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

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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

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