A team of experts has embarked on a five-nation tour in search for suitable assault rifles and carbines for the Indian army. The weapons are to arm the Indian infantry and Rashtriya Rifle battalions deployed at the border and in counter-insurgency operations, respectively.
The team, which left on Saturday, will visit Australia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), South Korea, Israel and the United States. Meanwhile, Russia, which supplies more than 70 percent of the equipment in use by the Indian armed forces, is not on the list of countries the team is visiting.
The manufacturers which the team will visit are Thales Australia, Caracal (UAE), S&T Motiv (South Korea), Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) and Sig Sauer (US).
The reason behind the visit is that all these manufacturers have expressed interest in setting up a manufacturing base in India in response to Request for Proposals (RFP) for procuring 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines.
Russia doesn't have an assault rifle in the calibre of 7.62x51mm which we are looking for so that is why we aren't going there," said an official.
The guns are being procured through the Fast Track Procedure (FTP). A total of 12 vendors were sent RFP.
The team sent by the defence ministry is lead by a brigadier and has nine members, including representatives from army's infantry and EME (Electronics and Mechanical Engineers) corps, Directorate General of Quality Assurance and Defence Ministry.
According to the specifications laid down by the army, the assault rifle has to have a range of 500 m and weigh not more than 4 kilos, while the carbine has to have a range of 200 m and weight should not exceed 3 kilos.
After returning, the team will file its report which will have the shortlisted manufacturers and emphasis will be on giving chance to a maximum number of manufacturers to improve competition, the officials added.
Once the team evaluates the weapons, it will ask the manufacturer to bring them here to check compatibility with ammunition manufactured in India," an official said.
The next step in the process will be to invite selected vendors to India to demonstrate their product at firing ranges. This will be done on a fast track basis so as to not delay the procurement process.
The advantage of FTP compared to lengthy user trials is that it is faster and the winner is picked after the short firing demonstrations.
The FTP also ensures that the weapon which is being procured is in service with the armed forces of the country where it is manufactured or has been exported to other countries and is in service. This means that the weapon is in production and the delivery time will be shorter when compared to a weapon that is not in service and neither in production.
After the firing trials, the lowest bidder will be selected to supply the guns to the army. The signing of the contract is expected to take around six months.