The army is set to launch a fresh hunt for assault rifles, light machine guns (LMGs) and carbines after a string of failed attempts to equip its soldiers with these basic weapons during the past decade, a senior officer said on Sunday.The officer said the force’s road map for infantry modernisation was taking shape with the government preparing to release a tender for 7.7 lakh assault rifles and redoubling its efforts to buy more than 54,000 LMGs and 44,618 carbines – weapons that are expected to cost upwards of Rs 45,000 crore.“Indian soldiers are the best in the world but the worst equipped,” said Lieutenant General Rajender Singh (retd), who was director general of infantry in 2007-08. It was during his tenure that the army moved files to buy these weapons.“The delay is absolutely shocking. Our casualties in counter-terror operations can be reduced by half if soldiers are provided better assault rifles,” General Singh told Hindustan Times. He said the assault rifles should have come by 2010-11.The army’s fruitless hunt for new assault rifles to replace the flaw-ridden 5.56mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle returned to the drawing board last year. It has once again revised and finalised the qualitative requirements for the new assault rifles and will shortly seek the defence acquisition council’s (DAC) “acceptance of necessity” for the weapon.Headed by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the DAC’s “acceptance of necessity” for weapons and systems is the first step towards making proposed procurements. She has identified equipping the soldiers with state-of-the-art weapons as one of her top priorities.“We will move a case for getting the acceptance of necessity after which a tender will be issued. It’s an extremely critical requirement and we are running years behind schedule,” said another officer.Simultaneously, the army hopes to firm up the qualitative requirements for the carbines and put out a request for information for the LMGs to take the infantry modernisation programme forward.Two tenders for carbines and LMGs have been withdrawn during the past one year as, in both cases, only a lone vendor met the army’s requirements, delaying the projects by at least six years. A single-vendor situation is a strict no-no under India’s arms purchase policy.“We have drafted simpler qualitative requirements so that a single-vendor situation does not crop up and basic weapons can be bought swiftly,” the officer said.Defence secretary Sanjay Mitra will meet the army brass early this week to discuss the LMG programme. Army sources said the Defence Research and Development Organisation had claimed that it had a weapon to replace the LMG but hadn’t offered it for trials yet despite reminders. The force plans to buy 9,000 LMGs in the first phase. The new weapons could be inducted in six to seven years.“These purchases will have a direct bearing on our operations in Jammu and Kashmir,” said former northern army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd). “Our deliverance of casualties on the enemy is not fructifying due to fault lines in the entire range of small arms except the AK-47,” said General Jaswal, who headed the army’s infantry directorate before General Singh.It was no secret that soldiers preferred AK-47s to INSAS rifles while carrying out counter-terrorism operations, said General Singh.