Delays, inability of the ordnance factories inability of the ordnance factories fore the Indian Army to continue using the INSAS rifle as the primary weapon.
In grand conference halls, discussions may be all about manufacturing complex military systems such as fighter planes and submarines in India, but for the soldier on the ground, the question continues to be very basic: when will he get a reliable sophisticated personal weapon?
A combination of procurement delays and inability of the ordnance factories to deliver the desired quality in time continues to thwart the attempts of the world’s second largest Army to equip its infantry with new guns, forcing it to continue using the INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle as the primary weapon.
In one of the few gun deals, the Army signed a $5.75-million contract with Brugger and Thomet (B&T) of Switzerland a few years ago for 1,568 advanced sub-machine guns for the “Ghatak” platoons — the commando units — of the infantry battalions.
They come with built-in silencers and are a very good weapon for personal defence and even close-quarter combat. “A small batch of MP-9 SMGs [sub-machine gun] has been inducted into our Ghatak platoons after trials and evaluations,” a senior Army officer told The Hindu.
While the Army is pleased with the performance of the guns, trouble has cropped up with the ammunition. The guns use the standard 9mm bullets and since the ammunition is expensive, an initial lot was procured from Switzerland and the plan was to use the locally built ammunition. However, the ammunition of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is of low quality and has been giving trouble, officials said.
“The quality of the ammunition made by the OFB in terms of metallurgy is very poor and this is affecting the performance of the gun,” an official said.
In fact, there are plans to induct the MP-9s in much larger numbers. The elite National Security Guard (NSG) was also given a presentation on the guns recently.
However, the larger procurement programs for assault and close carbine rifles of the Army have made no headway and the home-built INSAS rifles continue to be the standard issue weapon for the soldiers.
In June, the Army scrapped the tender for assault rifles with inter-changeable barrels issued in December 2011 as none of the companies could meet the stipulated specifications. The problem was essentially over ambitious service quality requirements which none of the products could meet.
If these outstanding guns cannot fulfill the stipulated specs then no guns in the world can
Similarly, the tender for close quarter carbines issued in 2010 is also likely to be scrapped. All trials have been completed, but no decision has been announced for unknown reasons.
Miffed with the delays, the Army has decided to go ahead with the Excalibur rifle, a derivative of INSAS being developed by the DRDO, as the new assault rifle fires 5.56 mm bullets. It is expected to be put to trials in the coming months after which it will be inducted into the Army.
Army Chief General Dalbir Singh has taken personal interest in it and is monitoring the progress.
One DRDO official expressed confidence that all timelines would be adhered to and the gun would be handed to the Army in 2017. INSAS was taken up as an ambitious indigenous programme to build a domestic assault rifle in the 1980s to replace the self-loading rifles (SLR) then in service.
However, the project dragged on and got clearance only in 1999, and the Army fully inducted it by 2004.
It has a long record of troubles. For instance, Naik Narkar, who did not wish to be identified with his full name, recalled an incident during a counter-insurgency operation in Kashmir when the magazine burst and he had to load one cartridge at a time and fire.
A series of modifications have since been done to rectify the defects, but the Army still lacks a modern assault rifle. Some officials stress that INSAS is a decent rifle and has to be improved upon.
Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag, former Northern Army Commander, said: “It is a pretty decent weapon. Product design can be improved upon.”
He said importing an assault rifle would be ridiculous, and stressed that one had to be developed in India. “In my view, INSAS will be in service for another 15 years. It should be a family of weapons with variants — an assault rifle, light machine gun and a carbine.”
Lt. Gen. Panag said the general firing standards are not great and had to be improved upon. “A lot depends upon who is handling the machine. The general firing standards of the Indian Army are average.”