The recent Indian Army request for information to procure large number of Assault Rifles and Carbines under the Buy & Make India category provide scope and opportunity for Private sector participation. The author analyses the background and way forward.


Recently, Indian Army issued request for information to procure approximately 1,85,000 Assault Rifles and approx 200,000 5.56mm close-quarter battle carbines under the Buy & Make India category. The quantity on order is estimated to increase if the requirement of the domestic paramilitary forces is also taken into account. The efforts to acquire the Assault Rifle and CQB carbines since 2008 have not yielded any result. The Rifles and Carbines developed by the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and the Ordnance Factory Board, (OFB), did not pass through test and evaluation criteria, despite repeated attempts due to quality and performance issues. The defence Services are badly in need of these basic Small Arms and require speedy replacement.

Small Arms Segmentation and Holding

The Small Arms for Defence Services Army, Air Force, Navy,  Coast Guard and Central Police Organisations under Ministry of Home affairs such as CRPF, BSF, CISF, SSB, ITBP, NSG, Assam Rifles etc and about 40 State Police Organisations. The major users of Small Arms (SA) are the  Defence Services and the law enforcing agencies in all countries and the generic holding pattern is as depicted in Figure.

            Indian inventories of Small Arms are estimated to contain approximately 5-6 million small arms with approximate holding as Defense & Coast Guard-1.6 Million, Paramilitary- 1.3 Million and Police Forces- 1.5-2 Million. Private security agencies and other such agencies also use small Arms but their holding is mostly to Pistol Revolvers and single/double barrel Rifles.

Design and Production Capability Gap

The design and production of SA are mostly confined to the Govt sector. DRDO is responsible for design and development of all major defence equipment and undertakes design & development leading to production of weapon systems and equipment.  Department of Defence Production, Ordnance Factories (OFs) have been responsible for production. The Small Arms manufacturing factories are:-

  • Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI)
  • Small Arms Factory Kanpur (SAF)
  • Ordnance Factory Trichy (OFT)
  • A newly established Factory in Korba (MP)

            Despite assured orders, the overall performance of these factories in terms of meeting the requirements of the armed forces has been below optimal and has resulted in India's expenditure rising up to  billions of dollars on small arms import., Our SA holding is a mixed bag in terms of design, in the absence of own design/development capability. The inventory of small arms clearly reflects our inability to develop an indigenous next generation of small arms successor. This puts enormous pressure on Logistics.

            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. At present, there exists a capability gap in Small Arms segment in five counts:

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

            The OFB/DPSUs do not have the technology for delivering the next generation of SA and also do not have the capability to produce the huge quantities required for replacement or to make up the deficiencies. Despite in house requirement and assured orders, the 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. The Indian security agencies switched from domestic procurement to rapid modernization through imports. Homogeneity gave way to heterogeneity as government agencies and state governments procure weapons to serve their distinctive requirements.


Emerging Trend

The military and law enforcement agencies across the globe have invested more into procuring advanced weapon systems, including major small arms, such as rifles, pistols and carbine.


Bolt-action rifles are progressively being replaced by semi-automatic versions in law enforcement and specialist military units. 'Carbines' are short-barrelled variants of standard rifles. Automatic assault rifles are predominantly used as infantry weapons. The global market is dominated by Kalashnikov AK series (The Russian Federation), the M-16 series (US) and FN-FAL (Belgium). Other rifles: G3 (Germany), SIG 540 Series (Switzerland), AUG (Austria) and the Galil (Israel) are also reputed.

Sub-Machine Guns

Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs) better known as Carbine are small, light automatic weapons that fire pistol-calibre ammunition to short ranges. The 9mm Sterling SMG, has been produced under license in India and Canada and is in service in more than 90 countries. The 9mm MP5 SMG by Heckler & Koch (Germany) is in service in over 50 countries. The standard 9mm Uzi, produced by IMI (Israel), is in service in at least 50 countries, with estimates of total global licensed and unlicensed production ranging as high as 10 million since the model was introduced in 1953.

            The variants of Rifles and Carbine tweaked by DRDO and OFB have been repeatedly rejected by the Army on the grounds of poor quality and low performance during trials. .

Cancelled Procurements

Detail of abnormal delays in procurement due to cancellation of RFP for various reasons is given below:-

Item Category Qty Worth Likely OEMs Remarks
New-generation Assault Rifles Buy-Make    65000 Rs 6000 Crores ($1 Billion)   Colt (US), Beretta (Italy), Sig Sauer (Europe), Ceska (Czech) and Israel Weapon Industries (IWI)   Tender to be Re-Issued
CQB Carbine

Indian Army

 Buy and Make

44618 carbines along with 33.6 million rounds of ammunition

  Rs2200-2750 Crores ($400-500 Million)     IWI Israel

Italy’s Beretta

USA’s Colt

Sig Sauer

ToT and to licence-build some 380000 - 400000 carbines. OFB is production agency.

  Fresh RFI issued
Light-Weight Assault Rifles For Para-SF (Special Forces)   Buy

RFI Issued: Jan 11

  • 10730
 Rs 385 Crores ($70 Million)    FN Herstal
  • Beretta
  • IMI
  • IWI
  • Heckler & Koch
  • No progress Till Date
  •             Indian Defence Services are on the lookout for better and state of the art weapons for its infantry to replace its existing holdings. Indian army is planning to equip its various infantry battalions and Special Forces with modular small arms of such big contracts worth 7-8 Billion Dollars. In order to meet the required production capacity of 1.5 lacs per year it is required for the replacement cycles 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.

    Private Sector Participation

    In mid-2016 MHA came out with the Arms Act-2016 wherein the private industries have been allowed to manufacture and proof test arms & ammunition of all kind including those being used by military. After a long wait, the Government finally announced much required 100 % FDI in the manufacture of arms & ammunition followed by the promulgation of new Arms Rule 2016 in Jul 16, wherein private sector is now allowed to manufacture arms & ammunition. The authority for licensing in this category is Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and not DIPP.

                Some of the companies have been supplying to OFB some of the sub systems over number of years. The technology involved in manufacturing of small arms is neither critical nor a rocket science and Indian industry can very well take it on with partnership with OEMs which is ready for TOT to overcome challenges of:-

    • Access to technology - Technology is a success factor for the success of Indian manufacturers
    • Raw material development capabilities - New materials are being used in manufacturing
    • Access to funding - Aerospace is highly capital intensive and rapid capital infusions are required
    • Certification processes - Accreditations and certifications are mandatory
    • Quality - quality assurance and reliability are of utmost importance
    • Industrial License - Plan for licensing much before the bid is floated
    • JV Partner search - Capacity & capability of domestic partners

    Way forward

    The global small arms market is highly competitive with many prominent players competing in terms of price, quality, weight, and size of firearms to increase their market share. However, in the military segment, there are very few major vendors who dominate the market, which has intensified competition among the vendors in this segment to gain major defense contracts. The market players are focusing on the design, development, and manufacture of firearms that are more reliable and superior than the existing ones in the military department.

                Tenders for both Small Arms are expected to be issued in the next six months. The participants will seek a transfer of technology for the Rifle and Carbines for the license to be produced in India under a partnership with domestic defense companies. Manufacturing world-class arms and ammunition will be a challenge for the Indian private sector, without established brand. TOT is likely to be both expensive as well as a guarded technology. Numbers of SA manufacturers are looking forward for Indian market and partnership.


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