New Delhi: Ordinary infantry soldiers are still a long way from getting modern assault rifles and light-machine guns, new anti-tank weapons and light-weight ballistic helmets, but they are finally going to get desperately needed bullet-proof jackets after waiting for a decade.
The Army has inked a contract for “emergency” procurement of 50,000 bullet-proof jackets with Tata Advanced Materials Limited, a subsidiary of the Tata Group, for Rs 140 crore. “The jackets will be delivered from August onwards. All the jackets are to delivered by January 2017,” a defence ministry source said.
Given the huge shortage of bullet-proof jackets in the 1.18-million strong Army due to convoluted procurement procedures, Manohar Parrikar had approved this “interim emergency acquisition” through the “revenue route” soon after he took over as defence minister in November 2014.
It became all the more important after the tender for “capital procurement” of 1.86 lakh modular jackets was scrapped in October 2015 because the samples offered by six vendors “failed” to clear field trials, as was first reported by TOI.
The modern light-weight jackets, as per the Army’s new GSQRs (technical parameters or general staff qualitative requirements), were meant to adequately protect the head, neck, chest, groin and sides of the foot-soldiers as well as allow them to move with greater agility during counter-insurgency operations in “unfriendly terrain”.
But when the move came to a naught, the Army vice-chief’s existing financial powers were “relaxed as a one-time exception” to ensure urgent purchase of 50,000 jackets based on older GSQRs after ballistic tests. “The minister and Army vice-chief Lt-General M M S Rai pushed to expedite the entire process,” said a source.
The 50,000 jackets will somewhat help in meeting the Army’s requirement for 3,53,765 new jackets. Of them, 1.86 lakh jackets were to be inducted by 2012, with the remaining 1.67 lakh by 2017. While no new jackets have been acquired till now, the Army’s existing bulky ones with poor protection are also near the end of their operational life.