The Quest for an Effective Assault Rifle for the Indian Soldier

Issues Details: 
Vol 11 Issue 2 May - Jun 2017
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
How does the critical void of an effective assault rifle impact operational efficiency and what is being done to fill it
Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), Director CENJOWS
Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Indian Army is by far one of the most battle hardened and combat rich Armed Forces in the world. However, it is also one of the most poorly equipped forces.  After marking time for a decade under the previous regime, the Ministry of Defence, under the active guidance of the erstwhile Raksha Mantri, Mr Manohar Parrikar, signed as many as 110 defence contracts of an aggregated worth of  Rs 1,13,995 crores besides  according ‘Acceptance of Necessity” (AON) for another 101 schemes valued at Rs 2,39,000 crores. These are all big-ticket projects essential to the capability development of the Armed Forces.

However, to maintain combat effectiveness it is imperative that the soldiers on ground be provided with the requisite wherewithal to fight effectively thus ensuring their protection and survival across the complete spectrum of conflict from small and hybrid wars in the sub conventional domain to conventional and nuclear wars. Regrettably, this urgent and critical need of the Indian Army’s soldier to be equipped with an effective assault rifle remains yet unaddressed. 

Small arms are the personal weapon of a soldier and are integral to his fighting effectively, even to his survival. The 5.56 Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) needs urgent replacement.   It has outlived its life and in actuality is a veritable piece of metal with soldiers across the board having little or even no faith in this weapon. There are instances of soldiers having lost their lives during encounters when their INSAS rifles had stoppages and would not fire, when in contact,  in a do or die situation during an encounter.

The preferred weapon of a soldier in Counter Terrorism (CT) operations is the AK 47, it is also the standard weapon used by the terrorist. The Infantry and the Army need a state of the art assault rifle and close quarter battle weapon to fight effectively, succeed and survive.  The army after due deliberations sought a multi-calibre multi-role assault rifle with modular interchangeable parts, enhanced ranges and lethality in a weight class of 3.6 Kg, to enable effective operations in all types of terrain and in all conflict situations. This was based on the feedback and operational requirements projected by field formations and on the concept of operations.

The fighting rationale is simple and is followed by most world armies, that is stopping power in CI/CT Operations and maiming the enemy soldier rather than a kill as in conventional war. An injured soldier is not only a long-term burden for the adversary but also an immediate deterrent to success of an ongoing operation of war as injured soldiers need immediate evacuation from the battlefield, which reduces the bayonet strength and has a demoralising effect on the fighting echelons in the battlefield.

The GSQR for the multi calibre assault rifle was finalised after a number of iterations with all stakeholders which included the field force, heads of all arms and services, the DRDO, OFB and the DGQA. This was thereafter deliberated by the COAS, all Army Commanders and Principal Staff Officers in a specially convened meeting at the Military Operations Directorate in 2011, with a single agenda of identifying the operational requirement of the future assault rifle of the Army.

The November 2011 tender issued post detailed deliberations for the assault rifle required the weapon system to weigh no more than 3.6 Kg, fire both, the indigenously produced ammunition of 5.56x45 mm calibre and 7.62 mm x 39 mm projectiles with a barrel and magazine switch for employment in a stand-alone defensive or in a  suppressive fire role. Fitted with Picatinny Rail-mounted reflex sights,  the rifles were also required to be equipped with day scopes and a 40 mm low-velocity under barrel grenade launcher (UBGL).

The multi-calibre assault rifle is not configured in the face of fire as some tend to believe, it is a task-oriented configuration and can be easily carried out within the unit by the soldier himself with little training. A fully loaded and configured lightweight assault rifle as demanded by the infantry in the 2011 GSQR is a long term solution to a major weakness of the Army.

Post these deliberations tenders were issued to Colt, Beretta, the Swiss Sig Sauer, the Czech Ceska and Israel Weapons Industry. The tenders were however canceled some time in 2015 as it is believed that the rifles could not come up to the requisite standards of the Army. It is unfortunate that on account of our mindsets some serving officers and veterans could not comprehend the many advantages that accrue to a soldier fighting with a task configured weapon, thus calling for a review of the qualitative requirements leading to not only unacceptable delay, but also a violation of the established concept of maiming the enemy in war rather than kill.

As per Times of India report by Rajat Pandit of 28 Sep 2016 “ India re-launched on Tuesday its global hunt for

new-generation assault rifles, after similar attempts over the last decade failed due to unrealistic technical requirements and whiff of corruption, interspersed by debates on whether the gun should “kill” or merely “wound” adversaries”. Ironical though, it was on the very night of 28/29 Sep 2016 that The Indian Army launched the highly sensitive and successful ‘Surgical Strikes’ across the line of control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, spearheaded by the Parachute Regiment’s Special Forces. The troops would definitely have been happier and more confident with a state of the art assault rifle which has now been in the pipeline for over a decade.

On 28 September 2016, the Indian Army floated the Request For Information (RFI) for a world class light weight, accurate assault rifle, with an effective range of 500 mtrs.  The rifle with lethality to achieve the objective of “shoot-to-kill” should be capable of providing the desired performance across all spectrums of employment in the Indian terrain and climatic conditions. Qualitative Requirements also state a modular design, capable of fitting and firing of Indian in-service UBGL, compatibility with all modern sights and accessories and provision for mounting the same. 

In terms of design, metallurgy and performance parameters, the rifle and sight shall be ‘State of the Art’ in order to remain relevant for the next 25 to 30 years. 7.62x51 mm calibre is best suited for CT Operations, and not for conventional operations, as it violates the very basics of infantry warfighting. Armies the world over have always aimed at causing casualties and maiming the enemy rather than killing. The ammunition is also heavier and is an additional weight which an infantry soldier will need to carry thus impacting his agility and battlefield mobility.

The Army aims to induct 65,000 rifles initially to equip the infantry units deployed in CT operations in J&K and the North-East, with a further 1,20,000 that are to be manufactured in India. The final demand for the assault rifle when inducted will be upwards of 2 million taking into account the need of not only the 1.4 million armed forces but also the over 700,000 CAPF. The overall cost is likely to cross the $1 billion-mark. According to some media reports as many as 18 vendors, including some Indian companies having a tie-up with foreign arms manufacturing firms, have envisioned interest in the project, which will entail ‘Transfer of Technology’ and ‘Make in India’.  The tender for procuring the assault rifles is likely to be issued in May 2017.

Apart from assault rifles, the army also urgently needs to procure carbines, light machine guns and sniper rifles among other essential arms especially for the Infantry.

Though 7.62 x 51 mm calibre is not the ideal assault rifle for conventional operations, the time for debate is long past as the Army’s requirement for replacement of the 5.56 mm INSAS is urgent and immediate. The army also needs to be cautious of the fact that the DRDO- OFB combine will as always try to push in the INSAS upgrade in the form of the 5.56 mm Excalibur Rifle, which is derived from the INSAS and would be equally ineffective. It is an imperative that the soldier be provided with an effective weapon in which he has complete trust and confidence, to ensure that he performs his war fighting tasks, achieving his mission with minimum casualties.

For the soldier in combat, the rifle is an extension of his body and he needs the very best.

Military Affairs