VIEWPOINT : HUNT ON FOR ASSAULT RIFLES
What the hierarchy needs to acknowledge is that in this age of subconventional and irregular warfare, the foot soldier must not be neglected. It has been said that during past several years that for the price of a mere squadron of tanks, the entire infant
As prelude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in an interview to an Indian monthly magazine said that a growing China-India relationship is related to the welfare of the 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians and crucial to the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world at large. He expressed hope that Prime Minister Modi’s visit will deepen strategic and cooperative partnership and serve inclusive development of both our countries. He expressed hope in achieving dynamic balance and sustainable growth in bilateral trade between the two countries. He mentioned that China’s overseas investment in the next five years will reach $500 billion and ‘Make in India’ initiative and other programmes rolled out by India promises deeper practical cooperation, China already having decided to set up two industrial parks in India. As for China’s proposed ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, he mentioned the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) initiative, while saying China is open to India’s views and suggestions regarding the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.
For the foot soldier, the most important object is his personal weapon. In this context, the quest of the Indian Army for a state-of-the-art assault rifle has been long and continuing. The media has recently reported that a four-year hunt for a new-generation
assault rifle may get extended as the global tender floated in 2011 for new-generation assault rifles with interchangeable barrels for conventional warfare and counter-insurgency operations is likely to be scrapped. Though the cancellation is not confirmed, other options are being looked at.
Provision of new generation assault rifles for the 382 infantry battalions had been termed ‘Priority I’ project to address the festering neglect of the infantry and the void of a state-of-the-art assault rifle. Foreign firms like Colt (US), Beretta (Italy), Sig Sauer (Europe), Ceska (Czech) and Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) had participated in the trials for the double-barrel rifles; 5.56 x 45mm primary barrel for conventional warfare and 7.62 x 39mm secondary barrel for counter-terror operations. At the time of floating the tender in 2011, much was said about why an assault rifle with interchangeable barrels was being sought but this obviously was a conscience decision taken by the Army, which had approval of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The plan was to go for direct acquisition of 65,000 of these newgeneration assault rifles at an estimated cost of around ` 4,850 crore, to equip the 120 infantry battalions deployed on the western and eastern fronts. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) was to then subsequently manufacture over 1,13,000 such rifles after getting transfer of technology (ToT) from the foreign vendor or go for joint venture ( JV). The new-generation rifle was to weigh around 3.5 kg with advanced night-vision, holographic reflex sights, laser designators, detachable under-barrel grenade launchers and the like.
The foot soldier generally is forgotten in the race of big-ticket weapon systems; fighter aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, missiles, artillery and the like. If the direct procurement of 65,000 new-generation assault rifles is being scrapped, it is not the first time that the infantry will be suffering such setback. In 1980, 17 x 5.56mm assault rifles from 11 countries were imported by the MoD, aim being to equip 3 x parachute commando battalions and 3 x parachute battalions (latter part of the Parachute Brigade), funds for which had been reserved in the Sixth Army Plan. The Army completed comprehensive trials in 1980 in accordance with the trial directive issued by Army Headquarters. However, the case went into cold storage. It emerged that an anonymous letter was received by the then Defence Minister alleging $10,000 had been paid to place a particular rifle at the top. Then, in 1985, the MoD floated a query as to why the AK-74 assault rifles had not been tried out. The Army replied that these 17 weapons were imported by MoD without reference to the Army and the AK-74 in any case was of 5.45mm bore whereas the entire Indian Army was planning to be switch to 5.56mm assault rifles. In this war of red tape, the Sixth Army Plan lapsed and so did the funds for the six battalions that were to be equipped.
So, seven years after the trials of these imported rifles were completed in 1980, the parachute commando and parachute units went to Sri Lanka under the IPKF carrying the unwieldy 7.62 SLR rifles to battle the LTTE armed with AK-47 assault rifles. It is later that the Indian Army would import one lakh AK-47 rifles (then costing only $300 apiece) and give some 100 per infantry battalion in the IPKF. Meanwhile the above-mentioned 17 x 5.56mm imported rifles were handed over to the DRDO-OFB to develop an indigenous version, and after 15 excruciating years emerged the 5.56 INSAS which was nowhere close to the top 10 assault rifles of the same category available globally. Frankly, the DRDO-OFB should have gone in for an AK 47 with a matching night sight, which with double strapped filled magazines gives enough firepower to the soldier.
Even today, soldiers guarding the frontline on Siachen Glacier keep a loaded AK-47 next to the personal issue INSAS because there is no guarantee that the latter would not jam at the critical fleeting moment. Since we failed to indigenously produce a state-of-the-art assault rifle and other small arms, even the PMF, CAPF (BSF, CRPF, ITBP), SPG and even special units like Force 1 and Greyhounds resorted to imports. The Army Special Forces and parachute units imported 5.56mm Tavor assault rifles and similarly the MARCOS and Garud too went in for imported small arms.
While the procurement of the new-generation rifle is uncertain, the makers of the Kalashnikov have recently announced that they would be setting up an AK-47 factory in India this year in conjunction with an India company (name withheld), and that they plan to produce 50,000 assault rifles per year. What the hierarchy needs to acknowledge is that in this age of sub-conventional and irregular warfare, the foot soldier must not be neglected. It has been said past several years that for the price of a mere squadron of tanks, the entire infantry can be armed to the teeth. Considering the present and future asymmetric threat, it is not only the infantry but all foot soldiers, especially of the security sector, that need to be equipped with state-of-the-art assault rifles with night-fighting capability.
Indian Army Elite 9 Para Commandos with IMI Tavor TAR-21
LT GENERAL P.C. KATOCH (RETD)
5.56 x 30mm JVPC and Insas Rifle with 40mm UBGL; A soldier with an assault rifle