Fire Power

New rifle procurements raise hopes for the battle readiness of the army

Yunus Dar

Sig Sauer SIG716 7.62x51 mm assault rifle

After the army sounded the alarm over the shortfall in the quality of small arms, the Indian government finally sprang into action with a slew of new acquisitions. The decade-old replacement programme for the INSAS rifle finally witnessed progress in 2018. Following the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu’s meeting with defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman in December 2018, India and Russia kick-started the joint production of 6,70,000 AK-203 rifles. AK-203, which is to become the mainstay of the Indian Army, will be manufactured at a factory set up in Amethi, UP.

Being one of the most modern assault rifles from Kalashnikov, AK-203 fitted into the requirements set out by the army. The joint venture, named Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited, was established between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Kalashnikov Concern, and Rosoboronexport, the Russian state agency for military exports.

Another major deal signed to boost the rifle inventory of the Indian Army is the contract the government signed with the US arms maker, Sig Sauer, to procure 72,400 assault rifles under fast-track procurement (FTP). Majority of the numbers – some 66,000 – of these rifles will be handed over to the Indian Army, with around 2000 rifles for the Indian Navy and 4000 for the Indian Air Force. The Rs 700 crore deal for the Sig Sauer SIG716 7.62x51 mm assault rifles will replace the ageing, Indian-made 5.56x45mm INSAS rifles. The deal is the biggest of its kind in recent years in this category.

The army had a number of problems with the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) rifles, and the need to replace them with modern assault rifles was urgent. The weapon was reportedly handed over to the armed forces without any refinement with user inputs, which are needed to improvise quality. The INSAS has time and again been declared lacking by the army when fighting insurgents across the country, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. The army was looking for a weapon, not just accurate and high calibre, but more reliable, which wasn’t the case with the INSAS. The army in Jammu and Kashmir, therefore, preferred to use the AK-47 instead.

Defence analyst and TedX speaker Maj. Mohommed Ali Shah, having served in Jammu and Kashmir, says the army faced problems using the INSAS, which he said ‘stopped’ while firing. However, with the AK-47 no such problems were experienced, they were more reliable. INSAS had a problem of frequent misfires, he adds. On a question whether the lack of a reliable rifle gave the militants an advantage over the army, Ali says that was not the case. “We were trained very well, and it is not the machine, but the man behind the machine. In our time, the training was very rigorous and we could handle any weapon and any situation. I myself took part in anti-terror operations, and we always had an upper hand over the militants in all aspects,” he says.

He says the weapons used in different war theatres, such as in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir were different at the time. “It is a different environment in Jammu and Kashmir as compared to places like the Northeast, the weapon inventory used by the army there was much advanced, however, we had different requirements in the valley,” Ali adds. He says he is confident that the AK-203 to be inducted by the Indian Army will be up to the mark and will meet the requirements of the soldiers. He expressed concern in the delays in defence procurements, particularly from the time a Request for Proposal (RFP) is floated for field trials. Ali says the process needs to be fast-tracked.

The 200 series of rifles from Kalashnikov come with improved ergonomics and modern accessory interfaces. The new series was designed to replace the vulnerable 100 series by Russia. The AK-203 hosts an under-barrel launcher or a bayonet, and can be equipped with quick-detachable tactical sound suppressors. The rifle can fire at the rate of 600 rounds per minute in automatic and semi-automatic modes.

The ex-deputy chief of army Lt Gen. Raj Kadyan says the quality of small arms procured domestically always had some quality issues. “After 1962, where we had fought the war with .303 rifles of World War I, we imported 7.62mm from Belgium, from a company called FN. So that weapon continued in service for a very long time. The 7.62mm was also manufactured in Ishapore factory in India. Basically, we tried to change the bore from 7.62 to 5.56mm, which is the NATO bore. The NATO army is using 5.56mm. So even when this INSAS rifle, which is Indian-made, was introduced, it was questioned that if the militants in the areas where the army is mainly involved these days are carrying 7.62mm, you can’t give our own people lesser calibre. But then perhaps we wanted to promote the indigenous industries, so it was introduced, now it is being replaced by the 72,000 imported assault rifles and also through the indigenous manufacture which is the current government policy of ‘Make in India’,” he says.

“In the last 30 years we have been fighting a proxy war where heavier weapons are not used. It’s only the small arms which are being used when you fight insurgency situations. And there is no likelihood that this problem will go away in future. While our overall aim is to prepare for the war, the immediate requirement is to counter the militants, for that this assault rifle will be suitable,” he adds.

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