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Small Arms Procurement – Slow Start

 The lack of concerted effort and unrealistic demands coupled with lack of indigenous design has been the hall mark of procurement of the Small Arms systems. Resultantly most of the inventory of Small Arms is of obsolete design.

Obsolete Inventory

Last year Army admitted before the parliamentary standing committee that it has been unable to finalise order for Rifles and Carbines for almost 10 years for varied reasons. Army Equipment inventory vintage is 68% near obsolete, 24% current and only 8% state-of-the-art against the desired 30-33% in each category. In fact in case of Small Arms it could still be worse. The problem is systemic as much as it is attitudinal and most of its MoD's own doing, working in independent silos, be it Procurement procedures, Framing of requirements or Resource allocation. The procurement has been frequently crippled by “multiple and diffused structures with no single point accountability, Multi-decision heads, duplication of processes, no real-time monitoring, no project-based approach and a tendency to fault-find rather than to facilitate.

Procurement Delays

This has been more so with Army procurement. The case to the point is procurement of Rifles and Carbines, which has been delayed due to Army's 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2011, the Army sought a dual-caliber rifle chambered for two types of ammunition (7.62x39 mm and 5.56x 45 mm) which was withdrawn in 2015.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, through our indigenous production facilities. But unfortunately frequent changing of the requirements and asking for the best, we lost over 10 years on this account.

 Indigenous Design Development  Efforts

The design development and production efforts of DRDO in association with OFB, Small arms development had a limited success. The variants include:-

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

Ghaatak SLR developed by Rifle Factory Ischapur (RFI) 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. INSAS continues with the Excalibur 5.56x45mmin the role of the lighter assault rifle. The Excalibur is a much improved version of the INSAS 1B and is 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.

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 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.

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 settled on two variants of Assault Rifle. The 7.62 X51 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 7.62x51 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. This Procurement has progressed a bit with shortlisting of US based SIG Sauer, a Swiss-German weapons consortium with its variant SiG 716 for 7.62x51 mm for 72,000 automatic rifles at the estimated cost of Rs 3,500 crore.

The Indian Army is expected to sign a contract with SIG Sauer, a US-based arms manufacturer, for procuring 72,400 SIG 716 assault rifles. Contract negotiations with the vendor are expected to last over three months before a deal can be signed. The SiG Sauer Rifle 716 is based on the AR-15 rifle design.

Assault Rifles 7.62 X39 mm Cal

A concurrent proposal of the procurement of 740,000 Assault Rifles7.62x39 cal is 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 X39 mm Rifle, Qty 6.5 lakh.Indian companies have responded with collaboration from foreign manufacturers. The request for proposal (RFP) is expected.

The 400,000 AK-103 7.62mm x 39 SLRs are reqd ONLY for 50 Assam Rifles Battalions, 20 CRPF Battalions, 20 BSF Battalions and 62 Rashtriya Rifles Battalions to replace their existing AK-47s acquired from Bulgaria's KINTEX since the early 1990s.

A request for information to produce 6.5 lakh of the rifles under the Buy and Make (Indian) category was issued and industry Punj Lloyd group, Reliance Defence, the Kalyani Group among others have responded. The OEMs such as Arsenal (Bulgaria), Sig Sauer (US), IWI (Israel), Beretta (Italy), Colt (US) and Caracal (UAE) wants to partner with Indian industry.  The number expected to go up as other services would also require them in the future.

AK-203 Production

OF Korwa was sanctioned at an estimated cost of Rs 408.01 crore Korwa Project Oct 2007. The project was to be completed in 36 months for  planned Capacity 45,000 Carbines every year. Presently 200 Employee with turnover of Rs 18 crores.

Army Team did try 3 AK series of rifles  AK-103, AK-103 (Modernised) and AK-15 in Dec 2018. The AK-203 developed in 2016 and with Russian armed forces in 2018 was shortlisted. Indo-Russian Rifles Pvt. Ltd, a JV, registered on February 25, 2019.India will be the first country to design/manufacturing of this rifle.100 % IC with in 32 Months by the time 120000 Rifles are produced.

India and Russia formed a JV  with the respective share as OFB: Kalashnikov:: Rosobornoexport :: 50.5:42:7.5 percent stake, to build the AK-203. The production line in Ordnance factory Korwa will start by 2019. The cost of technology transfer and setting up manufacturing facilities in Ordnance Factory, Korwa, is yet to be Known.  The  Services have projected the requirements of at least Rs 12,000 crore for Small Arms.

New Sniper Rifles for Army

Ministry of Defence (MoD) had invited responses to Buy Global  RFP  for 5,719 8.6 mm sniper rifles telescopic night sights (using uncooled thermal imagers and being MIL-STD-1913 compliant so that they can be fitted on Picatinny rails) and 10.2 million rounds of ammunition for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force in a deal worth $ 150 million.

Indian Army will be getting 5,719 sniper rifles from Messers Beretta .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT of Italy and .50 Calibre Sniper Rifle M95 MS Berrett from the US by the end of Jan 2019.  These will replace Soviet-era Dragonov SVD rifles that were procured in the 1990s.

The deal also includes licensed manufacture of five million rounds of .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition under a transfer of technology to Ordnance Factory Board and private-sector manufacturers.

5.56x45 mm Close Quarter Battle Carbine

The fast-track procurement of 93,895 close-quarter-battle carbines (CQB) from Caracal, a deal worth $553.33 Millions (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'.  In order to seek maximum participation, essential details of AoN are being published on MoD/ Indian Army website. Any vendor who had not responded to RFI earlier may express interest for seeking RFP by 04 Feb 2019. Tentative date of issue of RFP is February 2019.

Light Machine Guns 7.62x51mm

DAC has accorded AoN for procurement of Light Machine Gun (LMG Quantity40,000 (Approx) under Category 'Buy and Make (Indian)' with 'Buy' component as 'Nil'. RFI was initially hoisted in Oct 2017 and Aug 2018. However, in order to seek maximum participation, essential details of AoN are being published on MoD/ Indian Army website.  A fresh RFI for 7.62 x 51mm Light Machine Gun (LMG) for Armed Forces quantity30,000 (Approx) under Category 'Buy and Make (Indian)' with 'Buy' component as NIL in early Jan 2019. RFP for LMG may be reissued shortly as Punj Lloyd with IWI, Israel was a single bidder for light machine guns. An RFP has been issued for 15500 LMG on Fast Track route to some of the Likely contenders IWI, ST Motiv and Arsenal etc.

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 Indian private sector in partnership with global small arms industry. Although Small Arms are mainly mechanical system can be improved upon according to our requirement, through our indigenous production facilities. However 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.

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