The army has initiated the process for procuring weapons after years of delay
The Indian Army’s weapon systems have been plagued by obsolescence and both the army and numerous parliamentary committees have acknowledged this ‘critical hollowness’. The army has finally begun the procurement process for a number of weapons after years of avoidable delay.
The Request for Information (RFI) for approximately 5.5 lakh assault rifles was issued on 23 February 2018. The RFI was initially issued in September 2016 but a series of convoluted steps exacerbated the delay. It now seeks a 7.62mm x 51mm rifle to ‘Shoot to Kill’ with an effective range of minimum 500 metres. The RFI also seeks a modular design which is capable of fitting and firing of Indian in-service UBGL (under barrel grenade launcher) manufactured by Indian Ordnance Factory, Trichy. The equipment cleared by the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) would be put through a trial evaluation in India on a ‘No Cost No Commitment’ basis. Finally, a Contract Negotiation Committee would decide the lowest cost bidder (L1) and the selected vendor will be required to provide product support.
Another RFI for 6,000 sniper rifles with a range of not less than 1,200 metres was issued on 23 February 2018. The Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) has accorded the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) which includes the procurement of 1,00,00,000 rounds. These will be 8.6mm with half being ‘Buy’ category and the remaining half being ‘Make’ category. This RFI was initially issued in December 2016.
Indian armoured vehicles are also well past their operational capabilities. The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) project is once again set to take off after years of indecision as the project worth nearly Rs 60,000 crore has now been approved by a panel of IEMs (independent expert monitors) with the army keen to replace the ancient Soviet-era BMP-2 infantry combat vehicle fleet. The FICV is a system of system (SoS) project with advanced operational capabilities and would need innovation and reliable automotive, armament, opto-electronics and armour material.
The Indian Army also issued an RFI in November 2017 for Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV), approximately 1770 in number, along with 10 years performance-based logistics, transfer of technology, engineering support package, personnel training, and training aggregates as part of the modernisation plan. This will form the base platform for the Main Battle Tank. The FRCV is planned to be acquired under Strategic Partnership with the design acquired from a foreign OEM and manufactured in India.
The army issued another RFI for the development and supply of 60 short-range remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPASs) in November 2017. They are to be acquired under the Defence Procurement Procedure-2016. The army also identified a further number of required RPAs in the ministry of defence’s ‘Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap-2018’ to provide the industry with an overview of the country’s offensive and defensive military requirements. The document envisages different types of weapon systems that are needed up to late 2020s.
The army and navy would jointly need 100-150 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPA with an expected lifecycle of 15-20 years which should be capable of undertaking the task of search and reconnaissance of area as well as moving targets, artillery adjustment, urban security, combat SAR, coastal and maritime patrol, disaster control and protection of facilities. The army also needs 50 short range RPA, 30 hybrid RPAs, 55-70 stealth RPAs and more than 30 combat RPAs.
News reports have indicated that the defence ministry has issued Request for Proposals (RFPs) in March 2018 to select vendors for the procurement of more than 70,000 advanced assault rifles, around 90,000 carbines and a large number of light machine guns (LMGs) mainly for the army on a fast-track basis.
The RFP for manufacturing eight out of 82 types of ammunition issued in March 2017 is yet to move ahead while the remaining manufacturing orders are reserved for the Ordnance Factory Board. The eight RFPs include procurement of medium and large calibre ammunition such as 23mm HEI/APIT for the ZU/ Strella air defence gun systems to 125mm FSAPDS for the T90/T72 tanks.
The Indian Army’s modernisation plan has become a paradox, for when the weapon systems are actually put to use, they already appear dated. Political and policy obfuscation leads to high sunk costs that bloat prices leading to a weak military-industrial ecosystem. The army must prod the government and industry to work in tandem.