The Indian Army has begun its hunt for new light machine guns (LMG) as an army-led team is visiting three countries to procure about 17,000 such guns for the infantry under the fast track procedure, officials said.
The team, which left India a few days ago, is first visiting Bulgaria, where it will meet representatives from Arsenal, a gun and ammunition manufacturer. It will then go to Israel for the Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) and then to South Korea for S&T Motiv. It is visiting these manufacturers because they had responded with their bids to the army’s request for procuring 16,400 LMGs under the fast track procedure (FTP).
US-based Sig Sauer had also submitted its bid and the team had planned to visit it, but the company later said that because it has an existing order for 72,400 assault rifles for the Indian Army under the FTP and a few more orders, including from the US Army, it won’t have the production capacity for the new LMGs. So, the team decided to visit only Bulgaria, Israel and South Korea.
Last February, the Defence Acquisition Council led by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had cleared the procurement of the LMGs under the FTP. The FTP is to ensure expeditious procurement for urgent operational requirements of the regular and special forces. It is applied to cases where there has been an unforeseen delay, which is adversely affecting the capacity of the forces. The team, which also has officials from the defence ministry, will evaluate the LMGs produced by the manufacturers.
Officials explained that the army is looking at procuring an LMG with a calibre of 7.62x51mm, which will replace the in-service INSAS LMG that has a calibre of 5.56x45mm. The higher calibre means that the new LMG will be more lethal.
“It will also have belted ammunition, which means that it will have a sustained rate of fire, unlike LMGs wherein the magazine has to constantly be changed,” explained an official.
After the visits, the team is expected to return to India by May end. It will then ask the manufacturers to come to India to carry out compatibility tests with Indian made ammunition (produced by the Ordnance Factory Board) at some firing ranges.
The FTP, unlike the normal procurement route, doesn’t have lengthy user trials and only has short demonstrations like the ones to be done in India. It looks at procuring equipment which are already in service, so the time required for evaluation is minimised. The team will then submit a report to the defence ministry’s acquisition department. The lowest bidder will be selected and the contract will be signed.
“It could take about seven to eight more months for procuring the LMGs,” said an official.