Indian Army’s Bid to Procure Bullet-proof Jackets Under Emergency Buy Discourages Start-ups and Innovators

Indian Army

New Delhi: Facing a shortage of bulletproof jackets, the Indian Army which has been on high alert on the Northern borders as the tension continues, is now making a fresh bid for procuring bullet-proof jackets discouraging  innovators and start-ups. Looking to procure over 15,000 bullet-proof jackets under emergency financial powers given by the government, Indian Army has put in place clauses that only allow established players to contest.

As per specifications laid out in a tender issued last month by the Army, only parties that have an industrial licence and have been registered as a manufacturer for the past two years will be eligible to bid to supply the jackets. While this would qualify legacy players, a host of innovators will be left out, despite being encouraged and promoted by various defence ministry schemes under the Make in India initiative.

Besides, there are no clauses that restrict the use of Chinese raw material in jackets being supplied to the Army. Earlier this year the defence ministry had mandated that Indian manufacturers need to certify that they are not dealing with Chinese entities. In tenders issued by the Coast Guard and Navy this year, a specific clause had been introduced that banned the use of raw material from China. What has apparently made the government cautious regarding Chinese material is a report which said a chunk of the Rs 639 crore paid for the jackets by the Army landed up with Chinese companies after the Indian company changed its supplier after winning the procurement contest. In June 2020, industry bodies also urged the government to make a policy to reduce dependence on Chinese material, saying that a sizeable amount of foreign exchange is being diverted to Chinese firms for import of raw material for protective gear.

Amid the threat of the use of steel core bullets by terrorists in India, the Indian Army has issued tenders for acquiring 62,500 bulletproof jackets (BPJs) for its frontline troops which would be able to protect them from such bullets.

The Ministry of Defence has issued two separate tenders for these jackets under Make in India including one for 47,627 jackets under the normal route and the other one for 15,000 jackets under emergency procurement procedures which would be finalised in the next three to four months, Indian Army officials said. The procurement for 47,627 jackets would be done in phases and is expected to be completed in the next 18-24 months, they said.

According to the specifications laid down by the Army, the BPJs should be able to protect a soldier against 7.62 mm armour-piercing rifle ammunition as well as steel core bullets fired from a distance of 10 metres. The BPJs required for protection against armour piercing ammunition, whose velocity is higher than that of other bullets, should weigh less than 10 kg, while the weight of those meant for use against steel core rounds should not exceed 11.8 kg in the case of large-sized jackets.

In some of the incidents in the Kashmir valley, terrorists used American armour-piercing bullets in encounters with Indian security forces and were successful in breaching the bulletproof jackets of soldiers. The APBs along with the M-16 assault rifles and M-4 carbines have been left behind in huge numbers by the retreating American Army which quit Afghanistan, 20 years after it started the war against terror. Following its retreat, Afghanistan fell into Taliban control.

The jackets being procured through these two tenders would be level 4 which are considered to be effective against steel core bullets and would be first provided to the troops deployed in terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir. The forces would make sure that these jackets have been made in India and that the material is not sourced from any adversary which clearly indicates that Chinese goods would be discouraged.

The Ministry of Defence issued the tender for the jackets under Make in India and the procurement would be done in phases after all the modalities have been finalised and user trials concluded, defence sources said.

A shortage of bulletproof jackets has been dodging the army for many years and in the past, the procurement process, as well as trials, have generated controversy pertaining to the source as well as the quality. The Indian Army is expected to issue another tender for full-body protection bulletproof jackets which would be produced by one of the selected Indian defence industry partners.

Responding to concerns over the use of Chinese raw material in the manufacturing of bulletproof jackets for Indian armed forces, Niti Aayog member VK Saraswat argued that the import of Chinese raw material is market driven and cheaper than others.  Indian companies producing bulletproof jackets for the Army are importing Chinese raw material due to price advantage but there are no concerns yet about the quality of these body armours, a Niti Aayog member has said.

Responding to questions over concern on use of Chinese raw material in the manufacturing of bulletproof jackets for Indian armed forces, VK Saraswat, former DRDO Chief said they can intervene only if body armours produced with Chinese material are below standard, but there are no such reports as of now. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had asked Niti Aayog to prepare a roadmap for “incentivising” domestic manufacturing of lightweight body armours (bulletproof jackets). The Bureau of Indian Standards has also finalised quality norms for body armours to be used by Indian forces, according to Saraswat.

Playing down the concerns, Saraswat argued that the import of Chinese raw material is market driven and cheaper than others. “That is a market force, we can’t do much about this. Only thing is if we find that the bulletproof jackets produced by the Chinese material are not up to the mark, then we will have to say, as of now there is no such report,” the former DRDO chief said. “We have done standardisation of bulletproof jackets. The standards have been laid by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Testing standards have been laid.”

According to government projections, more than 3 lakh bulletproof jackets will be required by Indian armed forces, Saraswat said, adding “based on that, armed forces have already placed order with private companies in India for production of bullet proof jackets.”

Indian companies were earlier procuring raw materials for bulletproof jackets from the US and Europe. Now, most of them are being obtained from China due to lower prices. The idea of manufacturing lightweight bulletproof jackets in India was mooted as the bulletproof vests currently in use by the Indian forces are very heavy. Indian companies like Kanpur-based MKU and Tata Advanced Materials export body armour to armed forces of many countries. If the lightweight bulletproof vests and helmets are produced in bulk within the country, it will ensure low-cost supplies and end the indefinite wait for foreign vendors to supply the equipment.