Amid scores of reports that Foreign Defence OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are seeking a foothold in India, another one is likely to be added to the list. This is for manufacturing optronic devices and rifles used by Royal Australian Army. Global Defence Watch has come to know that MKU Limited and Thales had signed two MoUs for development and production of optronic devices and F90 close quarter battle (CQB) rifles at MKU’s facilities in Kanpur.
The strategic co-operation aims to enhance the night fighting capabilities of the Indian Army and Homeland Security by equipping them with high end optronic devices. It envisages manufacturing of optronics equipment including weapon sights, night vision goggles, handheld thermal imagers and thermal infrared sensor engine for soldier systems, and other image intensification and thermal imaging systems for soldiers and platforms respectively.
For weapons, the two companies plan to cooperate so that MKU could set-up an assembly and manufacturing plant in India for the carbine version of the F90 assault rifle, combat-proven and already in service with Australian Defence Forces. Light, balanced and accurate, the rifle will be equally well suited to Indian conditions and requirements.
F90CQB (Close Quarter Battle) made its debut at the Eurosatory International Land and Air-Land Defence and Security Exhibition in Paris, France in June 2012. Subsequently in August 2015 The Australian Department of Defence signed a contract valued at US$ 73.6 million with Thales for the manufacture and delivery of 30,000 F90 assault rifles.
The new generation F90CQB has evolved from Austeyr F88 rifle which is used by defence forces of over 30 countries. F88 itself was a modification of Steyr Aug A1 originally designed by Steyr Mannlicher but upgraded under licence by Thales Australia.
F90’s bullpup design and open architecture allows it to be configured for wide range of missions. Chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition, the rifle has an extended NATO standard top rail, NATO standard accessory rail for laser aimers, improved cheek weld, and improved access to grenade launcher assembly. The weapon also features NATO standard tri-rail system for grips, bipods and visual illumination devices. F90CQB weighs 3.15kg and has a barrel that is 360mm long.
Last year Thales Australia had launched newest update to F90 to make it even more user friendly. Perhaps most prominently, in F90 Modular Bullpup Rifle (MBR), gone are the bolted-together receiver halves, replaced by the more traditional seamless vibration welding shared with the rest of the AUG family. A longer barrel, new flash hider with thread protector (presumably removable for mounting a suppressor) complete the visible changes. Thales advertises the F90MBR as a lightweight, modular weapon, featuring multiple barrel lengths, 3.25 kg (7.17 lb) weight, and “over the beach” capability. Interestingly, the company’s brochure on the weapon emphasizes a 600 meter effective range, as well. For left-handed shooters, the F90MBR includes an enlarged shell deflector to allow shooting from the left shoulder, even if the right-hand kit is installed (a left hand ejection kit is available for the rifle).
It is premature to confirm whether F90CQB if manufactured in India, would incorporate the newest changes as showcased in F90MBR. Generally such details are decided at the signing of the contract. Meanwhile Mr. Neeraj Gupta, MD of MKU was quoted to have said, “MKU is pleased to sign the strategic co-operation MoUs with Thales. This partnership will not only focus on meeting the requirements of our forces in India, but will also look at exporting the products to other parts of the world.”
Alex Cresswell, Senior Executive Vice-President for Land & Air Systems at Thales said, “We are very pleased to work in close collaboration with MKU for the development of weapons and optronic devices MKU for the development of weapons and optronic devices to address specific needs of the Indian and international markets. This co-development partnership reaffirms our commitment to India and is the result of our ambition to support soldiers on operations.”