NEW DELHI ― India’s Ministry of Defence has launched a number of new defense programs, one of which seeks to fulfill a critical small arms requirements worth $2.48 billion. But military services are concerned about the delivery time frame, citing the government’s slow procurement track record.

The MoD’s apex defense procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council, on Tuesday cleared procurement of light machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and advanced torpedo decoy systems for warships.

“It is a positive move by MoD to meet the small arms demands of the services, but we need them tomorrow, and the new systems are unlikely to be procured anytime soon, not before at least two to three years,” a senior Indian Army official said.

”There is much excitement after approval of proposals for procurement of light machine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles for the Indian Army, part of the latter for the Air Force,” according to Rahul Bhonsle, a defense analyst and retired Indian Army brigadier. He said the arms are “critical weapons systems for the military” and so the government would fast-track the procurement.

Still, Bhonsle noted, despite the determination expressed by the Defence Acquisition Council, or DAC, there is a high degree of skepticism that the procurement process will be as quick as the Indian military wants it to be.

In a statement, the MoD said its procurement of light machine guns for the military would go through ”the fast track procedure at an estimated cost of over $284.21 million.”

“This procurement will meet the operational requirement of the troops deployed on the borders. A concurrent proposal is being processed for the balance quantity to be procured under the Buy and Make (Indian) categorization,” the MoD said.

DAC approved the procurement of 740,000 assault rifles to be manufactured by state-owned Ordnance Factory Board, or OFB, and private defense companies at an estimated cost of $1.91 billion under the Buy & Make (Indian) category.

Under the new programs, the MoD also approved the purchase of 5,719 sniper rifles for the Indian Army and the Air Force for about $153.43 million.

An MoD official said India is looking to foreign companies to offer off-the-shelf small arms, including Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC of the United States; Beretta of Italy; Czeska Zbrojovka of the Czech Republic; Rosoboronexport of Russia; and Israel Weapon Industries, or IWI, of Israel.

A separate domestic tender will be awarded later this year to local private companies, including Bharat Forge, Reliance Defence, Mahindra Defence Systems, Punj Lloyd and MKU. The bulk of this separate order will be awarded to OFB manufactures on a nomination basis to build assault rifles in partnership with overseas original equipment manufactures.

Currently, only OFB produces small arms, including assault rifles. Private company Punj Lloyd has set up a manufacturing facility to produce small arms in partnership with IWI.

“The service needs new 7.62x51mm caliber assault rifles on priority, as state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization developed 7.62x45mm caliber assault rifle is only a technology demonstrator and does not fully meet the requirements” the Army official noted.

The Army wants new assault rifles mounted with reflex sights, equipped with under-barrel grenade launchers and able to fire locally produced ammunition.

The new lightweight assault rifles should have an effective range of 500 meters, should be compatible with visible laser-target pointers, holographic and other sights, and its metallurgy and performance parameters must remain relevant for the next 25-30 years.

The new assault rifles will replace homemade Indian small arms system, or INSAS, 5.56mm assault rifles, which repeatedly faces technical snags.

In addition to the INSAS rifles, the Army uses Russian Kalashnikov-designed 7.62mm AK-47 and the IWI-made 5.56mm Tavor assault rifles.

Additionally, the MoD approved the acquisition of an undisclosed number of advanced torpedo decoy systems for warships at a cost of $132.81 million to be manufactured by state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited on nomination.

All new programs will be awarded separately to overseas and domestic defense companies in the next three to five years.

Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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