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SA Procurement: Resolving Indian Army’s Carbine Conundrum

Published Feb 18, 2021
Updated Feb 18, 2021

Indian Army procurement managers have much homework to do to meet not the just the DAQ deadline for FTP but to improve operational capabilities of front line soldiers to procure close quarter weapons popularly known as carbines in quick time in the third bid undertaken since 2008.

Issue Under Consideration

The Indian Army has issued a Request for Information (RFI) for procurement of 93,895 carbines on February 10. This is at least the third attempt by the Army to procure a weapon that is basic arm for officers and soldiers in the front line who need to carry a lighter firearm than an assault rifle.

The present tranche is a part of the larger requirement of the Indian Army and other services for over 300,000 weapons thus would be an attractive proposition for any supplier.

The Qualitative Requirements (QRs) are for a range of 200 m with a weight below 3.3kg, foldable with extension with accuracy requirements which seem standard at first sight.

Past Legacy

The first attempt by the Army to procure carbines commenced in 2008 as per Janes Defence Correspondent in India Mr Rahul Bedi, 13 years later the first step for procuring the same weapon has recommenced.

A review of the RFI issued interestingly under the Fast Track Process (FTP) of the revamped Defence Acquisition Process (DAP) 2020 denotes challenges in achieving the objective of procurement in quick time unless Army procurement managers overcome past legacy.

The aim of the FTP, outlined in DAP 2020 is, “to ensure expeditious procurement for urgent operational requirements of the Armed Forces, foreseen as imminent during war as well as peace time and for situations in which crisis emerges without prior warning. FTP may also be applied for cases where timelines of the normal prescribed procedure in procuring of operationally critical equipment is seen to be adversely impacting the capability and operational preparedness of the Armed Forces”.

Interestingly the previous procurement process which commenced in 2018 leading to shortlisting of the UAE provided Caracal CAR 816 was also through FTP but could not fructify due to unrealistic processing at the commercial stage amongst other factors which are not fully established.

Clearly benchmark pricing was not carried out which should have been a part of the initial process thus leading to an assessment at the final stage that the carbines were over priced apart from lack of indigenous content.

Current FTP Contenders

In the instant case the FTP is clearly due to operational requirement arising from tardy processing of previous requirements and there is no surety that the anomalies will be overcome now.

This is particularly so as in the multi vendor scenario the RFI has been reportedly send to 40 vendors including the past selectee UAE firm Caracal, as well as its nearest competitor to Thales (Australia). Other companies including high profile companies as Adani Defence (India) Colt and SIG Sauer of the U.S. and Beretta (Italy).

In all likelihood these are likely to be the principal contenders apart from newbie Indian firms which are attempting to make a mark in the Indian defence market after preference has been shown for the private sector.

Not to be left behind is the government owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation

Defence Research and Development Organsiation (DRDO) designed 5.56×30 mm Protective Carbine has successfully undergone the final phase of User trials on 7th December 2020 meeting all the GSQR parameters. However this does not meet the caliber criteria which is for NATO standard 45mm.

OFB is reportedly also vying to be part of the process. With government bias towards enterprises owned by it, this could be another strong contender. More over ammunition for the carbines will be provided by the OFB.

Challenges

The time lines specified for procurement under FTP in the DAP 2020 is as given below where the process is to be completed in 216 days or seven months after initiation of the proposal.

Given the multi vendor scenario with 40 contenders which may be shortlisted to at least five to six involves huge amount of staff work to ensure that there are no legal complications arising from a vendor alleging bias. Interestingly in the past Thales Australia had raised some issues with reference to award of contract by Caracal. Thus commercial challenges could be expected.

At the same time none of the firms have the necessary heft to be able to provide the required numbers within the time frame required as well as the desired indigenous content.

The Indian Army procurement managers have thus much homework to do to meet not the DAQ deadline for FTP but to improve operational capabilities of front line soldiers.

Time Line for FTP

1. Initiation of Proposal by SHQ –

2. Analysis of the Services Requirement and Acceptance

of Necessity by the committee chaired by RM 7-14 days

3. Preparation, vetting, approval and issue of the Request

for Proposal 10 days

4. Receipt of Responses from vendors 30-45 days

5. Technical Evaluation* 10 days

6. On site Evaluations by Empowered Committee* 15-45 days

7. Approval of Empowered Committee’s report 7 days

8. Commercial Negotiations 15-45 days

9. Oversight Committee (if applicable) 10 days

10. Approval of Competent Financial Authority 10-15 days

11. Contract Signing 8-15 days

Minimum and Maximum Time Period 122 – 216 days

Delivery (from the date of signing of contract) 3-12 months

* Activities at Ser 5 and 6 would be carried out only for procurement of new equipment.