The Indian Army faces challenges when it comes to acquisition of modern small arms systems for its infantry
A FORCE Report
After four years of looking at some of the most advanced assault rifles in the world to meet its various and extremely pressing requirements for a 5.56 mm infantry rifle for its soldiers, the Indian Army (IA) now appears to be well down the road to field an indigenous weapon system in the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) Excalibur 5.56 mm assault rifle.
The new weapon is based on the infamous INSAS rifle and is expected to enter service with the Indian Army in the next few years. One would assume that those at the highest echelons in the army are also confident in the ability of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to deliver a defect free, robust, reliable and accurate rifle, that will be produced to the highest quality standards in large quantities along with the required types of ammunition, so that the army can rapidly re-equip approximately 360 infantry battalions as also Counter Insurgency (CI) units of the Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles units. The DRDO has promised that it will deliver a rugged weapon for battlefield engagements that will be lightweight and easy to handle, one that would prove useful in Close Quarter Battle (CQB) situations and in low intensity conflicts. One would also assume that the army will play a far greater role in the development of the INSAS Excalibur, to ensure that it receives a rifle that shoots straight, is less prone to jamming and is delivered with quality ammunition.
The very fact that the INSAS Excalibur will have to operate in exceedingly cold regions, at high altitudes in the glaciers, very hot temperatures in the desert and the moist and humid condition of the Northeast would place special demands on the weapon. The Eighties vintage of the INSAS design is readily apparent from its construction, which sees the use of steel for most of its parts and wood/ Bakelite for handgrips and buttstocks. Modern infantry rifles, however, are primarily made of plastic and aluminium, with the latest designs also using composites. No major changes in small arms development are expected over the next 10-15 years and future developments related to infantry rifles and pistols are likely to focus on improved ergonomics, new materials which are lighter and more robust. Electro-Optics will see a huge leap as these play a vital part in the accessories that go on modern infantry rifles. The time-span for development of a completely new modern small arms system from the established weapons manufacturers is around five years. As a result of the huge cost of developing new ammunition and the stocks that armies hold, new calibres are unlikely to play a huge role in military rifle developments. Where there has been a massive change with regards to new generation infantry rifles is the extensive use of accessories. An important aspect of the accessories such as laser night sights, thermal imagers, torches, etc are that while they increase the effectiveness of the weapon, they are not essential to its basic operation. However, to best optimise the accessories without impacting the performance of the basic weapon, requires plenty of testing and user feedback and a weapon design that caters for the use of accessories right from the initial stages and not as an afterthought mid-way into the weapons design. The design and development of a modern multi-caliber or ‘modular’ rifle is far more difficult. With a modular rifle the majority of its components, can be changed in the workshop or by the user on the field.
Equipping of an army of the size of the Indian Army is certainly an expensive proposition. Over a three-decade period, ideally one-third of its inventory of infantry rifles, pistols and infantry support weapons need to be of the latest types, one third should be current and one third should be under process of phasing out. An infantry rifle typically has a life cycle of three to four decades, hence ensuring commonality of parts and ammunition across fewer weapon families serves to reduce the logistic burden and improve maintenance efficiency.
The CAG has listed major bottlenecks in development and regular production of new major items at the OFB:
• Against the expectation of producing 5.56mm Carbine (Protective) in 2008-09, the production was yet to come up due to delays in development of the product by the Board and DRDO as well as shortcomings noticed in trials.
• Production of 5.56mm Carbine (Close Quarter Battle) under Transfer of Technology (ToT) was yet to materialise against the scheduled year (2009-10) due to delay in selection of the Carbine for import by the Army along with ToT.
• Production of 30mm Automatic Grenade Launching System (AGS) was yet to be established against the milestone (2010-11) due to quality problems noticed in several trials, changes in design as well as delay in endurance test owing to non-availability of ammunition for proof trials.
• Delayed development (2012) of 5.56mm Rifle (Folding Butt) against milestone of production (2008-09) led to short-closure of army’s indent (2006) for 20,000 rifles after delivery of 8454 rifles. No further demand was received from the army.
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