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India Army forced to reduce sniper rifles order to just one-third

Representational Photo: A soldier with his weapon.

Snapshot

  • Snipers posted with counter-insurgency troops in Kashmir to get new rifles
  • Money constraints, failed earlier effort to buy sniper rifles results in lowering need

By N. C. Bipindra

New Delhi: India has been forced to reduce its requirement to just 1,800 sniper rifles and 2.7-million ammunition — less than a third of its army’s total need — driven by budgetary pressures and the need to fast-track the purchase for counter-insurgency troopers posted in Jammu and Kashmir and North East.

The 1.3 million-strong Indian Army has had to prune its original requirement of 5,720 sniper rifles and 10.2-million ammunition, which would have cost the state exchequer Rs 1,000 crore ($140 million), so that it could prioritise arms purchases and get more modern weapons for its troopers, people with knowledge of the matter told Defence.Capital today.

The Indian Army has on Nov. 11 issued a Request for Information (RFI) — an initial document for assessing available equipment and technology in the market for a specific requirement — indicating its search for buying the lowered quantity of 8.6mm sniper rifles and .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition in one year. To read the RFI, download the document below:

The Indian armed forces have 450,000 infantry soldiers, of whom only half go into ground battle and a very small number of them use the sniper rifle to take out specific enemy targets through precision firing. The sniper rifles purchase move is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s $250-billion modernisation plan for the Indian armed forces, as the infantry soldiers continue to face the brunt of deadly attacks in disputed border areas such as Kashmir and the North-East.

The earlier effort by the Indian Army to buy 5,720 sniper rifles in process that began in Feb. 2018 through an RFI and a Request for Proposal (RFP in defence parlance, but tender in common usage) in Sep. 2018 was scrapped in July this year after four vendors — US-based Barrett and MSA Global, Indonesia’s Pindad PT and Russia’s Rosoboronexport — failed to meet technical requirements, including technology transfer for manufacturing the ammunition by a local industry.

This was the third time India had scrapped a tender for sniper rifles in the last 10 years. The first RFP issued in 2009-10 under the fast-track procurement procedure had to be retracted because of complaints over the yardsticks adopted for the trials of two vendors, who were down selected. This was followed by another RFP in 2012-13, but that too was withdrawn over difficult General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) formulated by the infantry directorate at the army headquarters.

Through the new bid to buy a smaller quantity of sniper rifles and ammunition, India wants to overcome the hurdles in identifying the vendor for the equipment and making the direct, urgent purchases, before it decides on placing orders for 4,000 of its remaining requirement for sniper rifles through a separate procurement process that could involve transfer of technology and local manufacturing.

To meet its urgent requirement, the Indian Army’s Udhampur-based Northern Command has already bought around 30 of two new advanced sniper rifles — Barrett M95 .50 BMG and Beretta Scorpio TGT ‘Victrix’ — along with .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition through special financial powers of the army commander responsible for Jammu and Kashmir security.

The reason for the urgent purchase is not difficult to fathom, as the Indian troopers have been facing sniper fire from Pakistani troopers, resulting in casualties, which could be easily avoided if retaliatory taking-out of targets are carried out.

With these rounds of new purchases of sniper rifles, the Indian Army will replace the in-service Soviet-era Dragunov SVD rifles and its 7.62×54-MMR ammunition procured in the mid-1990s. The Dragunov sniper rifle with a range of 800 metres is not equipped with modern magnification and sight systems as well as bipod systems, while the ammunition is very expensive.

The current requirement for modern sniper rifles envisages a range of 1.2 km and a service life of 10 years or 5,000 rounds, whichever is earlier. The new sniper rifles should not weigh more than 9 kg along with bipod, empty magazine and telescopic sight.

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