The Indian Army’s pursuit of a new assault rifle has thrown the private industry into a state of bewilderment, as it grapples with two seemingly parallel procurement processes. The confusion arises from a competitive process involving the Indian industry and a potential direct purchase from Russia, adding complexity to the crucial Rs 12,280-crore deal for 6.5 lakh urgently needed assault rifles.
In an intriguing turn of events, discussions with the Russian government have been ongoing for a direct acquisition of AK103 assault rifles, to be produced through a joint venture led by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) in India. Intensive talks on localization content and technology transfer have fueled expectations of an intergovernmental agreement in the coming months.
However, the plot thickens as the Indian industry responded to the Army’s request for information with proposals to manufacture the rifles locally under the Buy and Make (Indian) category. Notably, the AK103 has also entered this competitive process, with the Adani Group presenting a proposal in collaboration with the Kalashnikov Concern.
Sources reveal that industry stakeholders have been left in the dark regarding the fate of the competitive procurement process, particularly after being informed that only 25% of the total quantity required would be allocated to the OFB, leaving the rest open to the private sector. This ambiguity has further intensified with the ongoing talks with Russia.
While a competitive procurement process is the preferred model for such orders, the Ministry of Defence holds the authority to potentially override the private sector-led process in favor of a direct government purchase, a scenario reminiscent of the controversial Rafale deal.
International contenders vying to collaborate with Indian industry for the contract include Arsenal (Bulgaria), Sig Sauer (US), IWI (Israel), Beretta (Italy), Colt (US), and Caracal (UAE). Indian companies expressing interest in the contract encompass the Punj Lloyd group, Reliance Defence, and the Kalyani Group, among others. The unfolding developments underscore the intricate challenges faced by the Indian Army and the private sector in navigating this critical arms procurement decision.