The Indian Army’s fast-track procurement process for new carbines is caught in a jam.
In September 2018, Caracal International LLC finished as ‘L-1’ or the lowest bidder in a contract estimated to cost over Rs 700 crore for 93,895 of the compact close-combat weapons.
The UAE government-owned firm beat out a competing weapon from Thales Australia in the contract.
Price negotiations between the 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.
In contrast, the deal to buy assault rifles, bids for which were also opened last September, has galloped ahead.
The MoD has now put the deal on pause. (Representative image: Reuters)
In February this year, the ministry of defence (MoD) signed a Rs 700 crore contract with US-based rifle maker SiG Sauer to buy 72,400 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 wishlist floated in 2017 for new weapons to replace its vintage small arms arsenal.
Carbines are useful to soldiers for fighting close-combat situations in urban counter-insurgency areas.
Another venture — to locally produce 7,50,000 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.
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 $1150 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.
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.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)