A deal that will significantly benefit the soldier on the Line of Control (LoC) and in difficult terror-prone areas of Jammu and Kashmir has been signed by the Ministry of Defence. The defence ministry and IWI, an Israeli firm, today signed a contract for the supply of about 16,000 light machine guns for the army.

The deal, worth Rs 850 crore, is another effort to ensure that the jawan, the man right on the line of control and frequently under fire, gets the best possible weaponry. Importantly, the light machine guns (LMG) will be delivered in a year and the weapons should reach the jawan shortly afterwards.

This will replace the 5.56 INSAS light machine gun that is now two decades old. With the coming of the LMG, the jawan in the infantry battalions will have the weapons it badly needed.

The Army has already received the American Sig Sauer assault rifles and the Caracal close quarter battle (CQB) carbines made in the UAE, but there were delays in getting the LMG. The defence ministry had cleared the purchase of all three weapons under the fast-track procedure in early 2019. The army had to get all three weapons as soon as possible, given the operational situation.

The decision took place after the Pulwama terror attack, in which about 40 para-military soldiers were killed. This was followed by the strike on a terror-training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan, by the Indian Air Force on February 26 and an attempted counter-strike by the Pakistan Air Force that failed. It was a tense period.

The defence ministry decided that soldiers needed improved weapons, whether it is a rifle, a carbine or an LMG and needed it quickly. In fact, the deal would have been signed but for procedural delays.

Three firms were in the race for the LMG: firms from Bulgaria and South Korea and IWI of Israel. Finally, Israel prevailed. The IWI weapon is considered more effective than the INSAS. In addition, the army will also get modern AK-203 assault rifles in the future. The Russians will be manufacturing about 6 lakh assault rifles in India. These will not only be for the army but later, for the para-military forces.