The Indian Armed Forces have initiated a fresh process to buy over 4,800 sniper rifles at a cost of more than Rs 450 crore after the defence procurement board last month accorded the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the procurement.
In a Request for Information (RFI) published on Tuesday, the Army said that around 4,800 .338 sniper rifles with telescopic sight will be procured under the “Buy Indian” category along with 78 lakh rounds of ammunition.
As per defence sources, around 4,500 sniper rifles will go to the Army, over 200 to the Indian Air Force and the rest to the Navy.
As per the RFI, the new sniper rifles will use the .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition and will have a range of 1,200 metres or more.
They should have a service life of minimum 10 years or 5,000 rounds and the ammunition should also have a shelf life of 10 years.
The RFI states that the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the procurement would be tentatively issued by September this year.
The recent RFI marks the latest attempt of the defence forces to buy the long-range weapon.
Amid increased threats of sniper attacks, particularly at the Line of Control, and to gain a tactical advantage over the enemy from a distance, the Army has been trying to get new advanced sniper rifles for the past five years to replace the ageing Soviet-era 1963 vintage Dragunov sniper rifle, which is in use with the Army since the 1990s.
In 2018, the Defence Acquisition Council headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh had cleared the purchase of 5,700 high-precision sniper rifles at an estimated cost of Rs 982 crore under the “Buy Global” categorisation. The defence ministry had then said their ammunition will be subsequently manufactured in India.
A RFP for the purchase of 5,700 sniper rifles floated subsequently was scrapped in June 2019 due to lack of enough responses from firms, who could manufacture their ammunition as well, and after the technical evaluation committee declared the vendors as non-compliant.
WHY REQUIREMENT WAS REVISED
Fuelled by increasing threats of sniper attacks at the Line of Control (LoC), the Northern Command in 2019 — using the Commander’s special financial powers — procured two new sniper rifles in limited quantities.
This included the Barrett M95 .50 BMG from the United States and Beretta Victrix Scorpio TGT from Italy, with .338 Lapua Magnum cartridges.
Subsequently, the Army also made an emergency procurement of limited quantity of the Finnish Sako .338 TRG-42 sniper rifles last year. The rifles have already been inducted by the snipers at the LoC.
While the latest RFI seems like a cutting down of the initial requirement of 5,700 sniper rifles to 4,800, defence sources said that a revision of the requirement was carried out after specific quantities of various advanced sniper rifles were bought under emergency routes and by way of using special powers.
“The requirements were revised after some other advanced sniper rifles were inducted in the interim period. As the troops have been using .338 Sako sniper rifles, the latest RFI decided to go with the same requirement,” a source said.
The source added that the range of the Dragunov sniper rifles, which uses a 7.62×54 mm rimmed cartridge, is 600-800 metres. “The new sniper rifles will have a range over a kilometre,” the source added.
Sources said the requirement of the sniper rifle also stemmed from an increased requirement of high-precision long range weapons, especially for counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations.
“The weapons can deliver a lethal blow on the enemy by surprising him, while letting the sniper remain anonymous and also without escalating tensions,” the source quoted above said.