Infantry is indeed the most vital combat arm of Indian army whose roles range from countering terrorism and insurgencies in peace and in war, conducting defensive and offensive operations in the mountains, plains, and deserts and when required be an important part of an out of area contingency force
The past decade and a half or so has severely degraded the war fighting capabilities of the Indian Army due to complete neglect and apathy on part of the of the leadership, political, bureaucratic and military, to speed up the process of modernisation and procurement of vital equipment and munitions. The army’s ‘critical shortages’ and obsolescence of its current equipment include155mm artillery howitzers, light utility helicopters, attack helicopters, air defence assets, various categories of ammunition, anti-tank and AD missile systems, close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles and anti-material rifles, the list is endless. To make matters worse the authorities that be, instead of hastening the process of acquisition and manufacture is busy scrapping/cancelling the ongoing procurements. The latest one which has been axed is the procurement plan for over 44,000 light machine guns (LMGs) for the soldiers in the infantry. It has been scrapped by the defence ministry on the ground that it had become a “single-vendor situation” with only the Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) left in the fray after protracted field trials from December 2015 to February 2017.
The sorry state of affairs as far as procurements of “small arms” meaning assault rifles, carbines, light machine guns, and other infantry weapons for the army, will be clarified as we go along in this article. Let us first deal with the overall issue of modernisation of the infantry.
The Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS) project was mooted in 2005 and it aimed at deploying a fully networked, all-weather, and all-terrain infantry, with enhanced firepower and the mobility to operate in the digitalized battlefield. This involved a mix of imported and locally developed systems, to equip all battalions of infantry and Rashtriya Rifles with a modular, multi-calibre suite of weapons and body armour.
The entire capability desired includes target acquisition means, communications, and portable surveillance equipment – including third-generation night-vision devices, as well as computers capable of transmitting and uploading voice, data, and video clips on wrist displays for soldiers and clipboards for commanders. Additionally, integrated ballistic helmets with head-up displays (HUDs), miniature radios, global positioning systems, and portable power packs complete the F-INSAS makeover. The concern is that not even a single part of the project has made any progress.
Army is on the lookout for assault rifles (AR) to replace the INSAS 5.56 mm rifles with technologically superior weapons. The MoD issued the tender for 66,000, 5.56mm multi-calibre assault rifles (with interchangeable barrels of 5.56mmand 7.62 mm calibers) out of a total requirement of about 2,00,000 assault rifles in November 2011 to 43 overseas vendors. Five vendors responded positively. However all five vendors comprising Italian manufacturer Beretta’s ARX160, the Czech Republicbased CZ’s 805 BREN, Israel Weapon Industries’ (IWI’s) ACE , and US-based Colt’s Combat Rifle were rejected by the army following field trials in the western Rajasthan desert and in high-altitude regions.
The above request for proposal (RFP) for the assault rifles was scrapped in May 2015 because of the Army’s overambitious experiment to induct rifles with interchangeable barrels, with a 5.56x45mm primary barrel for conventional warfare and a 7.62x39mm secondary one for counter-terrorism.
The military wisdom till recently was that the 5.56mm rifle was better for conventional war because it generally injured an enemy soldier, tying down at least two of his colleagues to carry him in the battlefield. Conversely, the 7.62mm rifle was better for counter-insurgency since terrorists had to be killed at the first instance, eliminating the risk of “suicide bombing”. Soldiers largely use the 7.62mm AK-47 rifles for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and the northeast, even though the infantry is saddled with the indigenous glitch-prone 5.56mm INSAS (Indian small arms system) rifles. The fully-automatic DRDO designed Excalibur, which fires 5.56x45mm ammunition, is an improved version of INSAS rifle that entered service in 1994-1995. But the Army now wants 7.62mm rifles for greater lethality. Thus the Army has re-launched its quest for a modern imported assault rifle, after recently rejecting the indigenous Excalibur, in order to plug a vital operational gap. The army has once again sent out its global request for information (RFI) for 7.62x51mm assault rifle.
The issue that was discussed in April 2016 during the Army Commanders’ conference was whether the force required a 7.62mm rifle that could kill the enemy or a 5.56mm rifle that could incapacitate the enemy soldiers and the decision was in favour of the former caliber. The Army Commanders unanimously opted to import the more powerful 7.62x51mm rifle for its infantry battalions and its 100 odd counter-insurgency units (both Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles).
Official sources said the MoD now aims to ‘fast track’ the long-delayed CQB procurement for the Indian Army via an ‘empowered committee’
The indigenous Excalibur is an upgraded version of the DRDO-designed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56x45 mm assault rifle. The INSAS was rejected by the army in 2010 for being “operationally inadequate”. The gas-operated, fully automatic rifle has a foldable butt, a Picatinny rail for sights, sensors, and bipods, and its polycarbonate magazine is superior to that of the INSAS rifle, known to frequently crack in extreme hot and cold climates. The Excalibur’s barrel is 4 mm shorter than the INSAS model and its hand guard is smaller. The DRDO is also designing a second version of the Excalibur, the AR-2 that fires 7.62x39 mm rounds used by AK-47. The AR-2 will be offered as an alternative to the AK 47, Russian origin, assault rifle. Till the new assault rifle becomes a standard weapon it was rumoured that the Excalibur may be used in the interim to replenish stocks.
For over five years the Indian Army has operated without a CQB carbine, a basic infantry weapon, essential to a force which claims to be among the best in the world, ever ready to take on any challenge.
India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) cancelled the December 2010 tender for 44,618, 5.56mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines and 33.6 million rounds of ammunition on September 29, 2016. Official sources said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) now aims to ‘fast track’ the long-delayed CQB procurement for the Indian Army (IA) via an ‘empowered committee’, within the next 12-14 months. designators that will be acquired separately.
The original procurement, for which Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) ACE carbine was shortlisted along with the rival Italian Beretta’s ARX-160 model following the 2011-14 trials, was terminated following differences over the weapon systems sights and irregularities in the evaluation process. The MoD’s Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) had certain objections which scuttled the procurement process.
It is reported that the proposed CQB carbines RFP has been issued on the same lines as the earlier one in which the carbine was required to weigh less than 3kg, fire 600 rounds per minute to a distance of 250-300m and be capable of operating in extreme cold and hot temperatures. It would also need to be fitted with a Picatinny rail for the sights, which would be procured separately, and multi-purpose detachable bayonets. The weapons will be acquired under the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)-2016 ‘Buy and Make’ category. The selected CQB vendor would be required to transfer technology, in all likelihood, to India’s state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to licence build some 300,000-400,000 carbines. These would equip the IA’s 400-odd infantry battalions and its specialised Rahstriya Rifles or counter insurgency units and eventually India’s paramilitaries and provincial police forces.
Light Machine Guns
On August 9, 2017, India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has terminated its threeyear old global tender to procure 9,462 light machine guns (LMGs) of caliber 7.62 x 51mm for the Indian Army (IA). It was reported that the tender was cancelled after Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) emerged as the ‘sole vendor’ with its Negev NG7 model of the LMG. There were two contenders in the field namely the NG7 of IWI and the LMG fielded by Bulgaria’s Arsenal in user trials between 2015 and early-2017. NG7 became the frontrunner.
The proposed LMG’s were aimed at replacing the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-designed 5.56x45mm LMG that was inducted into IA service in the 1990’s, but found to be inefficient.
India’s Defence Procurement Procedure has been revised on various occasions. The Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (DPP 2016) was unveiled by the former Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on the sidelines of the Defexpo-2016 which was held in Goa. The DPP 2016 replaced the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013 (DPP 2013) and has come into force on 1 April 2016.
In a major departure from the earlier DPPs, DPP-2016 has allowed the procurement process to continue in certain situations where only one bid is received in response to an RFP. The continuation of the process is, however, subject to the approval of the DAC , which must certify that there is no scope for change of the RFP conditions.
The cancellation of the global tender to procure LMGs is third such project, after the cases for new assault rifles and close-quarter battle carbines which were cancelled similarly. The elaborate process which mandates firing and maintenance trials in all types of terrain existing in our country involving extensive movements and arrangements across various theatres of operations which involves a large amount of manpower, and a long period of time and therefore scrapping tenders after the trials only wastes precious time, energy and money of the vendor and the government. We wonder why the single vendor issue could not be tackled under the dispensation of the above clause of the DPP-2016. If the clause is ambiguous then it must be amended based on our experiences so far.
Infantry is indeed the most vital combat arm of Indian army whose roles range from countering terrorism and insurgencies in peace and in war, conducting defensive and offensive operations in the mountains, plains, and deserts and when required be an important part of an out of area contingency force. And last but not the least, aid civil authorities, including tackling natural and manmade disasters for which the civil authorities are certainly not shy in seeking this assistance if only to hide their own weaknesses and incompetence. Hence depriving this indispensable arm of the army from its basic weapons which it needs to fulfill its missions is not only shocking but may prove disastrous for the nation in the future. Here we have not added the deficiencies of other equipment of the infantry like radio sets at platoon and company levels, soldiers web equipment, body armour etc. For this sorry state of affairs we have to accept that apart from political and bureaucratic leadership, the uniformed community is equally to blame for not being decisive and for not pursuing the infantry equipment related projects with adequate energy and zeal.