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Small Arms Production in India

The lack of concerted effort and unrealistic demands coupled with lack of indigenous design has been the hallmark of procurement of the Small Arms systems severely affecting  the Infantry modernization. Resultantly, most of the inventory of Small Arms is of obsolete design and requires immediate replacement.

The major users of Small Arms (SA) are the three Defence Services including Coast Guard, with approximately 1.6 million and 1.3 million to Paramilitary/Police Forces. The likely holding of various types of serviceable Small Arms by the Armed Forces include: Rifles - around 13 Lakhs, Assault Rifles/Carbines/Pistol/LMG etc around 3 Lakhs.  Similar ratio of 75:25 pattern of holding is expected in Paramilitary Forces/Police Forces. The generic holding pattern is as depicted in Figure.

The present SA holding is a mixed bag in terms of design, in the absence of own design/development capability and most of them are obsolete. The Armed Forces intends to replace these with new assault rifles, beside new carbines, machine guns and other weapons with interchangeable 5.56 mm & 7.62 mm barrels.

Indigenous Development - Design & Production Capability Gap

The current inventory of Small Arms clearly reflects our inability in developing an indigenous next generation of Small Arms. One of the main reasons that can be attributed to the shortfall and non development of indigenous small arm weapon is that the design and production of SA are mostly confined to the Government sector with DRDO being responsible for design and development while, Ordnance Factories (OFs) being responsible for production. Despite in-house requirement and assured orders, these design and production agencies have not been able to meet the forces huge requirement, which has resulted in India's expenditure rising up to billions of dollars on Small Arms import. At present, there exists a capability gap in Small Arms segment in five counts:

  • Vintage Design
  • Design Capability
  • Production Capability
  • Quality & Cost
  • Heterogeneous Inventory

A report by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence stated that it was shocking that even years of expertise has not evolved DRDO to develop a world class basic/critical product like rifle. Though some indigenous programmes had been undertaken by DRDO but the Army did not approve of these. Some of these are depicted below:

  • Indigenously built 7.62 x 39 mm Ghatak assault rifles developed by DRDO which has been rejected by Army citing poor quality and ineffective fire power. However, some of these have been inducted by the Kerala State Police.
  • DRDO developed 5.56x45mm caliber Excalibur has failed too as it does not match the required parameters set by the Army. Though, it has been inducted but only as an interim assault rifle to fill the critical gap until a suitable replacement is found.
  • Trichy Assault Rifle and the INSAS-1C have attracted a handful of orders from Paramilitary Forces only.
  • AMOGH 5.56 mm Carbine which were specially designed and developed for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) role by OFB, was rejected by Army on its first trial.
  • MINSAS 5.56 mm personal carbine, a short barrel commando version, 5.56x30 mm ammunition, for close quarter battle use yet to be commissioned in Forces.
  • The Modern Sub Machine Carbine (MSMC) also known as Joint Venture Protective Carbine (JVPC) designed by the Armament Research and Development Establishment and manufactured by Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli. The Uzi-like design 50 MSMCs were issued for user trials in 2016. Army asked to do some improvements in the weapon on two pin disassembly, Quick fitting suppressor and polymer magazines etc. Once these things are taken care of, the weapon would be introduced in appropriate slot.

According to the Report No. 24 of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, Ordnance Factories have been lagging behind in their production programme for ammunition, weapons. Considering the manufacturing of rifles only, it is seen that with maximum annual production capacity for Rifles about 100,000 per year, these Factories barely meet the annual replacement requirement of 1.7 million soldiers, sailors and airmen, not counting requirements of Paramilitary Forces and State Police.

 Renewed Push

As a follow up in Feb 2018, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) accorded approval to Capital Acquisition Proposals of the Services valued at around Rs 15,935 crore. These includes:-

  • 4 lakh Assault Rifles for the three Services, at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore.
  • 5,719 Sniper Rifles for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of Rs 982 crore.
  • 5 lakh Close Quarter Carbines
  • 41000 Light Machine Guns for the three Services, for cost of over Rs 1,819 crore. The DAC also cleared the procurement of an “essential quantity” of LMGs on fast track basis.

Some of the programmes that have been recently signed or are in pipeline are being discussed as under:

Procurement of Assault Rifles 7.62 X51 mm Cal

The emerging operational environment necessitate increasing Small Arms lethality and range  with a aim “Shoot to Kill” rather than incapacitate the adversary at ranges 500 meters to enhance its fire power in border areas and in counter-terror operations. After due consideration, the Army is now procuring 72,400 battle rifles worth Rs 700 crore produced by US manufacturer SIG Sauer which emerged as the lowest bidder in a six-cornered contest. The entire consignment is to be manufactured in the USA and delivered within a year. These rifles will be the immediate replacement for INSAS under a fast track procurement programme. Its effective range is 500 meters and would make current body armour susceptible in protecting the wearer. A very advanced rifle, the weapon, it is appreciated, will primarily be provided to battalions in an intense combat environment. Of the total order of 72,400, the Navy gets 2,000, IAF 6,000, and the Army 64,400. These rifles will be the first bulk replacements of  INSAS.

Joint Production of AK-203 Assault Rifles 7.62 X39 mm Cal

Almost after 10 years since the Indian Army expressed its requirement to replace the currently being used INSAS assault rifles with a modern assault rifle, the Government finally narrowed down to Russian manufactured AK-203 (a variant of the Kalashnikov family of AK-100 rifles), as the basic weapon for the vast majority of the Indian Armed Forces and signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) on February 18, 2019 with Russia for the same. Subsequently, a joint venture company - Indo-Russian Rifles Pvt. Ltd. (IRRPL) between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) owning the controlling stakes of 50.5% while and Russian partners - Kalashnikov and Rosonboronexport own 42% and 7.5% stake respectively - was formed for the manufacturing the rifle in India. The Ordnance Factory Board's Project Korwa in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh has been selected as the main JV partner who will manufacture the rifles.

The AK-203 is reported as the latest and most advanced version of the AK-47 assault rifle having better accuracy, more picatinny rails (required for mounting various types of day/night sights and grenade launcher on the rifle), reduced flash and recoils, better ergonomics and greater ease of operation in combat and abstains from the infamous jamming and temperature operability problems plaguing the INSAS rifle. India will be the first country to which Russia would be transferring the design/manufacturing of this rifle.

The JV Company has been licensed to produce 750,000 AK-203 assault rifles worth Rs 12280 Crores chambered for 7.62×39 mm. About 1 lakh rifles will come directly from Russia and the remaining will be manufactured by the JV in India with each rifle costing close to $1000 each. The manufacturing of the AK-203 rifles in India is expected to boost the 'Make in India' initiative in defence manufacturing as it is aimed to achieve 100 percent indigenization of the rifle as per the project understanding, however, this target will be achieved within a span of 5 years and while focusing on the export of the rifles from IRRPL to other friendly countries in the future. Refer Table.

Noteworthy, the project has already lingered as though the joint venture manufacturing unit to produce Kalashnikov rifles at a factory in Amethi which was claimed to be the `fastest ever' created by Russia for an Indian venture. However, till date the production is yet to commence which was slated within 3-6 months after the facility was created on 3rd March 2019.

For the AK-203s, the Indian government is looking to achieve 100% local content consisting of all raw materials and processing know-how. Initially the JV will assemble each rifle from knocked-down kits and then localize components and sub-assemblies to further indigenize production.

Though, the signing of the IGA and the formation of the JV have finally brought to an end a decade-long saga involving an arduous process for inducting a modern rifle for the Indian Armed Forces but it is a clear indicative of the technological failure of the country to produce the next-generation assault rifle on its own just yet. Also, some questions/concerns surround this deal which as of now has no answers.

Is component indigenization by Indian production agency such a complex process that it will take 5 years to achieve 100% indigenization?

Is Indian industry/OFB not competent enough to indigenous manufacture these mechanical components and sub-assemblies in one odd year?

  • With 40000-45000 annual capacity (and VoP being 17.9 Crores) will it be possible for OFB Korwa to meet such a huge requirement of 750,000 AK-203 assault rifles and considering the fact that these rifles are likely to be supplied to Paramilitary Forces also in the future?
  • What role will the three other rifle manufacturing units of OFB will play?
  • Should we not involve the competent private sector instead who have proved their mettle in the past?
  • How come we cannot modify/upgrade some of the basic modules of the indigenously produced rifles such as Ghatak or Excalibur produced?
  • Why India has now settled for the AK-203 in 7.62х39 mm as it always showed preference for assault rifles chambered in 7.62x51 mm NATO which of course will generally travel faster and farther.

The recent development and manufacturing of K-9 Vajra and M777 Ultra Light Howitzers through transfer technology by L&T and Mahindra respectively are two shining examples that substantiate the fact that the private sector has the capability; wherein foreign companies in collaboration with Indian firms have delivered the howitzers in fast paced manner with technology absorption been excellent. On the other hand, with OFB and DPSUs, delay in delivery and extra cost has been an underlining factor of defence orders given to them in the past, it would not be surprising if a delay is seen in this project as well.

New Sniper Rifles for Army

Indian Army has started induction of 5,719 sniper rifles worth $150 Million. The guns being given to the soldiers are the .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT by Beretta, and the .50 Calibre M95 by Barrett. These snipers will replace the ageing Russian Dragunov SVD, the mainstay of Indian soldiers. The Barrett M95 is produced in the US and is an anti-material rifle which means it can penetrate even concrete or metal. It also has a range of 1,800 metres and has telescopic night sights. The .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT is manufactured by Italian company Beretta and is fired with a rimless, bottlenecked cartridge.

5.56x45 mm Close Quarter Battle Carbine

Army has projected the requirement of about 200000 Carbine. The cumulative requirement is in the ranges of 4,00,000 carbines for IAF, IN, CPF and State Police forces. The fast-track procurement of 93,895 close-quarter-battle carbines (CQB) from Caracal, a deal worth $553.33 Million (approx. Rs. 4000 Crores) is at the Technical Oversight Stage before it goes to the Contract Negotiations Committee (CNC). The contract is likely to be inked shortly. The Caracal carbine is based on the AR-15 rifle design. The final contracts are expected to be signed by May 2019.

A fresh Request for Information (RFI) for 3.60 Lacs (Approx) CQB Carbine with 5.56 x 45 mm Calibre under DPP 2016 'Buy and Make (Indian)' with 'Buy' component as 'Nil', has been issued as well.

Light Machine Guns 7.62x51mm

DAC has accorded AoN for procurement of 41000 Light Machine Gun worth Rs 1,819 crore. It also accorded procurement under Fast Track Procedure (FTP). Subsequently, the Indian Army came out with a tender for 16,400 Nos. of 7.62 x 51mm Light Machine Gun (LMGs) under the FTP under 'Buy and Make (Indian)' Category with 'Buy' component as NIL. These will replace the in-service INSAS LMG that has a calibre of 5.56x45mm. Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) and South Korea's S&T Motiv and Arsenal have responded to the bids.

Opportunities for Private Sector

As of now, the private sector is primarily engaged in the manufacture of single and double-barrel and air rifles/pistols and supplying to OFB some of the subsystems. The technology involved in manufacturing of Small Arms is neither critical nor a rocket science. Indian industry can very well take it on with partnership with OEMs which are ready for partnership/ToT.

Estimations depicts that the total projected requirements for Small Arms for the next 15 years is likely to be around 2 Million pieces  and estimated to be worth USD 10-12 Billion thus offering lucrative opportunity to private sector to tap.

In order to meet the required production capacity of 1.5 lacs per year,  replacement cycle are required to ensure that defence forces are always equipped with latest small arms. With an annual production capacity of 0.9 lacs small arms of all types, the OFB's are unable to meet the annual replacement requirement of defence forces. Hence, the scope for private sector to fill the gap to the tune of 50% level to OFB production capacity.

With the existing market potential, collaboration opportunities to set-up manufacturing base of Small Arms in India in partnership with Indian companies exist, more so in view of 'Make-in India' initiatives and on-going reforms in the defence procurement system in India. A number of OEMs such as Beretta's, US Colt, Beretta of Italy; CzeskaZbrojovka of the Czech Republic; Rosoboronexport of Russia; FN Belgium, Heckler & Koch, Arsenal, Sig Sauer and IWI of Israel etc are looking for partnership with Indian companies such as Mahendra, Reliance, L&T, Bharat Forge etc, who also intend to enter in the market segment. Recently, Indian private company the Adani Group has entered the Small Arms business with the acquisition of a joint venture share of Punj Lyod  through a joint venture in which Israeli manufacturer IWI holds a 49% stake of a facility in Gwalior. The facility is designed to manufacture a range of weapons including the Tavor Assault Rifle (already in use by Special Forces), the X 95 Assault rifle, Galil sniper rifles, Negev LMGs and Uzi sub machine guns. The entity looks forward for 16,400 light machine guns for which IWI the JV partner is the lead contender. The JV is first Indian private sector company that started manufacturing small arms.

However, the need of the hour is to have more private sector entrants if the growing requirement of the Small Arms for the Security Forces is to be fulfilled. For this there is a requirement from the Government's side to encourage the private sector to come forward and allowing them to participate in tenders for Small Arms in future and it can resort to adoption of PPP model for Small Arms manufacturing for current technology and to cater for the alarming deficiencies.

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