|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
In February 2018, MoD had approved procurement of 5,719 sniper rifles for the Army and Air Force at an estimated cost of 982 crore from the global market under the 'Buy Global' categorisation, the ammunition for which was to be initially procured and subsequently manufactured in India. This was as sequel to Pakistan army increasingly using US-made Remington modular rifles with effective range up to 1,000m plus to target our Army and BSF soldiers astride the LoC and IB. It was also reported that new 8.6mm sniper rifles, with effective kill range of 1,200m, would replace the vintage 7.62mm Dragunov sniper rifles with 800m range that were acquired from Russia in 1990 for our Army. Another media report said that the Para (SF) units, presently holding Israeli Galil sniper rifles, are being equipped with Finnish Sako rifles with kill range of around 2,000m plus. But this was learnt later to have stalled.
During DefExpo 2018, multiple Indian firms had displayed plans and joint ventures (JVs) for developing assault rifles and sniper rifles in use by militaries of US, UK and some other western countries under 'Make in India'. But a MoD official had then stated, "It would take a long time for these weapons to be inducted into the Indian Army because procurement procedures are cumbersome". This, after yearly propaganda year after year, that procurement procedures have been simplified. But mercifully, reports in January 2019 indicated that that emergency purchase of a "very small number" of sniper rifles for troops deployed on the LoC was underway with kill range of 1500-1800m under Northern Army Commander's Special Financial Powers, and that the larger procurement of quantity 5719 new 8.6mm sniper rifles to equip all 382 infantry battalions (each battalion is authorised 10 sniper rifles) will take "another couple of years". In March 2019, Northern Command procured two new type of advanced sniper rifles (Barrett M95 .50 BMG and Beretta Scorpio TGT 'Victrix') with .338 Lapua Magnum cartridges under Army Commander's Special Financial Powers - giving own troops superior sniper power over the Pakistani army. However, the larger procurement of 5,719 sniper rifles had hit a roadblock due to firms providing sniper rifles for trials not supplying the ammunition for the trials, not being ammunition manufactures.
Options available were to ask Northern Command to procure additional .338 Lapua Magnum cartridges for the trials or let Northern Command to undertake comprehensive trials with the already imported Barrett M95 .50 BMG and Beretta Scorpio TGT 'Victrix', and choose one, and then go for 'Buy Global' or part indigenisation to equip infantry battalions. Army naturally would be taking necessary action instead of starting the procurement procedure all over again through another RFI. But now good news has arrived that an indigenous firm has developed a state-of-the-art sniper rifle. Bengaluru-based, SSS Defence has designed and developed two sniper rifles prototypes indigenously for Indian Armed Forces and hopes to put them on trial with Special Forces, while concurrently also looking at the export market. Capacity-wise, the firm has big plans considering it is establishing an 80,000 sq ft arms factory. Vivek Krishnan, CEO of SSS Defence proudly says, "We are the first to indigenously design and develop sniper rifles. We've not acquired ready-made technology from abroad only to assemble. And that we are not only going to offer the weapon, but also provide a complete solution giving users ammunition, optics and other accessories necessary to operate the weapon, makes us unique. As on date the armed forces buy all these from different companies." The two sniper rifles developed by SSS Defence are:
According to the firm, Viper has proved its accuracy from a distance of more than 1000m, while Sabre has it at a distance of 1500m. The Minute of Angle (MoA) which measures the accuracy of rifles, is best in the class of sniper rifles, comparable to global weapons. The Managing Director of SSS Defence says that rifles chambered for 7.62x51mm NATO and .338 Magnum calibers are popular among military and law enforcement snipers across the world, and that their weapons provide precision to long range shooters. SSS Defence till now has invested some Rs 20 crore as they are building their arms factory. According to the firm, the facility will be manufacturing arms with a capacity of 15,000 weapons every year from day one, increasing to 45,000 weapons in the second phase (January 2022), and eventually increasing to 80,000 weapons per annum in the third phase. SSS Defence says: these sniper rifles with ergonomically adjustable stocks will prove very useful for the Armed Forces which have personnel (men and women) of different build; the design is based on the Armed Forces most recent requirement; the weapons have already been tested in the US, where they met all requirements; the sniper rifles are modular, lightweight, ergonomically adjustable sniper chassis which is rugged, reconfigurable, low maintenance, manufactured from aerospace grade aluminum alloys, and; are impervious to foul weather and hot/cold temperature extremes. Development of these indigenous sniper rifles is without doubt is the most spectacular achievement in the small arms sphere in India since Independence, the governmental defence-industrial sector having consistently failed to make any mark here. The best part is that SSS Defence is not only providing ammunition with the sniper rifles but also optics and other accessories necessary to operate them. MoD needs to ensure early trials and follow up as necessary.