The irony is, despite in house requirement and assured orders, the design and production agencies have not been able to meet the Forces huge requirement of small arms, which has resulted in India spending billions of dollars on Small Arms import.
Indian Defence Services Small Arms (SA) holding is a mixed bag in terms of design& inventory, 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. 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 spending billions of dollars on Small Arms import.
Development and Production
Indigenous efforts by DRDO and OFB had a limited success in Small arms development with following variants:-
- Amogh 5.56 mm Carbine
- Excalibur 5.56 mm Rifle
- Modern Sub Machine Carbine (MSMC)
- Multi Calibre Individual Weapon System (MCIWS)
- Advanced Automatic Rifle (AAR)
- 62 mm Trichy Assault Rifle (TAR)
- Vidhwansak Anti Material Rifle
Small Arms like the TAR, the Ghatak (another AK clone) and the INSAS-1C have attracted a handful of orders, but not enough to keep production at peak capacity of over 30,000 rifles per year.
The frequent import from different OEMs has resulted in mixed inventory putting enormous pressure on logistics. The products from different manufacturers have nothing in common in terms of ammunition, spares and training for performing similar security roles, thus making the Indian small arms inventory “a bowl of assorted weaponry”.
Team from OFB Trichy and Rifle Factory Ichapore, manufacturing assault rifles, have visited Russia. A G-to-G deal could be concluded for manufacture of AK-103 7.62x39 cal, the same as the AK-47 uses polymer parts to reduce the weight of the rifle and has a distinctive flash-hider on its barrel. The rifle is used in limited quantities by the Indian Navy's Marine Commando Force. Whereas Bulgaria's Arsenal JSC has been the largest exporter of AK-type rifles, supplying hundreds of thousands of rifles to Indian police and paramilitary forces at very reasonable prices as low as Rs 35,000 per piece.
At the same time the procurement of the SA has been delayed due to lack of concerted effort and unrealistic requirements when it came to the procurement of the Small Arms systems. The frequent changing of the requirements and asking for the best, we lost over 10 years on this account. 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.
Private Sector in SA Production
The Private sector in Small Arms production is making a new entry in the segment with partnership with the OEM. Punj Lloyd Raksha Systems Pvt Ltd (PLR), a joint venture company between Punj Lloyd and Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) is India's first private Small Arms manufacturer with requisite license to manufacture Small Arms in India. PLR has an established plant and technology tie up for production in country renowned weapons like TAVOR Assault Rifle, three calibres X95 Assault Rifle and SMG, NEGEV Light Machine Gun, GALIL ACE Assault Rifle, GALIL Sniper Rifle, DAN Bolt Action Sniper Rifle and UZI SMG and UZI PRO for domestic and international markets.
Some of these weapons are already in service with all Indian elite forces like Indian Army Special Forces, Garud (IAF), MARCOS (Indian Navy), COBRA Force (CRPF), BSF etc.
PLR also has collaboration to offer entire range of Opto Electronic systems such as Day sights, Image Intensifier, Uncooled Thermal Imaging devices act as a force multiplier in increasing the efficacy of any Small Arm.
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 has also cleared the procurement of an “essential quantity” of LMGs and some of the Assault Rifles on fast track basis.
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. After due consideration the Army settled on two variants of Assault Rifle. The 7.62 x 51 mm Cal for the troops who are in contact fighting the enemy at the forefront and 7.62 x 39 mm variant for those who aren't in contact.
As a follow up, the RFPs for fast track procurement of 72,400 number of 7.62 x 51 mm assault rifles was issued earlier this year to global arms manufacturers with a hope to complete the acquisition of all the weapons in 12 months. Three Indian companies have been shortlisted after empowered committee has visited the OEM facilities for the procurement of the same. These companies joined hands with foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as under:-
- Punj Lloyd working with IWI, Israel
- MKU with Thales, Australia and Caracal of UAE;
- Reliance Armaments with S &T Motiv of South Korea
Their weapons are to be tried in India with Indian Ammunition before the commercial bids are opened.
A concurrent proposal of the procurement of 740,000 Assault Rifles 7.62 x 39 cal would be under the Buy & Make (Indian) category, to be manufactured by state-owned Ordnance Factory Board, along with private defence companies. The Army has issued a fresh RFI on 31 Aug 2018 for procurement of 7.62 x 39 mm Rifle, Qty 6.5 lakh. Indian companies can respond with collaboration from foreign manufacturers. The request for proposal (RFP) is expected by December 2018.
Fresh RFI Carbine and LMG
Due to some procedural issues and single vendor situation India Army has issued fresh RFI for Carbine and LMG as under:-
RFI for 5.56 x 45 mm Close Quarter Battle (CQB) Carbine for Indian Armed Forces for quantity 3.50 Lacs (Approx) under Category. 'Buy and Make (Indian)' with 'Buy' component as 'Nil'. The response date is 07 Sep 2018.
RFI for 7.62 x 51 mm Light Machine Gun (LMG) for Armed Forces quantity 30,000 (Approx) under Category 'Buy and Make (Indian)' with 'Buy' component as NIL. The response date is 17 Sep 2018.
The MoD earlier also has issued the request for information seeking the availability of small arms and this time also the operational parameters and technical requirements would be almost similar.
The three weapons will be procured without the relevant sights such as telescopic sight and night vision sight, which will be procured separately.
Standardising the Inventory
The frequent imports from different OEMs has also resulted in mixed inventory putting enormous pressure on logistics. The products from different manufacturers have nothing in common in terms of ammunition, spares and training for performing similar security roles, thus making the Indian small arms inventory “a bowl of assorted weaponry”. Manufacturing small quantity of ammunition for the assorted inventory may not be cost effective and hence will have to be imported. We need to have inter-operability (similar calibre & ammunition) of weapons across the defence and paramilitary forces. In case the above procurements fructify the standardisation of our SA calibre and ammunition will reduce the overall logistics.
The inability to develop an indigenous next generation of small arms weapon, successor to the old designs in the 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm calibres, offers an opportunity for the small arms industry. 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. 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.
Public-private partnership has to be promoted by the govt to promote indigenisation, to create the much needed defence industrial base and generate economic spin-offs. Of course the necessary security and regulatory provisions can be insisted. Despite the concern the effort to ramp up domestic small Arms production is a step in the right direction to make the armed forces more self-reliant for equipment and is critical for a country seeking to play a larger strategic role.