Serious Shortfall

Stop-gap measures cannot cover up the need for small arms procurement

Jaison Deepak

The never-ending saga of the Indian Army’s small arms procurement has no relief in sight any time soon. The army has not been able to induct any new type of standard issue firearm for the past two decades. The last major procurement was the INSAS family of rifle and Light Machine Gun (LMG) which are also due for replacement, although the issues with the system seem to have been fixed, even though the bulkiness, questionable lethality and persisting hangover of past problems dog its continued use.

CRPF soldiers with INSAS rifles

The army continues to use the venerable but trusted AK-47/AKM variants and the timeless Bren LMG in counter-insurgency. The 9mm carbine, although cheap and easy to make, is relatively unsafe, it has no single shot capability and lacks the lethality to penetrate modern body armour even at close ranges. Casualties due to cross-border sniper fire from modern snipers are mounting on the Indian side while the army has to do with the older SVD which is more of a semi-automatic marksman rifle lacking a bolt action mechanism, floating barrel or bipods/tripods required for more accurate fire.


Transformational Small Arms Plans

The Indian Army is set to overhaul its entire small arms stock from rifles, carbines, LMGs to sniper rifles. The Indian Army is desirous of procuring 700,000 7.62X51mm assault rifles as the standard firearm to replace the INSAS rifles; 44,000 Light Machine Guns Chambering 7.62X51mm to replace INSAS LMG; 44,600 5.56X45mm Close Quarter Battle (CQB) carbines to replace the 9mm carbines; 5,000 Sniper rifles chambered .338 Lapua Magnum — this more on the lines of global sniper procurements as more nations move away from 7.62X51mm to .338 as the sniper cartridge offers higher range. The requirement also specifies a bolt action mechanism which is more accurate than semi auto mechanism with the currently used SVD snipers.

The whole process of procuring new arms can take years, and so temporary measures are being taken. The existing stocks of AKMs are being modernised with new hand guards, picatinny rails to mount sights and accessories and collapsible side folding buttstock from FAB Defence of Israel. With the paramilitary procuring huge numbers of AK-47s, the Indian Army might also procure some for replacing the older rifles.


The Paramilitary Shows the Way

The paramilitary and police, however, have found a way to execute their procurements in a surprisingly fast manner, making them better equipped than the army in certain aspects. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Assam Rifles have procured close to 18,000 Micro Tavor carbines for use in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Northeast and Naxal operations. The BSF has replaced the 9mm Sten carbines with the Beretta MX4 carbines, and already 34,377 carbines have been procured. Paramilitary, NSG and police force are also importing thousands for H&K MP-5 SMGs and SIG assault rifles but the most favoured firearm has been the modernised versions of the AK-47 primarily imported from Bulgaria, 68,000 have already been procured and more are in the pipeline. The CRPF 2017 procurement plan was for 29,823 AK-47 rifles, 252 sniper rifles and 1,166 MP-5A3 SMGs. Future procurements of AK-47 might be sourced from ordnance factories, imported directly or through the Indian industry.

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