Nepali Times
Jumping the gun?

The race to supply the Royal Nepal Army with a new generation of rifles and carbines to replace its ageing SLRs is going into its final lap. The main contenders include the German G-36, US-made M-16s and Israeli Galils, and they are all neck-to-neck in this high-stakes deal which could total some $ 50 million over the next five years. All are assault rifles that use imported 5.56mm calibre, "double base" ammunition that have a killing range of up to 600 m.

According to military sources, the G-36 which had been a favourite because of intense lobbying is now falling behind after a high-level field test showed defects with its sophisticated optical sight. The rifle optical sight needs zeroing every time it is jerked, and is not battle-tested.

The G-36 is made by the German company, Heckler & Koch which is partly owned by British Royal Ordnance. The G-36 was reported to have an edge over its rivals because the manufacturers had won a $ 5 million deal to set up a maintenance and repair facility for the rifle. The maintenance deal was finalised before the rifle was selected. Nepali media has taken a keen interest in the deal, and there have been reports that the German contract is linked to the army's decision to purchase the RJ-100 jet last year. That deal was scuttled because of media pressure and intense lobbying by rivals. A well-known Nepali commission agent is the representative in Nepal for both Heckler & Koch (Royal Ordnance) and British Aerospace.

Complications arose because BAe had already paid its commission to the agent on the RJ100 deal, and the G-36 repair shop was offered as a swap. Said the source: "With a purchase of this scale, any other manufacturer would have given the maintenance workshop for free if we had bargained hard."

It is standard operating procedure to pay a sales commission to the manufacturer's agent, and whatever gun the army buys there will commissions involved. But informed insiders say this should not be an excuse to push through an inappropriate gun, just because some past deal didn't materialise. The other issue is weapons standardisation.

The army presently has a requirement for 50,000 guns, which include assault rifles, light machine guns, grenade launchers and carbines. Most officers and rank-and-file soldiers seem to prefer weapons like the M-16 which they have used while on UN peacekeeping duty and of which the army already has some 4,500 units. Still others find the Israeli Galil even more suitable because it is lighter, and more durable because of its solid body parts.

The gun purchase has a sense of urgency because the army is thinking of passing on its Belgian SLRs to the Armed Police Force that the government is setting up to fight the Maoists, and for internal peacekeeping. Many would debate whether one of the world's poorest countries should be spending so much on guns. But if they are needed, then they have to be the right equipment at the right price.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)