Indian Army’s foot soldiers are still nowhere close to getting basic modern infantry weapons, ranging from assault rifles and sniper guns to light machine guns and close-quarter battle carbines, after a decade of acquisition projects from abroad being repeatedly scrapped as well as failure of indigenous options to pass muster till now.
The huge delays in the induction of “small arms” for infantry battalions figured in the Army commanders’ conference last week, with Gen Bipin Rawat telling his senior Lt-Generals that “our approach to procurement process needs to be balanced with focus at the right places”.
Though plans are now on track to plug major operational gaps in artillery guns, air defence missiles and helicopters, “small arms” remain a big worry. As per overall plans, the 12-lakh strong Army needs 8,18,500 new-generation assault rifles, 4,18,300 close-quarter battle (CQB) carbines, 43,700 light machine guns and 5,679 sniper rifles. All these figures also include some weapons for the much-smaller IAF and Navy, say sources.
But all these induction plans, which are supposed to include direct purchase of an initial number of weapons from a foreign vendor followed by large-scale indigenous production with technology transfer, have failed to materialize so far.
In September 2016, for instance, the Army was forced to re-launch its global hunt for new-generation 7.62 x 51mm assault rifles to replace the old glitch-prone 5.56mm INSAS (Indian small arms system) rifles after similar bids over the last decade were scrapped due to corruption scandals, unrealistic technical requirements and change in caliber of the desired guns.
Sources say the technical parameters or GSQRs (general staff qualitative requirements) for the new assault rifles, with an effective range of 500-metre, have now been finalized. “The case will now be moved for the defence ministry’s approval under the `Buy & Make (Indian)’ model before the formal tender or RFP (request for proposal) is floated,” said a source.
Simultaneously, the Army is testing prototypes of a 7.62mm x 51mm rifle developed by Rifle Factory Ishapore after it held the 5.56mm Excalibur rifle did not meet its requirements of a “higher kill probability”
Similarly, the procurement case for 5.56 x 45mm CQB carbines, with an effective 200-metre range, was re-launched recently after the earlier one was scrapped last year. The defence ministry had junked the earlier case, dating back to 2006, on the ground that it had become “a resultant single vendor situation” with only the carbine from the Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) being selected after confirmatory trials.
The case for sniper rifles is relatively new and smaller. The Army is keen to induct 5,679 new 8.6mm sniper rifles, with an effective kill range of 1,200-metre, from abroad to replace its old 7.62mm Dragunov sniper rifles (800-metre range) acquired from Russia in 1990. The Dragunov rifles are not equipped with modern magnification and sight systems as well as bipod stands, while their ammunition is also quite expensive.
Amid all this, the Army is keeping its fingers crossed that the infantry, or the “queen of the battle”, also gets its due in the never-ending race to induct big-ticket weapon systems ranging from tanks and howitzers to fighters and submarines.