Thursday, July 23, 2009

Infantry, special forces to get new guns

In the dazzle of strategic missiles, fighter jets, nuclear submarines and main-battle tanks, basic infantry gear often gets short shrift. No longer. The 1.13-million strong Army is now on course to ink three deals for 3,90,000 new-generation carbines and assault rifles.Defence ministry sources said the aim was to seal the deals, worth around Rs 7,000 crore, `as soon as possible' to bolster the `combat potential' of infantry soldiers and special forces. Interestingly enough, the first phase of Army's high-tech F-INSAS (future infantry soldier as a system) project in the pipeline also focuses on enhancing the `lethality and survivability' of foot-soldiers. F-INSAS, in fact, wants to transform soldiers into self-contained, fully-networked, mobile killing machines, with a high degree of `situational awareness' and capable of operating in all-terrain and all-weather conditions. Under it, infantry soldiers are to be progressively equipped with light-weight integrated ballistic helmets with `heads-up display' and miniaturised communication systems; portable visual, chemical and biological sensors; hand-held computer displays, GPS and video links; and of course lethal firepower with laser-guided modular weapon systems. The biggest of the three deals to be inked is the project to buy 43,318 `close-quarter battle' (CQB) carbines off-the-shelf from abroad for around Rs 4,400 crore, which is to be followed by the indigenous manufacture of another 1,16,764 similar guns under transfer of technology. "The global tender for CQB carbines was issued in early-2008. The deal should be inked within the 2009-10 fiscal," said a source. Soldiers will find the compact and modular carbines, equipped with night-vision devices, laser designators and detachable under-barrel grenade launchers, much easier to operate than full-length rifles. Under the second Rs 2,183 crore project, the Ordnance Factory Board is to manufacture 2,18,320 advanced carbines based on the new 5.56-mm model developed indigenously. The third deal, in turn, is the procurement of 10,730 light-weight assault rifles for Rs 385 crore. Incidentally, the 10 existing battalions of Parachute Regiment, each with around 850 soldiers, have now more or less been reorganised into seven Para-SF (Special Forces) and three Para-SF (airborne) units. But equipping these special forces, tasked with conducting clandestine and `irregular' warfare deep behind enemy lines, with specialised equipment has taken place in quite a slipshod manner till now. Army, however, says the 40 specialised items earmarked for special forces are now being fast-tracked. These include weaponry like TAR-21 Tavor assault rifles and M4A1 carbines, all-terrain multi-utility vehicles and GPS navigation systems, modular acquisition devices and laser range-finders, high-frequency communication sets and combat free-fall parachutes, among other equipment, from countries like the US, Israel, France and Sweden.

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