Eye on Target

The Indian Army is inducting a wide range of infantry small arms from abroad with indigenous efforts having stalled

Atul Chandra

In a curious irony for the Indian defence ecosystem, the Indian armed forces have had to opt for the import of virtually their entire requirement of infantry small arms from foreign companies. This is despite the success in the recent decade in the development of highly sophisticated defence equipment such as fighter aircraft, helicopters, warships, submarines and a wide range of missiles and rockets. Despite having developed such high-end defence equipment, the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) and Indian Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) have woefully failed in developing modern infantry small arms for the Indian armed forces.

The MoD has placedorders with Sig Sauer for over 1.4 lakh SIG716 rifles
The MoD has placed orders with Sig Sauer for over 1.4 lakh SIG716 rifles

The ongoing import or assembly under license of lakhs of assault rifles, carbines, light machine guns (LMG), medium machine guns (MMG), sniper rifles and pistols signals the nearly complete collapse of indigenous efforts to develop infantry small arms since the 5.56 millimetre INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle was inducted into service in 1994. As of October 2021, DRDO had supplied approximately 20 lakh INSAS assault rifles and one lakh INSAS LMGs. The INSAS rifles make use of indigenous 5.56x45 millimetre ammunition which is a modified version of NATO SS109 ammunition.

In January 2021, the ministry of defence (MoD) announced that an indigenous 9 millimetre machine pistol had been jointly developed by DRDO and Indian Army. Infantry School, Mhow and DRDO’s Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune had designed and developed this weapon in a record time of four months. In a statement, the MoD announced that the machine pistol was likely to have a production cost under INR 50,000 each with potential for exports. The 3D printing process had been used in designing and prototyping of various parts including the trigger components made with metal 3D printing. The weapon which fires the in-service 9 millimetre ammunition, featured an upper receiver made from aircraft grade aluminium and a lower receiver from carbon fibre.

The MoD stated at the time that there was huge potential in the armed forces for such a weapon for use as a personal small arm for heavy weapon detachments, commanders, tank and aircraft crews, drivers/dispatch riders, radio/radar operators, close-quarter battle, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, etc. However, it is not clear if the machine pistol has received any sizeable orders since the announcement in January 2021.


Import Route

It was in November 2011 that the MoD issued a request for proposal (RFP) for the replacement of the INSAS with a new generation assault rifle. After detailed deliberations, the Indian Army revised the calibre for its new assault rifle to 7.62x51 millimetres and a request for information (RFI) for the new assault rifle was uploaded on the MoD website in September 2016.

The Defence acquisition council (DAC) went on to approve the procurement of infantry rifles and machine guns worth INR 21,600 for the armed forces in February 2018. It first approved an INR 12,280 crore purchase of 7,40,000 assault rifles (7.62x51 millimetre), in addition to approving a fast track procedure (FTP) for procurement of 7.62 millimetre LMGs for all three services worth INR 1,819 crore. It also gave its approval for the procurement of 41,000 LMGs and over 3,50,000 close quarter battle (CQB) carbines (5.56x30 millimetre) worth INR 4,607 crore and INR 3,000 crore respectively. In July 2022, the DAC granted the acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the induction of nearly 4,00,000 CQB carbines for the armed forces.


New Assault Rifles

The army opted for Russian Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles as the future weapon for its soldiers and the contract for procurement of 6,01,427 AK-203s was inked in December 2021 between the MoD and Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL). Deliveries of all 6,01,427 AK-203s was planned for completion within 10 years of delivery of the first weapon. An initial batch of 70,000 AK-203s was to have been imported from Russia.

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