NEW DELHI: India on Thursday inked a Rs 880 crore deal to acquire 16,479 Israeli light machine guns (LMGs) for its frontline troops deployed on the borders with China and Pakistan, a long-standing requirement first demanded by the Army over a decade ago.
The 16,479 Negev 7.62×51 mm LMGs, however, will fulfil only part of the overall requirement for well over 43,000 such guns for the Army, IAF and Navy. “The Negev LMGs, manufactured by the Israel Weapons Industries, are combat-proven weapons currently used by several countries around the globe. The shortfall, like in the case of assault rifles, will be made through a ‘Make in India’ project,” said an official.
“The Negev LMGs will greatly enhance the lethality and range of soldiers as compared to their existing weapons. The provisioning of this operationally urgent and very critically needed weapon will boost the confidence of the frontline troops,” he added.
The Army had first asked for new assault rifles and close-quarter battle carbines for its 382 infantry battalions (with 850 soldiers each) way back in 2005, while the case for the LMGs was initiated in 2009. But the long-drawn procurement projects were repeatedly scrapped due to graft allegations or unrealistic technical parameters as well as the lack of indigenous options for well over a decade.
Then, the government in 2018 decided to procure limited quantities of assault rifles (72,400), close-quarter battle carbines (93,895) and LMGs (16,479) for frontline troops from abroad, with the shortfalls to be eventually manufactured in India with lesser technical specifications and parameters at a later stage.
The first contract to be inked in February 2019 was for 72,400 assault rifles from US firm SiG Sauer for Rs 638 crore, under which inductions of these 7.62x51mm caliber rifles are almost complete now. These US-origin rifles have an “effective range” of 500-metre.
The Korwa ordnance factory in Uttar Pradesh, in turn, is slated to progressively manufacture 7,45,000 Kalashnikov AK-203 rifles in a joint venture with Russia. These 7.62×39 mm caliber rifles, a derivative of the iconic AK-47, have “an effective range” of 300-metre.