New Delhi, January 16: A top government panel led by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday ended an 11-year-long wait and decided to purchase 1,66,000 assault rifles and battle carbines, the basic weapon used by soldiers, on a fast track basis for the armed forces.Also Read - Security Alert Issued In Delhi-NCR After Intelligence Inputs Of Possible Terror Attack Ahead Of Republic Day 2022

The armed forces had also accepted the need for new carbines 11 years earlier but an attempt to make the purchase finally collapsed in 2016 as only one bidder cleared the trial process. The wait for the assault rifles is a little shorter, 7 years, NDTV reported. Also Read - Indian Army Gets New Combat Uniform. Top 5 Things To Know

On Tuesday, the Defence Acquisition Council – the highest decision-making body of defence ministry on procurement – decided to cut the red tape and make sure that the armed forces get at least some of the weapons that they have sought without any more delay. Also Read - Omicron: Weekend Beating Retreat Ceremony at Suchetgarh Border Suspended Amid Covid Situation

As part of this decision, the forces will start conducting trials, shortlist guns and sign a contract as soon as possible to buy 83,895 carbines and 72,400 assault rifles.

Indian soldiers are using AK-47s and INSAS or Indian Small Arms System rifles, which are made in India, and were inducted in the Army in 1988 and were meant to be replaced this year with deadlier assault rifles of a higher calibre, especially during counter-insurgency operations along borders.

For trials, gun manufacturers from around the world including Defence Research and Development Organisation will be invited.

But the Indian Army had last year rejected assault rifles made by Ordnance Factory Board. In 2016, Excalibur, once considered a possible replacement for the in-service 5.56 mm INSAS rifle, was also rejected.

The weapons acquired and cleared by the top panel on Tuesday were meant for all services, NDTV reported.

To encourage participation of private sector in defence design and production and to give a boost to ‘Make in India’ programme, the DAC also introduced significant changes in the ‘Make II’ category of the Defence Procurement Procedure, a defence ministry statement said.

The DAC also simplified the procedure to make it industry-friendly, with minimal government control.

The revised procedure will now allow the defence ministry to accept suo motu proposals from the industry and also allow start-ups to develop equipment for the Indian Armed Forces.

The minimum qualification criteria to participate in ‘Make II’ projects has also been relaxed by removing conditions related to credit rating and reducing financial net worth criteria.

According to the earlier ‘Make II’ procedure, only two vendors were shortlisted to develop prototype equipment.

“Now, all vendors meeting the relaxed eligibility criteria will be allowed to participate in the prototype development process. The vendor will not be required to submit Detailed Project Report,” the statement said.

After accord of approval of the ‘Make II’ project by the council, all clearances will be accorded at Service HQ (SHQ) level, it added.