Correction: Bhupinder Yadav's rank when he was in the Indian Army was misidentified. He was a major general. A quotation by the retired officer has also been corrected to reflect that the "high-caliber" weapon the Army is switching to has "50 percent more range ... than the existing inventory."

NEW DELHI — The Indian Army is hunting the global market to buy 5,000 sniper rifles, and preference will be given to the overseas vendor who agrees to manufacture the sniper rifles in India under a technology transfer, according to a senior Ministry of Defence (MoD) official.

However, an executive of an overseas defense company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the requested number of 5,000 is too small an order for any overseas vendor to transfer technology. "In case the number increases, then many (overseas companies) could be interested," the executive added.

Last week, the Army sent a request for information (RFI) to overseas companies to elicit their interest in participating in the sniper rifle program. The solicitation was sent to Blaser Jagdwaffen GmbH of Germany; Steyr Mannlicher of Austria; SIG Sauer of Switzerland; Israel Weapon Industries of Israel; Kalashnikov Concern (Izhevsk Machinebuilding Plant) and KBP Instrument Design Bureau of Russia; Armalite and Barrett Firearms Manufacturing of the United States; and Nexter and PGM Précision of France.

The Army is seeking sniper rifles that fire 8.6mm bullets and have a higher caliber than its aging Russian Dragunov 7.62-caliber, 51mm rifles currently in operation. The new sniper rifles would replace the Dragunov rifles. 

"The Army is for the first time switching over to high caliber, i.e., 8.6x70mm, which has 50 percent more range, better fire power and accuracy than the existing inventory, giving soldiers on the borders an edge over the enemy," said Bhupinder Yadav, a retired Indian Army major general and defense analyst.

The senior MoD official said the formal tender for the sniper rifles will be given in June 2017 based on the response to the RFI.

The RFI asked overseas vendors whether the rifles could can be manufactured in India as part of a joint venture or through a transfer of license.

Currently, the Indian Army's small arms requirements are met by the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which does not have the expertise to manufacture sniper rifles.

"OFB does not have the materials, capability to manufacture a sniper rifle, which requires high metal strength to withstand the high muzzle velocity to obtain longer range. Telescopic sight is also a problem for the OFB, as presently the indigenous one has a range of 600 meters," Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier and defense analyst, said.

Since the initial requirement is so small, it would be more economical for an overseas vendor to transfer technology to an Indian manufacturer if the total demand of paramilitary forces and the Army are combined.

"The RFI has solicited on whether the rifles required can be manufactured in India as part of a joint venture or through a transfer of license. In the case the inventory of sniper rifle is standardized for both military and special forces under Ministry of Home Affairs, it may be economical to produce the weapon and its ammunition in the country in a cost-effective manner," Yadav said.

Given the slow pace of procurement, the induction, even if done directly from an overseas company, will take at least two years, Yadav added. The issuance of a request of proposal or tender is expected mid-2017, and a response to the request, a trial evaluation and contract finalization will take about two years minimum if everything goes smoothly, he offered. "As quantity required is approximately 5,000 sniper rifles, only the requirement can be met within a year, say, by 2021-22.".

The Indian Army requires a variety of small arms ranging from machine carbines to assault rifles. The small arms currently in operation have reached more than one-and-a-half times the expected shelf life.

The procurement of a variety of small arms under process include 65,000 new general assault rifles valued at $1 billion; 10,730 lightweight assault rifles valued at $70 million; 4,000 7.62mm light machine guns valued at $100 million; and an unspecified number of 12.7-caliber, 99mm heavy machine guns.

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