Indian SA Inventory: Needs Modern & Homogeneous Weapons

Indian Defence forces are still using the small arms based on designs from the 1950s or earlier designs, with the most prominent exception of the INSAS family based on the 65-year-old Kalashnikov design. 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.

The  manufacturing of Small Arms for armed forces/ para-military forces/police, are confined to the Department of Defense Production viz Ordnance Factories (OFs). DRDO is responsible for design and development of all major defense equipment and undertakes design & development leading to production of weapon systems and equipment. Despite assured orders, the overall performance in terms of meeting the requirements of the armed forces has been below optimal and has resulted in India spending billions of dollars on small arms import.

Holding of Small Arms
The major users of Small Arms (SA) are the three defence services and the para-military forces. The Indian inventories are estimated to contain approximately 3.0 million small arms (refer table), approximately 1.6 million of these belong to the military including Coast Guard and 1.3 million to paramilitary. Surprisingly, the major profile of these inventories includes the 5.56 mm or 7.62 caliber old design weapons of vintage technology.


The Army is presently using DRDO-designed and OFB-built INSAS 5.56 mm AR introduced into service in the 1990s, which is long due for replacement.  The SA holding is a mixed bag in terms of design, in the absence of own design/development capability.


The inventory of small arms (refer table) 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. The defence production policy reference to the need for self-reliance are only being given a lip service, resulting into being dependant on import for even small arms which is not a rocket science. The table below gives out the Indian inventory of small arms presently held.2

The army intends to replace these with new assault rifles, beside new carbines, machine guns and other weapons with interchangeable 5.56 mm & 7.62mm barrels and the fourth caliber as grenade launcher.


Issues & Concerns
Production Capacity
Small arms have a life of approx 20 years depending on their uses and how well they are maintained. Taking the overall requirement of SAs for the military and para-military forces to be 3.0 million and the life of weapon 20 years, as explained above, we need a production capability of approximately 1.50 lacs per year for the replacement cycle to ensure that military is always equipped with latest technology SAs.

With an annual production capacity of approximately 0.90-1.0 lacs small arms of all types against the required quantity for replacement. The ordnance factories are unable to meet even the annual replacement requirement of the military, not counting requirements of Para Military Forces.

According to a report No. 24 of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, ordnance factories have been lagging behind in their production programme for ammunition, weapons and vehicles, materials and components (refer table). These figures, though, reflect the overall position; however it can be inferred that the targets have not been achieved even in respect of production of arms & ammunition. With the existing production capacity of OFs it will require more than 3 decades to productionise the state of the art weapon and the required quantities to meet the modern day challenges.

With a focus on meeting defence requirements, even the MHA has been unable to procure weapons from the ordnance factories and have resorted to import. In the past MHA promulgated a draft Arms and Ammunition Manufacturing Policy, which allows the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) to issue licence to private industry for the manufacture of arms and ammunition to be "primarily supplied to the Central Paramilitary Forces, Defence and state governments on tendering basis". The private industries had shown a keen interest in the opportunities on offer and many large industries have shown an inclination to assume the role of system integrators by investing in R&D and infrastructure and develop capabilities in defence production. Some of the industries, had applied and received Industrial License for Small Arms and Ammunition but eventually the case did not progress as MHA was unable to issue the licenses.

Even after liberalization of the Indian economy and removal of licensing regime for major industries, the manufacture of arms like revolvers, pistols and rifled weapons and ammunition thereof has not been allowed in the private sector.

Quality & Cost
The INSAS AR project took nearly 15 years to fructify and experts claimed that it was also not in consonance with modern engineering production techniques and is expensive, besides serious defects like due to bulging barrels, frequent breakdown of moving metal parts and cracks in its composite material and plastic magazines. Priced at around INR 20,000 each, is expensive as compared to the imported ones.

Need for standardising the SA calibre & ammunition
We also need to standardise our SA calibre and ammunition to reduce the overall logistics. As shown in the table above the military already has a very heterogeneous inventory and since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks due to generous modernization budgets, Indian security agencies are relying less on domestic production of arms and more on modernization through imports. They are likely to import small arms worth over $3 billion, from different global arms manufacturers with 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”. For example, in 2011, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), signed an order for 12,000 X-95 Tavor carbines from Israel, the Home Ministry acquired some 12000 Heckler and Koch (H&K) MP5 SMGs for not only the National Security Guard but also for paramilitaries like the Central Reserve Police Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Central Industrial Security Force and in 2012, the Border Security Force (BSF) signed a contract with Italian gun maker Beretta for buying 68,000 submachine guns.

Manufacturing small quantity of ammunition for the assorted inventory may not be cost effective and hence will have to be imported. Importing ammunition for variety of weapons is itself a problem and will increase the logistics even further. Similar is the case with the standardization of weapon caliber. We need to standardize our SA caliber to ensure uniformity for a smooth logistics. As a country we should be talking about inter-operability (similar caliber & ammunition) of weapons across the defense and para-military forces, however, we are unable to achieve inter-operability even within our security forces.

Procurement in Pipe line
The Indian army plans on equipping its 359 infantry battalions, over 100 counter insurgency units and Special Forces (SF) with a modular, multi-caliber suite of small arms through imports and local licensed manufacture in one of the world's largest such contracts worth $7-8 billion. Acquiring these weapon systems is part of the army's long-postponed Future-Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS) that aims at deploying a fully-networked, all-terrain and all-weather force with enhanced firepower and mobility for the digitalized battlefield.

The army is presently planning to acquire 44,618, 5.56mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines to replace its outdated 9mm model and 33.6 million rounds of ammunition for around INR 20 billion. The deal includes a transfer of technology (ToT) to the state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to locally build 380,000-400,000 carbines. The carbine will also be equipped with Picatinny rail-mounted reflex and passive night sights, visible and invisible laser spot designators and multi-purpose detachable bayonets.

Concurrently, the army is technically assessing five competing multi-calibre 5.56mmx45mm assault rifles (ARs) as it needs approximately 218,320 ARs, and aims to import 66,000 of them from one of the competing vendors for around $300 million to replace the locally developed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56mmx45mm AR which it has reluctantly employed since the mid-1990s, but now being discarded. The overall requirement may go up to over $1.0 billion as similar ARs are also required by the para-military and police forces.

The requirement for these two basic infantry weapons is expected to increase to around 3-4 million pieces as they would eventually be issued to most paramilitary units and even provincial police forces. In due course both forces are expected to employ the same weaponry as the army as part of the revamped national security grid for deployment on counter insurgency (COIN) duty. Some of major imports executed over the previous years and in pipeline are given in the table.


Way Ahead
The manufacture of arms and ammunition is regulated under a licensing system established by the Arms Acts (1959) and Arms Rules (1962) and is under Govt domain. The private sector is primarily engaged in the manufacture of single and double-barrel and air rifles/ pistols. Even after liberalization of the Indian economy and removal of licensing regime for major industries, the manufacture of arms like revolvers, pistols and rifled weapons and ammunition thereof has not been allowed in the private sector. This has resulted in a situation where the military is dependent on foreign suppliers for most of its requirements, especially in areas of critical technologies.

The technology involved in manufacturing of small arms is neither critical nor a rocket science, however, the government is yet to allow private players to play a strategic and leading role in manufacture of small arms. Whereas, the Indian private industry is willing to invest and play a major role in defence indigenization, given they have a level playing field and competitive environment.

The OFs with their full production capacity cannot meet the defence needs of SAs and approximately 50,000 to 100.000 qty has to be either imported annually at a very high price with no gain on technology. It's high time now, that the Govt changes its policy on arms & ammunition and allows private sector industries to come forward and manufacture state of the art weapons. 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. The country will not only save revenue but will progress towards self reliance.
Private sector defence industry manufacturers have expressed 'disappointment' over licensed manufacture of the AR's and the CQB carbines on nomination basis. If we are importing armaments, then why not permit Private sectors to participate in tandem with the OFs to accelerate not only the output capacity but also for state of the art technology.

As Indian state governments and government agencies diversify their small arms procurement, their arsenals have become more modern, but less homogeneous. Planned modernization will create a potential requirement for almost 3.0 million new firearms for military & paramilitary forces. If a stern step is not taken by the Govt to modernize the small arms inventory, the vast quantities of older weapons often considered obsolete elsewhere will remain in India's arsenals for years to come.

Kavita Nagpal

Kavita Nagpal

1 Response

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