Se­lec­tion of Small Arms

In last two months, In­dia has re-started the process of re­plac­ing its arse­nal of small arms, how­ever go­ing by past ex­pe­ri­ence, re­place­mants on the ground seem dis­tant

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Ro­hit Sri­vas­tava

In last two months, In­dia has re-started the process of re­plac­ing its arse­nal of small arms, how­ever go­ing by past ex­pe­ri­ence, re­place­mants on the ground seem dis­tant.

IN PRE­VI­OUS TWO DECADES, mul­ti­ple un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts were made to ac­quire th­ese weapons. It is need­less to say that it is high time that In­dia re­places the older gen­er­a­tion small arms which have be­come un­fit for cur­rent op­er­a­tional needs.

Small Arms

All per­sonal weapons that are part of the stan­dard is­sue to any sol­dier which in­cludes re­volvers and self-load­ing pis­tols, ri­fles and car­bines, as­sault ri­fles, sub­ma­chine guns and light ma­chine guns are de­fined as small arms. The for­mer two are stan­dard is­sues to the sol­diery while the LMGs are “Sec­tion” (three sec­tions in a pla­toon, and three pla­toons in a com­pany) weapons is­sued in a fixed num­ber to army units. Car­bines, used in close quar­ter bat­tles, are is­sued to com­man­ders at var­i­ous lev­els. Gen­er­ally, peo­ple con­fuse small arms with light weapons which ac­cord­ing to Small Arms Sur­vey (1997 UN Panel of Gov­ern­men­tal Ex­pert re­port) are two dif­fer­ent set of weapons.

Their light weapons list in­cludes heavy ma­chine guns, hand-held un­der-bar­rel and mounted grenade launch­ers, por­ta­ble anti-air­craft guns, por­ta­ble anti-tank guns, re­coil­less ri­fles, por­ta­ble launch­ers of an­ti­tank missile and rocket sys­tems; por­ta­ble launch­ers of anti-air­craft missile sys­tems (MANPADS); and mor­tars of cal­i­bres of less than 100 mm.

Why do we need new weapons?

The bat­tle­field re­quire­ments and mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy are in­ter­linked. They keep evolv­ing with re­spect to each other. To keep pace with the change in re­quire­ments, weapons evolve and armies are com­pelled to ac­quire new solutions to meet new chal­lenges.

The bat­tle field re­quire­ments have changed. The like­li­hood of con­ven­tional bat­tles are few and far be­tween and if at all we fight a con­ven­tional war it is more likely to be on the pat­tern of a bor­der war/ skir­mish, limited in time and space, such as the Kargil war 1999. But the more preva­lent chal­lenge in front of all mil­i­taries of the world are the fourth-gen­er­a­tion hy­brid war­fare and coun­terin­sur­gency/coun­tert­er­ror­ism (CI/CT) op­er­a­tions which in­cludes fight­ing non-state ac­tors in the ur­ban, semi- ur­ban and jun­gle ter­rain. The re­quire­ments of this kind of sub-con­ven­tional war are bet­ter equipped sol­diers ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing in all ter­rain and in all weather con­di­tions in smaller groups and teams.

In­dian pur­chase plan

On Fe­bru­ary 28, De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC), chaired by De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man, ac­corded ap­proval for pro­cure­ment of 41,000 LMGs and over 3.5 Lakh Close Quar­ter Bat­tle Car­bines un­der Buy and Make (In­dian) cat­e­gory. Out of to­tal quan­ti­ties en­vis­aged, 75 per cent will be through In­dian In­dus­try un­der ‘Buy & Make (In­dian)’ cat­e­gory and bal­ance through OFB. The to­tal cost for pro­cure­ment of Car­bines and LMGs for the sol­diers of the three Ser­vices is 4607 crore and 3000 crore re­spec­tively.

Ear­lier in the month, on Fe­bru­ary 13, DAC ap­proved pro­cure­ment of es­sen­tial quan­tity of LMGs for the three Ser­vices through the Fast Track Procedure at an es­ti­mated cost of over 1,819 crore. This will be over and above the de­ci­sion of Fe­bru­ary 28. DAC also ap­proved the much-an­tic­i­pated pro­cure­ment of 7.4 lakh As­sault Ri­fles for the three Ser­vices. Th­ese Ri­fles will be ‘Made in In­dia’ un­der the cat­e­gori­sa­tion of ‘Buy and Make (In­dian)’, through both Ord­nance Fac­tory Board and Pri­vate In­dus­try at an es­ti­mated cost of 12,280 crore.

In another de­ci­sion, it ap­proved the pur­chase of 5,719 Sniper Ri­fles for the In­dian Army and In­dian Air Force at an es­ti­mated cost of 982 crore.

For the im­me­di­ate re­quire­ment of the troops de­ployed on the bor­ders, MoD, on Jan­uary 16, gave its nod for the pro­cure­ment of 72,400 as­sault ri­fles and 93,895 car­bines on fast track ba­sis for 3,547 crore.

More than a mil­lion sol­diers of In­dian Army need re­place­ment of indige­nous INSAS (In­dian Small Arms Sys­tem) ri­fles de­signed and de­vel­oped by DRDO and man­u­fac­tured by Ord­nance Fac­tory, which have been found op­er­a­tionally in­ad­e­quate. Thus the re­quire­ment of more modern and re­li­able ri­fles. In ad­di­tion to the AR, the army also needs more ac­cu­rate close quar­ter bat­tle car­bines. Cur­rently, In­dia is us­ing Rus­sian AK-47/56 for anti-ter­ror op­er­a­tions in Jammu and Kash­mir and North East. There has been re­think­ing within the army over the AR’s cal­i­bre af­ter us­ing the INSAS with 5.56x45 mm. The army has now de­cided to go for big­ger cal­i­bre ri­fles of 7.6x51 mm for more ef­fec­tive fire­power.

In his an­nual press con­fer­ence, on Jan­uary 12, Army Chief Bipin Rawat had said that the Army will have two kinds of ARs. “The hi-tech ri­fles, for in­stance, will be only for in­fantry bat­tal­ions de­ployed on the front. The bulk of the weapons will have to come through the indige­nous route, the ord­nance fac­to­ries or the pri­vate in­dus­try.”

Mil­i­taries of the world want to arm their sol­diers with per­sonal weapons that are light, small, dex­ter­ous, au­to­matic with a high rate of fire, which can be fit­ted with var­i­ous kinds of sight and aim­ing de­vices and de­tach­able un­der bar­rel grenade launch­ers for ARs. Th­ese also need to be easy to main­tain and re­sis­tant to weather ex­trem­i­ties.

Types of small arms Pis­tols/Re­volvers

Th­ese are pri­mar­ily is­sued for the per­sonal de­fence of com­man­ders at var­i­ous lev­els.

As­sault Ri­fle are ex­pected to main­tain a high de­gree of ac­cu­racy even in au­to­matic fir­ing mode. Some of the other fea­tures of ARs are ro­bust­ness, dex­ter­ity – op­er­a­tional from both hands, flex­i­bil­ity to take add-on equip­ment and main­tain­abil­ity.

Pis­tols are se­lected for their ease of pulling out, ac­cu­racy and lethal­ity at short ranges and if re­quired it should fire in both semi­au­to­matic and sin­gle shot mode.

As­sault Ri­fle

The ba­sic weapon of any sol­dier is the AR which is a se­lec­tive-fire ri­fle which can fire 1,000 rounds per minute, in au­to­matic mode, at a dis­tance of over 300 me­tres. Th­ese are also ca­pa­ble of semi-au­to­matic and sin­gle shot fir­ing. Th­ese are very ef­fec­tive in all kinds of en­gage­ments. ARs are ex­pected to main­tain a high de­gree of ac­cu­racy even in au­to­matic fir­ing mode. Some of the other fea­tures of ARs are ro­bust­ness, dex­ter­ity – op­er­a­tional from both hands, flex­i­bil­ity to take add-on equip­ment and main­tain­abil­ity. Modern as­sault ri­fles come with Pi­catinny rail to add-on dif­fer­ent kinds of ac­ces­sories like sight and tar­get­ing de­vices.


Th­ese are ba­si­cally short bar­rel ri­fles which fire pis­tol cal­i­bre bul­lets, like the fa­mous MP-5. But with new demands of the CI/CT op­er­a­tions armed forces across the world are go­ing in for medium cal­i­bre (5.56 mm) car­bines. Th­ese are ex­pected to be easy to han­dle with a high rate of fire to en­gage the en­emy in all types of ter­rain in­clud­ing con­fined places like a build­ing etc. Like AR, the modern car­bines come with Pi­catinny rail.


Th­ese are long bar­rel au­to­matic guns with over 800 m range and also ca­pa­ble of the sus­tained rate of fire of over 600 rounds/ min­utes. Th­ese are used for sup­pres­sive fire to pin down an en­emy or to elim­i­nate them at long dis­tances. The defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of th­ese guns are ac­cu­racy, high rate of fire, weight, ro­bust­ness, ease of han­dling and main­tain­abil­ity.

Some of the ma­jor as­pects of small arms are de­scribed be­low


In the late 1970s, the western armies be­gan to arm their sol­diers with smaller cal­i­bre (in­ter­nal di­am­e­ter of the bar­rel of a gun) ri­fles as the ob­jec­tive was to in­jure a sol­dier who would re­quire two or more men to take him out of bat­tle, which would take three to four men out of the fight. Within next decade most armies moved from 7.62mm guns to 5.56 x 4 mm (NATO).

But to­day, when armies are fight­ing non­state ac­tors (ter­ror­ists/mil­i­tants/Ji­hadis), who are trained, mo­ti­vated and equipped to fight till death and hence con­tinue to fight even af­ter in­jury with the aim of in­flict­ing max­i­mum causal­i­ties on the op­po­nent there is a need to stop this in­di­vid­ual be­fore he can do more dam­age and there­fore the forces are mov­ing back to higher cal­ibers such as 7.62mm.

Modern small arms are ex­pected to be mod­u­lar, easy to main­tain and should al­low add-on of ac­ces­sories. A modern sol­dier is a sys­tem in it­self


Modern in­fantry’s bat­tle load is in ex­cess of around 40 kg which in­cludes per­sonal weapons, am­mu­ni­tion, food, wa­ter, com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices, bat­ter­ies etc. All armies pre­fer lighter guns which are easy to carry along with bat­tle load and are ef­fort­less to han­dle. INSAS which weighs around 4.2 kgs (with­out mag­a­zine) is around 500 gm heav­ier than AK-47. Modern as­sault ri­fle like Ta­vor -21, Ta­vor-7 and SCAR-H weighs slightly over three kg. The lighter weapon gives less re­coil and is easy to fire in burst mode.


AK-47, most used firearm in the world, with its all qual­i­ties is not con­sid­ered very ac­cu­rate in engaging tar­gets at longer range. To­day, forces look for a gun which is ca­pa­ble of the high rate of fire but it should also be ac­cu­rate enough to en­gage tar­gets at 300 to 400 me­tres range. This is where modern small arms come into pic­ture. Most of the lat­est ri­fles can ef­fec­tively and ac­cu­rately en­gage tar­gets at this range. Sim­i­larly, for LMG, the range with ac­cu­racy is around 800 me­tres.


A gun can­not be a frag­ile thing. It has to be ro­bust enough to sur­vive shocks and hits that it may face dur­ing the con­duct of ex­er­cises in peace­time and dur­ing con­flicts. A gun has to be tough but on other hand it should also be light and com­pact.


To fire heavy cal­i­bre bul­lets, guns need longer bar­rel, but this re­stricts ef­fec­tive tar­get ac­qui­si­tion in close quar­ters. This is where car­bine comes handy as they give fire­power through smaller bar­rel. Bullpup de­sign merges the two kinds of guns. It re­tains the bar­rel length of an AR by plac­ing the trig­ger in front of the ac­tion and mag­a­zine. This re­duces the ef­fec­tive length of the gun. Hence, it merges the ac­cu­racy and fire­power of AR with the hand­i­ness of car­bines.

Other fea­tures

Modern small arms are ex­pected to be mod­u­lar, easy to main­tain and should al­low add-on of ac­ces­sories. A modern sol­dier is a sys­tem in it­self. He should be ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing in all con­di­tion and weather through both day and night. This is achieved through use of var­i­ous kinds of gad­gets.

Some of th­ese equip­ment are re­flex sights – to aim with open eyes; flash­light; laser tar­get des­ig­na­tor; rangefinder; tele­scopic sights and dif­fer­ent kinds of in­frared/night vi­sion de­vices. To in­te­grate th­ese ac­ces­sories, modern weapons must come with Pi­catinny rail.

The modern small arms are evolv­ing into a stan­dard­ized sys­tem and are being de­vel­oped keep­ing in mind the need for add-on ac­ces­sories. In com­par­i­son to the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of weapons, th­ese new en­trant gives sol­diers re­prieve from tack­ling many of the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with man­ag­ing weapons. This brings vi­tal re­lief to a sol­dier who is pre-oc­cu­pied with the larger op­er­a­tional is­sues and does not want to think about things as fun­da­men­tal as the func­tion­ing of his ri­fle/car­bine.


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