India will buy more than 160,000 small arms worth $553 million for troops on its disputed high-altitude borders, and has simplified the procedure for the development and manufacture of military equipment by Indian corporations, the Ministry of Defence said.
The Defence Acquisition Council cleared the purchase of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines for 3,547 crore rupees (35 billion rupees, $553 million) in a Tuesday, January 16 meeting chaired by Raksha Mantri (defense minister) Nirmala Sitharaman.
The weapons will be bought to “enable the defence forces to meet their immediate requirement for the troops deployed on the borders,” the ministry said in a statement.
New Delhi – the world’s largest defence importer – has signed several big-ticket defense deals since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014. In its most recent announcement on January 2, India agreed to buy surface-to-air missiles from Israel and precision bombs from Russia in deals worth $270 million.
Make in India procedures relaxed
The majority of the defense deals are part of Modi’s ‘Make In India’ strategy to include significant transfer of technology in defense acquisition, encouraging foreign investment in joint ventures to produce military hardware in India. Some deals have stumbled recently over the Make in India and transfer of technology conditions, including an on-again off-again purchase of Spike ATGMs from Israel.
Last October, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States is willing to provide advanced technologies to help India modernize its military, saying Washington “supports India’s emergence as a leading power.”
The Defence Acquisition Council agreed to simplify the ‘Make II’ procedure, which defines guidelines for the development and manufacture of defence equipment by Indian corporations.
The revised procedure will allow the Ministry of Defence to accept proposals from the defense industry, and allow start-ups to develop equipment for Indian Armed Forces. The criteria to participate in ‘Make II’ projects has also been relaxed by removing conditions related to credit rating and reducing financial net worth criteria, the defense ministry statement said.
India has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter long-standing territorial disputes with its nuclear-armed neighbours China and Pakistan.
India and China fought a brief war in 1962 over their border and last year were involved in a months-long showdown over a disputed Himalayan plateau.
India is also mired in conflict in the Himalayan region of Kashmir where roughly 500,000 soldiers are deployed. On January 6, four Indian police officers were killed in a explosion in Kashmir suspected to have been set off by Islamist militants.
New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sending “terrorists” across the border – one of the most heavily militarised in the world – to fight security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947, with both claiming the territory in its entirety.
India has fought three wars against Pakistan, two of them over the control of Kashmir.
With reporting by AFP