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The Indian Army Wants A Brand New Sniper Rifle

November 19, 2019

The French PGM338 is an example of a bolt action 8.6 mm rifle that matches the RFI’s description. This photo is not meant as an endorsement of the firearm. Via PGM Precision.

A request for information (RFI) published by the Indian Army this month is inviting gun manufacturers and their agents to compete for a sniper rifle tender. The firearms presented should match the characteristics listed in the RFI for a .338 caliber or 8.6 x 70 mm rifle with an effective range of 1.2 kilometers and a telescopic sight on Picatinny rails. The RFI states 1,800 rifles are needed along with 2.7 million rounds of the appropriate ammunition.

The 16 page RFI can be downloaded from the Indian Army’s website and includes appendices to be filled by the manufacturers or agents who want to participate. Applications for security clearances are to be submitted by November 20 and a vendor interaction is scheduled for November 29 at the defense ministry. The RFI expires on December 13.

The Indian Army clarified how this new RFI is supposed to complement another request from 2018 for 6,000 sniper rifles. Below is the complete set of characteristics specified by the Indian Army in the RFI:

  • The rifle must have a .338 caliber
  • Its effective range is “not less” than 1,200 meters and accuracy is less than one minute of angle or “< 1 MoA”
  • Maximum weight of the rifle is not more than 9 kilograms
  • Overall length of the rifle is not more than 1,250 mm
  • The rifle’s service life is 10 years and 5,000 rounds for the barrel
  • The rifle includes a telescopic day sight

There’s no limit to the number of manufacturers and agents who can join as long as they submit the correct paperwork. The RFI’s three appendices feature a detailed questionnaire that needs to be answered along with separate application forms tailored for foreign and local firms. The total cost for 1,800 sniper rifles and their ammunition isn’t covered by the RFI although, should a contract be awarded, it may reach eight figures in US dollars. Potential vendors are hard to estimate since there are dozens of companies in Europe and North America who could submit entries as well as competition from Israel, Russia, and South Africa.

Whether or not it leads to an actual purchase, this RFI is another dispiriting turn away from India’s state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) responsible for supplying the army’s standard equipment. The OFB maintains a diverse catalog and have prototyped a bolt action sniper rifle chambered for 7.62 x 51 mm ammunition–the same caliber as the army’s venerable Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs) from the late 20th century. For several years now, the army’s procurement choices have run counter to the prevailing “Make in India” brand championed by Delhi. In early 2019 Sig Sauer won a contract for 72,400 battle rifles to augment the INSAS issued to India’s jawans. Another large batch of carbines chambered for 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition are expected to be ordered soon from a non-Indian supplier.

The need for sniper rifles with larger bullets is an urgent one. High intensity civil wars, where armies clash with non-state groups in urban theaters, and the grinding conflicts over remote geographies call for long-range precision firearms able to outmatch standard rifles. The Soviet vintage Dragunov SVD fulfilled this need for the Indian Army while special forces enjoyed their pick of foreign-made sniper rifles. For some reason, a semi-automatic sniper rifle based on the INSAS never materialized.

If the Indian Army did turn to the OFB for developing a new sniper rifle the results have a high chance of success. With decades of experience mass-producing sporting and military firearms, a bolt action sniper rifle is well within the OFB’s expertise. Fabricating its parts isn’t difficult either with the usual furniture now associated with sniper rifles consisting of an adjustable stock with a cheek rest; an ergonomic pistol grip; a lightweight receiver either made of wood or milled aluminum; and a folding bipod. An appropriate locally designed telescopic sight is feasible. In other words, just like previous episodes, the Indian armed forces have little to no reason for looking abroad.

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