Shoot to Kill

The Indian Army has finally readied one of its largest procurement plans for infantry modernisation

Aditya Kakkar

According to the United States Marine Corps’ Rifleman’s Creed, “My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me.”

BATTLE-HARDENED Indian Army soldiers during an encounter in Bemina, Kashmir

The Indian Army has been struggling to acquire basic modern infantry weapons, ranging from assault rifles and sniper guns to light machine guns and close-quarter battle carbines, after a string of failed attempts during the past decade. Not the one to easily give up, the Indian Army readied one of its largest procurement plans for infantry modernisation at the end of October this year. The idea is to acquire about 7 lakh rifles, 54,000 light machine guns and nearly 44,600 carbines for a projected expenditure of Rs 40,000 crores. According to media reports, the General Service Quality Requirements (GSQR) for the new assault rifle (with an effective range of 500 metres) have been finalised and the procurement plan will soon be placed before the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) under the 'Buy & Make (Indian) model before the Request for Proposal (RFP) is formally issued.

The problems that have plagued the acquisition process have been unreliable indigenous small arms and their lacklustre evolution with time, unrealistic technical requirements and frequent change in calibre of the desired guns. For instance, the army had tried procuring new generation 7.62 x 51mm assault rifles in 2016 because of the frequent breakdown of the 5.65 mm Indian small arms system (INSAS) rifles. Now the problem might be repeated with the army chief Bipin Rawat telling the media that there is a strong possibility of dividing the procurement in two distinct groups. The frontline infantry soldiers would be equipped with globally acclaimed assault rifles while non-infantry soldiers would get a cheaper indigenous rifle. The army will likely choose between the INSAS-1C or the Ghatak as the indigenous rifle. The idea is to provide small arms for specific purposes; the global assault rifle will be well-suited for war whose purpose is to kill the enemy soldier while the indigenous rifle will be lighter and with a relatively shorter range for counter-insurgency missions.

The army is keeping all its options open after it dismissed the prototypes of a 7.62mm x 51mm rifle developed by Rifle Factory Ishapore as well as the 5.56 Excalibur rifle as inadequate. It had also mentioned that the guns should be capable of ‘fitting and firing’ underbarrel grenade launcher manufactured by Ordnance Factory, Trichy. The procurement of 5.56 x 45mm close-quarter battle carbines and 7.62 x 51mm calibre light machine guns were cancelled because it had led to a single vendor situation with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) being selected. Now the process has started again with tweaked specifications so that a multi-vendor shortlist can be created. The army also wishes to replace its old 7.62mm Dragunov sniper rifles (800 metre range) acquired from Russia in 1990 with new 8.6mm sniper rifles (with a 1,200-metre range).

The specifications put out by the army for its assault rifle have forced the Russian state arms seller, Rosoboronexport, to withdraw from the tender process for the purchase of over 20,000 7.62x39 mm automatic rifles. Kalashnikov sources told the Russian news agency, TASS, that its AK-103 series machine guns do not comply with the specifications of having metal magazine as mentioned in the MHA tenders. Russia has long given up this option and has been using more reliable plastic items and appliances for the assembly and disassembly of the trigger and firing mechanism. It added that this mechanism’s design in new Russian assault rifles of the ‘100th series’ has been improved and the modern butt-stocks are made of composite materials.

The path to laying down specifications for an all-terrain and all-weather rifle is difficult. India stretches from the icy Himalayas to the deserts of Rajasthan. It is quite difficult to develop or acquire a weapon which lasts for years without breaking down in times of combat. If the army chooses the 7.62 x 51 mm calibre it used for nearly three decades following the 1962 war, then it is stuck with a heavier bullet which needs a heavier gun. The new rifles are likely to be about a kilo heavier than the INSAS or the AK-47. Also, a 5.56 mm bullet weighs less so soldiers can carry more ammunition coupled with a lighter gun. But the 7.62 mm bullet and its gun offer enhanced lethality and range while the 5.56 mm isn’t very effective against modern body armour.

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