The Indian army with about 450 infantry battalions at its disposal is largely an infantry predominant force. These battalions serve as the country’s first line of protection. Even though the infantry is in contact with hostile forces almost on every day basis, it is alarming to note that the arm is haunted by scarcity of even basic equipment, such as rifles, bullet proof vests and night vision equipment.

The Government in an effort to enhance the capabilities of the Arm has, since the last year, been making herculean efforts to add traction to the modernisation programs. Following repeated alarms by the Army HQ about the depleting fighting capabilities, the Government realising the gravity of the situation has cleared of these basic equipment at a renewed pace.

At the core of the Government’s push to re-energise the fighting arm has been the case for procurement of reliable and lethal assault rifle. The Army has over the years raised a need for at least 2,00,000 rifles to arm the forward deployed troops. Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, briefing the media about the modernization programs for the infantry had said “Modernisation of infantry is very much on cards and you will soon see the induction of modern weapon system, surveillance system and all that is required to support the infantry is coming in very soon.”

Chalking the modernisation program, the Chief said, that the Army in an effort to work around the budgetary constraints had now decided to breakdown the procurement of rifles into two distinct categories, wherein, forward deployed troops, who are actively in contact with hostile forces, will be equipped with the globally acquired rifles; whereas for the troops deployed in rear flanks the Army is to acquire an indigenous rifle.

He had also revealed that the Indian Army has in fact decided to make a shift from the 5.56X45mm standard assault rifles to weapon systems chambered with 7.62X51mm rounds from global vendors. This shift has meant that the Army has after all designed to adopt a ‘shoot-to-kill’ doctrine over its much criticized ‘shoot-to-maim’ doctrine.

The Army Chief addressing to the media in last month had stated that the Northern Command of the Indian Army taking care of the borders with Pakistan and some parts of Line of Actual Control is soon going to be equipped with new sniper rifles. And, the induction of 70,000+ SIG 716 assault rifles from U.S. firm Sig Sauer Inc. has been started by the Indian Army followed with the induction of new sniper rifles in limited numbers through the emergency purchase power of the Northern Commander.

Till date, Indian Army was using the Russian Dragunov sniper rifle using 7.62×54 mmR cartridge, which was acquired in early 1990s from Russia. These assault rifles with the range of 800mts were not backed with modern magnification and sight systems, bipod systems and to add to the list of worries, their ammunition is very expensive. Almost for three decades, even though the scenarios were escalating, Indian Army had to deal with threats depending on this sniper rifle of Soviet era.

In a move to achieve modernisation, Indian Army has inducted a limited number of sniper rifles from global players to replace the decades old Dragunov SVD rifles.

According to the reports, soldiers of the Northern Command are being equipped with .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT by Beretta, and the .50 Calibre M95 by Barrett. The Scorpio TGT by Beretta, is a state-of-the-art assault rifle from the stables of Victrix Armaments owned by the Italian firm, Beretta. According to the Victrix Armaments, the rifle can be fully customised to meet the demanding needs during an operation due to the design based on Fully Modular Rifle Chassis and ensures the highest degree of accuracy and repeatability. The Scorpio TGT uses the .338 Lapua Magnum, a rimless, bottlenecked, centre-fire rifle cartridge. It was developed during the 1980s as high-powered, long-range cartridge for military snipers. It can penetrate better-than-standard military body armour at ranges up to 1,000 meters and has a maximum effective range of about 1,750 meters.

The other assault rifle that is made available to the Indian Army is US-made M95 by Barrett, which has an effective range of 1,800 meters. The M95 uses the .50BMG cartridge, which was originally developed for and used in Browning M2 heavy machine gun. This is an anti-material rifle that can be used to destroy enemy assets including aircraft, radar units and trucks from a long range. Even-though it is anti-material in nature, it is generally used as a long-range anti-personnel sniper rifle. Adding to the list, its ammunition can penetrate through bricks and concrete allowing the user to hit the enemies taking cover.

The Ministry of Defence has also given nod to the procurement of 70,000+ assault rifles from US arms-manufacturing firm SIG Sauer. SiG 716 will be replacing the indigenous INSAS rifle. These assault rifles use the 7.62x51mm cartridge, which was sought by the Indian Army for years. As per the reports, the US firm will have to deliver the rifles within a year from the date of finalising the deal.

An Indian Army paratrooper with the 50th Independent Para Brigade examines an M4 carbine prior to sighting in the weapon May 4, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. He and fellow paratroopers are familiarizing themselves with the American weapons in preparation for field training exercises with U.S. Army paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team during the annual Yudh Abyhas U.S. – India training exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

As per the reports, Indian Army’s infantry unit has an overall requirement of 6,50,000 assault rifles. The Ministry of Defence is already in talks with Russian counterpart to licence-produce the modern variant of the AK-47, the AK-103 assault rifle in one of the Indian Ordnance Factories. The number increases significantly when the list of requirements is inclusive of carbines, sniper rifles and light machine guns. Considering the execution of Indian Army’s modernisation plan, at least the infantry arm will be equipped with modern equipment and weapons in coming years. However, any change of requirement or a new RFP might just hamper the pace of modernisation.