The Indian Army has half a million rifles and carbines it doesn’t want, and now plans to junk them all over the next five years. The dark lining is that these infantry weapons were developed and manufactured in India to equip four lakh soldiers at an expenditure of Rs 25,000 crore over two decades. So far, so bad. Now add another Rs 50,000 crore that will have to be spent over the next decade to re-equip our soldiers with the four kinds of weapons that are key to the Army’s ‘Future Infantry Soldier as a System’ programme, and the magnitude of this self-inflicted wound becomes painfully apparent.
The INSAS, or Indian Small Arms System, was developed by the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), a laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), as per specific requirements the Indian Army formulated in the late eighties. The usual delays hounded the programme, stretching the design development across a decade. The Ordnance Factories Board, tasked with mass production of the INSAS weapons took another five years to get going; the family of weapons was first seen with Indian Army uniforms only on Republic Day 1998.
The war that broke out in Kargil next year saw the INSAS put to test, and a spate of complaints about malfunctioning and build quality of the rifle poured out of Himalayan battlefields. The rifle jammed, its polymer magazine cracked in the cold, it would go full automatic when set for a three-round burst. Many jawans remained unconvinced about the stopping power of its 5.56 mm round; they wanted their heavy 7.62s back. It didn’t help that the Nepal Army, one of the few INSAS customers outside India, had its complaints too. The INSAS glitches were fixed but advancement in firearms technology had rendered the weapons system too obsolete for the rapidly modernising Indian Army by then.
According to Lt. Gen. (Retd) P C Katoch, a Parachute Regiment officer, the INSAS family were “not the best” of weapons. “There were a number of problems with these rifles,” he said, noting that the “DRDO and OFB could come up with only such weapons after 15 years of work”.
India has now issued tenders for standard rifles and carbines and is in the process of issuing tenders for light machine guns and sniper rifles, thus completing the basic infantry quartet of small arms. Another senior serving officer said on condition of anonymity that the defence ministry had approved the import of these weapons “because it is aware of the problems” and that the development of new weapons “is not possible in a jiffy.” India spends nearly Rs 7,000 crore annually on defence research and development, and has 39 ordnance factories to manufacture weapons for its 13-lakh strong armed forces but, in the words of another senior officer: “The DRDO and OFB have failed to develop one good, modern weapon with which the troops are satisfied. As a result, we had to go in for foreign-made equipment and have issued tenders for these.”
The Indian Army is in the final stages of choosing a 5.56mm/7.62mm rifle to replace the standard INSAS 5.56mm rifle, the basic infantry weapon. “We want a rifle with new, modern features,” an infantry officer told The Sunday Standard.
The new rifle will be chosen from six offered by five foreign manufacturers— American Colt, Italian Beretta, Swiss Sig Sauer, Czech Ceska, and Israeli Weapons Industry (IWI). The rifle will have two inter-changeable barrels for 5.56 mm and 7.62mm calibres. While 5.56mm will be the primary barrel, the 7.62mm, the same as Kalashnikov calibre, will be used only in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operation sectors of Jammu and Kashmir and the North-east. The two barrels will be issued to the soldier, who would change them in the field according to his peace or operations posting. Otherwise, one of the two barrels will be mothballed and kept in the sector stores for use in times of need. The Indian Army is looking at initially buying 65,000 of these rifles at a cost of Rs 4,850 crore and plans its first induction by the middle of 2014. Through a transfer of technology, the Indian ordnance factories will manufacture another 1,40,000 rifles.
The second weapon for which tenders have been issued is the close quarter battle carbines. Initially, the Indian Army will be buying 43,000 of one of the carbines offered by Beretta, Colt, Sig Sauer and IWI at a proposed cost of Rs 3,200 crore. These will be inducted in early 2014. Another, 1,20,000 carbines of the chosen company will be licence-manufactured by the OFB.
The Indian Army is formulating qualitative requirements for two other weapons—a 5.56mm Light Machine Gun, and sniper rifles—now, and the tender will be issued shortly. The INSAS LMG in use now has a range of 700 metres and weighs 6.23 kg. The requirement for the new LMG is a range up to 1,000 metres. The weapon will be lightweight and be more lethal, officers said. This weapon too will be imported initially and later manufactured in India through technology transfer.
The sniper rifle in use with the Indian Army at present is the 1963-vintage Dragunov. But its ammunition is not manufactured by the OFB in India and needs to be bought from abroad frequently. It has a 800-metre range without a tripod and a fixed sighting system without magnification. The new sniper weapon would have a tripod to provide it stability, have a range of 1,000 metres with a sight variable magnification fitted to provide the sniper better accuracy.