Indian army must wait again for new carbines


The Indian Army’s fast-track procurement process for new UAE-made Caracal carbines is caught in a jam, Sandeep Unnithan reports on dailyO. A technical committee of the Ministry of Defence has raised questions over pricing. Delays in program implementation are definitely a perpetual plague for the Indian army.


Indian army must again wait more for new carbines
The replacement of ageing rifles and carbines of the Indian army is a long saga plagued by many delays (Picture source: Army Recognition)


In September 2018, Caracal International LLC finished as ‘L-1’ or the lowest bidder in a contract estimated to cost of $ 553.33 million for 93,695 close-quarter-battle carbines (CQB) aimed at replacing indigenous INSAS rifles (Indian National Small Arms System). The UAE government-owned firm beat out a competing weapon from Thales Australia in the contract. Price negotiations between the Indian MoD and Abu Dhabi-based Caracal were concluded soon after the price bids were opened in 2018. But the contract is yet to be signed, as Army Recognition was told by a company head during IDEX 2019 in Abu Dhabi, last February.

In contrast, the deal to buy assault rifles, bids for which were also opened last September, has galloped ahead. In February 2019, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a USD 100,380,000 (Rs 700 crore) contract with US-based rifle maker SiG Sauer to buy 72,400 model 716 assault rifles. All the SiG 716 G2 rifles are to be delivered within a year of contract signing.

Caracal was one of five vendors on whom the MoD placed requests for proposals to supply modern carbines; part of the Army’s wish list floated in 2017 for new weapons to replace its vintage small arms arsenal.

Another venture to locally produce 75,000 AK-203 rifles took off recently when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated an Indo-Russian joint venture at the Ordnance Factory, Korwa in Amethi on March 3, 2019.

There are believed to be several reasons behind the delay in the carbine deal. The first is an MoD-appointed technical oversight committee which has questioned how the weapons chambered for the smaller 5.56x45 mm bullet calibre could be costlier than the SiG Sauer rifle which fires the larger 7.62x51 mm calibre round. Each SiG rifle is believed to cost only $990 while the Caracal 816 costs $1,150 a piece. In 2018, rival firms South Korea’s S&T Motiv and Thales Australia complained to the MoD that Caracal was not technically qualified for the deal. These grievances are believed to have been settled before the MoD opened price bids.

The MoD has now put the deal on pause. The Army, happy to have at least two small arms deals going after a decade of procurement failures, is not exactly complaining, Sandeep Unnithan comments. For New Delhi, buying a weapon from Russia, the US and now, new best friend, the UAE, could close the loop on its diplomatic priorities. How the MoD will respond to the Caracal jam is now perhaps a question that will be answered only after the elections. Last February, during IDEX 2019, Army Recognition was asked to not publish too quickly about this contract, as some “difficulties” were not yet solved and the contract not yet signed. The trouble is indeed ongoing.


 

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