Military & Aerospace

Caste System in Personal Weapons of Foot Soldiers Needs Review
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 07 Nov , 2017

As per media reports the Army is going in for equipping infantry soldiers  (not all) with a world-class assault rifle, while non-infantry soldiers would get a cheaper, “less effective”, indigenous rifle.

The saga of new assault rifles actually began in 1980 when 17 x 5.56mm rifles from 11 countries were imported by MoD to equip three Para Commando battalions and three Para Battalions. Despite successful trials, the red tape and mafia blocked imports, giving these 17 weapons to DRDO who took 15 years to produce the 5.56 INSAS rifle that was nowhere close to top 10 assault rifles of the world.

The IPKF went to Sri Lanka in 1987 armed with the unwieldy 7.62 SLR rifles battling the LTTE armed with AK 47 assault rifles. Eventually, Army had to import 1,00,000 AK 47 rifles (then costing only US$ 300 apiece) to give 100 per infantry battalion in the IPKF.

It may be recalled that the global tender floated in 2011 (with MoD approval) for new generation assault rifles with interchangeable barrels for conventional warfare and CI operations was finally scrapped in June 2015 despite being termed “Priority I” for the 382 infantry battalions.

Reputed foreign firms participated in the trials for the double-barrel rifles, Army having taken conscience decision to go for interchangeable barrels, which had MoD approval. The plan was direct acquisition of 65,000 new generation rifles costing Rs 4,848 crores to equip 120 infantry battalions. OFB was to then manufacture over 1,13,000 such rifles through joint venture (JV) with the foreign vendor providing ToT. The rifle was to weigh around 3.5 kgs with advanced night-vision, holographic reflex sights, laser designators, detachable under-barrel grenade launchers etc.

It is not that the type of assault rifle the Army sought was not available globally, but what caused the tender to be scrapped was the DRDO coming up with the ‘Improved 5.56 INSAS’ dubbed Excalibur, which had been under development past several years. After the request for proposal (RFP) for the assault rifles was scrapped by MoD in June 2015, the Army in September 2016 re-launched its global hunt for assault rifles after similar bids over last decade were shelved on various grounds including corruption.

What is being touted in the media is that the army had planned to procure some 800,000 state-of-the-art assault rifles from the global market, each costing about Rs 200,000; that would have cost about Rs 16,000 crore – significantly more than what the army can afford.  But this is grossly incorrect since Army had all along planned to procure around 2,00,000 assault rifles, not 8,00,000 being reported now.  in fact, only 65,000 (costing Rs 4,848 cr) were to be imported and 1,13,000 were to be manufactured by OFB. Had this been pursued in 2011, Army’s 140 infantry battalions would have already been equipped and balance in the process through a JV.

The media has quoted the Army Chief having decided to now buy only 2,50,000 rifles from the international market, “and issue them only to combat infantrymen – the frontline foot soldiers who are directly in contact with the enemy”. The remaining 550,000 army soldiers who are authorized rifles but serve mainly in non-infantry arms and services will get a new indigenous rifle, as per media reports; the army will choose between the INSAS-1C, designed by the Defence R&D Organization (DRDO), and the ‘Ghatak’, designed by Ordnance Factory, Kirkee.

If the media is to be believed, even within an infantry battalion, not every one of its 800-odd soldiers will be issued a 7.62 mm assault rifle. These will go only to soldiers who can expect to be in direct contact with the enemy: its four rifle companies and the commando platoon, totaling up to about 565 persons per battalion. The remaining personnel would be issued other weapons such as 5.56 mm carbines and rifles.

At 565 rifles for each of these infantry units, the total adds up to 250,000 rifles. At Rs 200,000 for each foreign assault rifle, equipping these 250,000 infantrymen will cost Rs 5,000 crore. For the remaining 550,000 non-infantry soldiers, their indigenous rifles – INSAS-1C or the Ghatak rifle, whichever is chosen.  This is some weird mathematics given the fact that Army went on to combatize the non-combatant employees (NCEs) decades back realizing that every man jack will need to fight in war.

The Ghatak and INSAS 1C both remain “works in progress”. How long the “work in progress” will be is not known though rumoured to be small, but it certainly will be shorter than the procurement process for importing the 250,000 “world class” assault rifles. More significantly, the “work in progress” is not really material. What is relevant here is that they should clear the trials, for which the standards should not be diluted to dump these personal weapons on to what are ironically not being considered as frontline foot soldiers, even creating something like a class system of rifles within an infantry battalion.

The question here is whether we can really make a strict division between the conventional war and counter insurgency where hybrid war that we have been  fighting past decades includes all forms of warfare including conventional and irregular warfare, terrorism and insurgencies included.

Moreover, it is a borderless war with blurred frontlines. Having two different type of rifles even within an infantry battalion catering for only 565 persons as frontline soldiers equipped with “world-class” assault rifles indicates some muddled thinking.  The record of the DRDO-OFB in providing state-of-the art small arms to the Army has been atrocious, the versions of INSAS provided so far being sub-standard compared to global counterparts in this category of weapons.

The present ongoing exercise appears to be to somehow push the INSAS-1C to the 550.000 army soldiers not being labeled frontline soldiers under the pretext of the requirement being of a cheaper, “less effective”, indigenous rifle. One can also expect that the import of the so called “world-class” imported 200,000 assault rifles will be suitably stalled, while the INSAS 1-C gets fielded, followed by the question why shouldn’t the balance infantrymen get the same weapon. This is the trap that must be avoided.

In an article published in July 2017, Debalina Ghoshal in her article titled ‘Why Indian Army’s hunt for assault rifle under Make in India is no good’  quotes an veteran Army Brigadier and defence analyst Rahul Bhonsle saying, “DRDO projects will remain technology demonstrators given that they do not provide confidence to the customer, the Indian armed forces, that these weapon systems are modern state-of-the-art”.

The Army Chief maybe having his own reason for wanting to import 250,000 assault rifles. However, the original plan of importing only 65,000 and balance equipping being done through JV with foreign partner should be as good an option – saving much money. More than 1,000 foreign firms from 40 countries want to enter the defence sector in India. Prudence would demand that strategic partnership with private companies in India will be a better and faster option, the DRDO-OFB having managed to even scuttle import of carbines and light machine guns for the Army, while themselves being unable to produce anything worthwhile in this category past decades.

Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

3 thoughts on “Caste System in Personal Weapons of Foot Soldiers Needs Review

  1. God knows of which vintage this veteran Katoch is he is calling 7.62 x 51 mm rifle an unwieldy rifle being from special forces does not entitle his to write such article then What? is Punj lloyd doing manufacturing ACE 52 and by the way what might be suitable for special forces — i mean those carbines with less than 300 M (at what rate can these people deliver sustained auto fire that also with doubtful lethality the reason why two round technique has been introduced in west) but for regular infantry a battle /assault rifle with 500+ effective lethal range (one round one kill) is an absolute must to cause attrition and win any battle and in particular pitched classical battles that infantry has to fight facing tanks missiles bombs and heavy artillery -not just covert operations he is used to plan — i suggest he get out of the hype of special forces and don his infantry boots when he goes out on walk these days

  2. Can somebody else verify the chronology of events from 1980 onwards as mentioned in the lead article, please.

    Things from 1980 onwards in rifle procurement did not happen as the author says. The 5.56 caliber rifle was Army high command request at that time. No weapon system ever succeeds on first attempt. The M-16 had jamming problem in Vietnam from 1963 till 1973. Over years it was modified and improved. The Indian Army was expecting the INSAS to be perfect on the very first attempt. Fools paradise.

    What the author failed to mention that anti INSAS bias had arms merchant’s hand in it. They most likely lead the propaganda against it.

    Now the same propaganda is being unleashed via retired army personnel against newer EXCalibur rifle. It is a perfectly working newer version, but the army would not have it because stupid reasons of muzzle flash and sound.

    To dump EXCalibur and even a new improved INSAS – 1C, the army changed back to 7.62 without ever apologizing that in eighties they made a mistake of selecting 5.56 based on American cum NATO recommendations.

    The multicalibur rifle requirements had problem in GSQR. A rifle of that specification did not exits. Many prototypes existed but not yet perfected by foreign vendors or Indian DRDO. The trials failed……. no surprise.

    Now the game of trials and selection for 7.62 is to begin again in 2017/18. Nobody will have rifle to the new 7.62 GSQR. It will trial and fail. They have to select from a plethora of rifles in the foreign markets. If the army selects one from the glossy blue brochures, it will have the same problems as M-16 or INSAS had. That means delays upon delays.

    Whose is at fault – the Army GSQR for pie in the sky and too many procedures to test the foreign vendors. In the latter I agree with the Army. The foreign vendors at times push sub standard materials in India. To get the order they grease the palms.

    Why less rifles at the first instant. It all depends upon how much money we have.


    • “No weapon system ever succeeds on first attempt.”- ….

      This is a gem of an observation for the armed forces in assessing military hardware. Unfortunately, entrusted military officers in higher echelons fall in the trap of reading glossy brochures as noted. These items – missiles, rifles, artillery, torpedos … – are not like motor vehicles, televisions, fridges … in the marketplace which have been tested hundreds of thousand times by the individual customers using them and most of their defects have the opportunity of being rectified by the manufacturers over time. To my information, there is a similar hurdle looming up with AESA (Active Electronically Steered Antenna) system mounted on fighter aircrafts. The technology and implementation of AESA is far from perfect at present. According to some open literature I have come across, AESA has been shown to work only in the HF band but not for the K band where the missiles operate. Of course, there are always classified data with correct information in the hands of air forces of advanced nations that could negate what I am noting here. But who can vouch for that, excepting the DRDO experts only if they are able to gain access to such military secrets in foreign sources. Reading the pages of IDR, I get the feeling that IAF hierarchy and some general commentators are upbeat about procuring AESA at a great cost. But IAF would not like to engage with DRDO in this matter and the present PM is also disdainful on DRDO!

More Comments Loader Loading Comments