators given that they do not provide the confidence to the customer, the Indian Armed Forces, that these weapons systems are modern or state of the art."

No DRDO official was available to comment on the fate of the Excalibur assault rifle.

An earlier attempt to buy the assault rifles, through a global tender in 2011, failed as only Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) had been able to fulfil the requirements.

Those involved in the 2011 trials were IWI, Colt of the United States, Beretta of Italy, and Ceska of the Czech Republic.

Detailing the new requirements in contrast to the 2011 tender, the senior Army official said: "It is single caliber now and not multi-caliber. Secondly, earlier [it] was 7.62x39mm, now [it] is 7.62x51mm."

The 2011 tender had sought a transfer of technology to the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which manages 41 state-owned defense factories.

The fresh RFI is likely to attract the same companies from the 2011 trials, according to the MoD official.

The RFI says the Army is seeking the specific caliber to replace the homegrown 5.56mm INSAS, an Indian small arms rifle.

The broad parameters specify the lightweight rifle should have a minimum effective range of 500 meters with limited recoil. With multi-option telescopic sights, the rifle should also be capable of being fitted with 40mm under-barrel grenade launchers.

The RFI also stipulates that the rifle should be compatible with visible laser-target pointers, holographic and other sights, and the rifle should be state of art in terms of design, metallurgy and performance parameters in such a way as to remain relevant for at least the next 25 years.

"The RFI is watered down, yet it still remains complex. Why does the Army require an assault rifle with a telescopic sight? [It] is not clear. Does it want every soldier to have a sniper capability? These complex, qualitative requirements do not augur well for the future of this RFI ... unless at the [request for proposal] stage there is a change," Bhonsle said.

"The range of 500 meters is highly optimistic," he added.


Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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