The Indian Army will place an order for only 250,000 modern assault rifles just a third of its total requirement driven by budgetary constraints and the need to speed up deliveries, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

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The 1.3 million-strong military pruned its original requirement for 800,000 rifles, which would have cost $2.5 billion, to prioritise spending and advance the purchase of more up-to-date equipment, the person said, asking not to be identified as the information is not yet public.

The defence force has 450,000 infantry troopers, of whom only half go into ground battle and use the rifle as their primary weapon. The rest are support soldiers, the person said.

The moves are part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s $250 billion push to modernise India’s armed forces, as infantry continue to face the brunt of deadly attacks in disputed border areas such as Kashmir and the Northeast.

Plans to buy new equipment from overseas, however, have been held back by bureaucratic delays and the military’s desire to balance the needs of its troops against efforts to build equipment domestically under Modi’s ‘Make in India’ program, a key plank in his drive to boost local manufacturing.

A scouting team will be leaving later this month to meet with foreign rifle-makers, including Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, Italy’s Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A, Swiss Sig Sauer Inc., the Czech Republic’s Ceska Zbrojovka and Israel Weapons Industry Ltd. to identify the most suitable weapon, the person said.

To meet the requirement of the rest of the force, the army intends to make do with a mix of 400,000 Kalashnikov rifles and the India-made INSAS rifles.

The Indian Army’s shopping spree for small arms was triggered by its decision to phase out the two decade-old INSAS rifle, introduced in the late 1990s and built by the state-owned Ordnance Factory.

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