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Quest for Small Arms

The lack of concerted effort and unrealistic demands has been the hall mark of procurement of the Small Arms systems. These products are mainly mechanical system can be improved upon according to our requirement, though our indigenous production facilities. But unfortunately frequent changing the requirements and asking for the best, we lost over 10 years ....

Last year Army admitted before The parliamentary standing committee that it has been unable to finalise order for rifles and carbines in the last eight years for varied reasons. 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:-

  • 7.4 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.
  • 3.5 lakh Close Quarter Carbines.
  • 41000 Light Machine Guns for the three Services, for cost of over Rs 1,819 crore. The DAC then also cleared the procurement of an “essential quantity” of LMGs on fast track basis.

Some of the Assault Rifles and Light Machine Guns requirement were to go through the fast track procedure and a concurrent proposal is being processed for the balance quantity to be procured under the Buy and Make (Indian) categorization. The Army has been pressing for fast tracking the supply of the 7.62×51 mm guns and particularly sought immediate procurement of at least 70000 rifles to enhance its fire power in border areas and in counter-terror operations.

Bulk of the procurement of 740,000 Assault Rifles would be under the Buy & Make (Indian) category, to be manufactured by state-owned Ordnance Factory Board, along with private defense companies.

The RFPs for fast track procurement was issued to 12 global arms manufacturers with a hope to complete the acquisition of all the weapons in 12 months. The Pre-bid meeting for Rifle and Carbine was held on 12 Apr 2018 and for LMG on 13 Apr 2018. The response bid date was 07 May 2018 for Rifle and Carbine and 08 May for LMG.

Some clauses in the RFP to which the respondent's had reservations:-

  • Unrealistic timeframes for the Vendor has to seek his own Govt approval for export and gear up the production.
  • Performance bank guarantee almost 15% is considered excessive.
  • Force majeur clause which allows a manufacturer to suspend a contract due to unforeseen consequences like war or a natural disaster.
  • Tight delivery schedule ie, to deliver 25,000 weapons (assault rifle and carbines) in the first nine months and the remainder within three months. This deadline can be extended only by another three months after which financial penalties kick in.

The bids have been received in response to Indian Army RFP for the 72,000 numbers of 7.62x51 mm Assault rifle and the 94,000 numbers of 5.56x45 mm Carbine estimated to cost about Rs 3500 Crores. Likely contenders include some of the well known OEMs in Small Arms segment.

  • Beretta (US)
  • IWI (Israel)
  • Sig-Sauer (Switzerland)
  • Colt (US)
  • Ceska (Czech Republic)
  • FN Herstal
  • IMI
  • Heckler & Koch
  • Arsenal Bulgaria
  • Rosoboronexport

Understood some of the prominent OEMs have not responded citing unrealistic time frames and stiff financial clauses. The responses are under Technical Evaluation at present. There are limited number small arms OEMs who can offer all three infantry weapons i,e. Assault Rifles, Carbines and Light Machine Gun.

Procurement Delay
The procurement of Rifles and Carbines has been delayed due to Armys changing requirements. Initially in 2011, the Army sought a dual-caliber rifle chambered for two types of ammunition (7.62x39 mm and 5.56x 45 mm) which was withdrawn in 2015. This was an absurd requirement. It increases the logistics; wastage, wear and tear of the weapon system without offering any additional advantages. They conducted all the trials, took 4-5 years and none of the weapon systems in the world could meet that requirement. The qualitative requirements were unrealistic.

There has been lack of concerted effort and unrealistic demands when it came to the procurement of the Small Arms systems. One can always purchase something and then improve upon it according to our requirement, though our indigenous production facilities. But unfortunately frequent changing the requirements and asking for the best, we lost over 10 years on this account.

Assault Rifles of two Calibers

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. The more powerful round of 7.62 mm has a higher kill probability at higher ranges than 5.56 mm and hence most countries prefer 7.62 Caliber for Rifle. After due consideration the Army settled on both 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm calibres. The 7.62 is for the troops who are in contact and who fight the enemy at the forefront, and 5.6 for those who aren't in contact.

DRDO/OFB Developed Small Arms

DRDO in association with OFB, has dwelling with Small arms development with limited success. The variants include:-

  • Amogh carbine
  • Excalibur rifle
  • Modern Sub Machine Carbine (MSMC)
  • Multi Calibre Individual Weapon System (MCIWS) or
  • Advanced Automatic Rifle (AAR)
  • 7.62 mm Trichy assault rifle
  • Vidhwansak anti material rifle

SA Developed by OFB

Ghaatak 7.62 x 39 mm and 7.62 X51 mm

Ghaatak SLR developed by Rifle Factory Ischapur may externally resemble an AK-47, but the internal mechanics are different. The OFB (RFI) has already delivered several Ghaatak 7.62 x 39 SLRs to the Kerala State Police, and its 7.62 x 51 variant has been tried by the Indian Army. Ghatak Assault Rifle will fulfill the role of heavy, long range Assault Rifle 7.62 x 51 mm all featuring automatic fire mode. Both rifles feature Picatinny rails and can mount a number of sights and UBGL.

Excalibur 5.56x45mm

INSAS continues with the Excalibur in the role of the lighter assault rifle. The Excalibur is a much improved version of the INSAS 1B which was not at all a failure, itself being a better version of the INSAS 1A.

Indigenously produced Rifles like the Trichy Assault Rifle, the Ghatak (another AK clone) and the INSAS-1C have attracted a handful of orders. As OFB has existing infrastructure to manufacture Small Arms the bulk of the Assault Rifles will be made by ordnance factories and private manufacturers within the country, the first order for which will be placed by 2020-2021.

Opportunities for Private Sector
The inability to develop an indigenous next generation of small arms weapon, successor to the old designs in the 5.56mm or 7.62mm calibers, offers an opportunity for the global small arms industry. Our defence indigenous industry is likely to take another 5-10 years to develop the required capability and thus offers vast potential for technological partnership and overseas investment. 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 defense procurement system in India.

The implementation of the new arm rules as projected by MHA for the participation of private industries in arms manufacturing is likely to bring high tech SAs indigenously and will help the nation to become self reliant in this sector. The market opportunity for small arms is bound to grow keeping in mind that the Ordnance Factories with an annual production capacity, barely meet the annual replacement requirement of defence services. The same also goes for matching requirement of Ammunition. Hence, the scope for private sector to fill the gap to the tune of 50% Level to OFB production capacity.

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. Punj Lloyd has set up a manufacturing facility in India to produce small arms in partnership with IWI. The OFB capacity will be utilized to manufacture the variants on a nomination basis to build assault rifles in partnership with overseas original equipment manufacturers.

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