Rahul Bedi reports on the defence ministry's decision to seek a long-pending replacement for the INSAS assault rifle for its troops
The Ministry of Defence has issued a tender for the import of 66,000 5.56 mm assault rifle for an estimated $250 million (Rs 13,000 crore) to replace the locally-designed Indian Small Arms System 5.56 mm AR, which the army has reluctantly employed since the mid-1990s.
The Request for Proposal dispatched to over 40 overseas vendors last month -- with bids to be submitted by mid-Feb 2012 -- requires the 3.66 kg AR's to convert to 7.62x39 mm and be fitted with Picatiny Rail-mounted reflex sights.
The ARs would also need to be equipped with under-barrel grenade launchers and be able to fire locally-produced ammunition.
The RfP also mandates a transfer of technology to the State-owned Ordnance Factory Board to locally make the ARs of which the eventual requirement is expected to be around 2 million for the army, the central paramilitary forces and state police in a massive programme estimated at $2-3 billion.
Armament industry officials, however, said that the exclusion of the private sector from this potential contract was at variance with the MoD's much publicised aim of privatising the monopolistic State-run military-industrial sector.
The imported ARs would supplant the INSAS 5.56 mm AR, which the army had inducted into service some 15 years and employed in counter-insurgency operations but consistently found it operationally inadequate.
The army's association with the INSAS AR programme has been turbulent and problematic.
For long it had objected to the Defence Research and Development Organisation-designed and OFB-built INSAS 5.56 mm AR introduced into service in the mid-1990s to replace the heavier and outmoded range of 7.62mm FNFAL self-loading rifles.
But despite protestations centred round the INSAS ARs sights that malfunctioned in cold regions and its firing mechanism that jammed at critical times, the army was 'persuaded' by the MoD to induct the rifle that took the DRDO nearly a decade to design and the OFB another four to build.
But frontline infantry and Rashtriya Rifles units deployed on counter-insurgency duties preferred the tested Kalishnikov-designed 7.62 mm AK 47 of which 100,000 were imported from Bulgaria in 1995 for $ 8.3 million as a 'stop gap' measure till the INSAS AR became operational.
And more recently in 2002 the army imported 3,070 Israeli Weapon Industries' 5.56 mm Tavor 21 AR (TAR 21s) for its Special Forces for around $ 20 million that were inducted into service 2008 onwards.
A contract for an additional 10,000 TAR-21's with reflex sights for newly raised paramilitary SF units is nearing fruition.
The INSAS AR's inadequacy also became a contentious issue between India and Nepal in August 2005 when the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) claimed the rifle supplied to it to battle Maoist guerilla's repeatedly malfunctioned, resulting in heavy casualties.
The RNA maintained that the AR "became too hot" and unusable for sustained firing during a particular firefight at Pili in Kalikot district, 600 km west of the capital Kathmandu in which 43 soldiers died.
Reacting irately to these charges, Indian officials said the INSAS rifles might have failed due to poor maintenance and the RNA's lack of experience in using them.
The DRDO's decision to develop the INSAS range of weapons in the early 1980's followed a proposal by the MoD to import around 8000 5.56mm ARs for select parachute regiments that later converted to SF.
The army wanted to replace the heavier 7.62MM SLR, its main assault weapon and Germany's Heckler & Koch's G 41 and Austria's Steyr AUG were short-listed with both vendors offering free transfer of technology in the $ 4.5 million contract.
Thereafter, the army's requirements doubled and the federal government facing a foreign exchange crunch turned down the import proposal.
The ubiquitous DRDO stepped in claiming to have made progress in developing the 5.56mm AR at its Armaments Research and Development Establishment in Pune but it took over a decade before the project fructified.
Weapon experts at the time claimed that the INSAS 5.56mm AR was eventually an 'amalgam' of Kalashnikov, FN-FAL, the G41 and AUG designs and overall not in consonance with modern engineering production techniques which, in turn, would render it expensive.
The INSAS AR was eventually priced at around Rs 16,000-18,000 per rifle compared to the imported Bulgarian AK 47's that cost around $93 each or around Rs 2800 at the prevailing exchange rate.
"The INSAS AR is a non-competitive weapon system and the army became a tied customer with little choice but to pay the asking price however high it might be and whatever operational objections it had to the rifle," a senior Infantry officer admitted.
For, unlike the financially accountable private sector, the OFB's costing is flexible and being government-owned their manpower is considered "free" and cost, time and technological overruns matter little, he added.
The initial INSAS family of 5.56 mm weapons also included a light machine gun and carbine, both of which had long been abandoned necessitating hugely expensive imports nearly two decades later.
Consequently, last December the MoD dispatched a RfP to 40-odd overseas vendors to acquire 44,618 5.56mm close quarter battle carbines and 33.6 million rounds of ammunition for an estimated Rs 2000 crore.
This tender too mandates a 30 per cent offset liability and transfer of technology to the OFB to build around 400,000 CQB carbines to replace the outmoded 9mm model currently being used by the army.
In 2004-05 the army had projected a requirement for 420,000-odd CBQ and new generation protective carbines for its 359 infantry battalions and 66 associated RR units but it took the MoD five years before issuing the RfP for them.
AK101 or 103 are the best choices considering their reliability and cost.Unlike akm they are comparable with other top weapons in the case of accuracy.Plus weight is also very moderate,low recoil,could mount various optics.
Even though Hks and g36s too are good ones but they cost very much as compared to kalashnikovs which have the same performance level and better reliability.
OFB's lackadaisical production standards and lack of commitment screwed up what could have been an excellent product family. And now, they'll produce whatever is chosen by the Army. Wonderful.
If the INSAS was given to L&T or Mahindra, there is little doubt these two would have done a far better job, than the OFB INSAS which every unit armorer would modify upon receipt for ease of use/make the action smooth. And this, one of the smaller things versus some of the ones received.
NEW DELHI: The Army now wants a complete overhaul of its basic weaponry for soldiers. The ball has been set rolling for the acquisition of advanced 5.56mm assault rifles in huge numbers to replace the existing indigenous 5.56mm INSAS (Indian small arms system) rifles, which has suffered from glitches since its induction in 1997-1998.
Defence ministry sources said a global tender has been issued to over 40 armament firms to submit their bids for the new 5.56mm assault rifles, which can be equipped with night-vision devices, laser designators, detachable under-barrel grenade launchers and the like.
The initial order is likely to be for direct purchase of around 66,000 rifles, followed by largescale licensed manufacture by the Ordnance Factory Board to equip the 13-lakh strong armed forces as well as the 8-lakh central paramilitary forces. The mega project could be well worth over Rs 20,000 crore once its exact contours are firmed up.
The Army is already inducting, or plans to induct, a wide array of small arms, ranging from "close-quarter battle'' (CQB) carbines and light-weight assault rifles to anti-material "bunker-bursting'' rifles and specialized sniper rifles.
The new 3.5-kg assault rifles to be acquired are in line with the Army's long-delayed F-INSAS (future infantry soldier as a system) project, which is geared towards enhancing the "lethality and survivability'' of foot soldiers.
The aim behind F-INSAS is to transform soldiers into self-contained, fully-networked, mobile killing machines, with a high degree of 'situational awareness' and capable of operating in all-terrain and all-weather conditions.
Under it, infantry soldiers are to be progressively equipped with light-weight integrated ballistic helmets with 'heads-up display' and miniaturized communication systems; portable visual, chemical and biological sensors; hand-held computer displays, GPS and video links; and lethal firepower with laser-guided modular weapon systems
Army officers say INSAS rifles, which have an effective 400-metre range, are slowly but surely becoming obsolete. It had become the standard basic weapon for the 324 infantry battalions (each with over 800 soldiers) in the Army from the late 1990s onwards after the earlier cumbersome 7.62mm self-loading rifles were phased out.
INSAS rifles had several "teething problems'' in the initial phases, with complaints of "cold arrest'' and cracking of the bullet magazines, especially in high-altitude areas like Kargil and Siachen. This, in fact, had forced the Army to import one lakh AK-47 rifles in 1995 for counter-insurgency and other operations.
Though many of the defects in the INSAS rifles were later rectified, the Army still continues to use the "fail-safe'' and rugged AK-47s more for close-quarter fighting with militants in Jammu and Kashmir.
Very sad day for Deptt of Defense Production, DRDO and MoD who have been making fool of Indian soldiers showing them dreams of INSAS in their pursuit of dogged egoism, deaf behaviour and high-handedness. Indian Defence production has been handed over to INTUC, AITUC, CITU and communist unions who make supplies for underprivileged and rights stripped men in uniform. The leaders (IAS Babucracy of MoD themselves are half commies and intrinsically anti soldier pen pushers. Or what can explain fifteen years wait under a banana (republic) tree waiting for INSAS to fall.
Failure of INSAS gives creepy nasty feeling. Any one who had been associated with it (12 Lakh Indian soldiers) feel justified about their laments about a rifles that made many thousand lives to be lost. People kept crying but DRDO half erects kept accusing the IA as lovers of foreign mal rather than their intellectually bankrupt mal.