The modernisation of infantry has lagged behind due to complete neglect and apathy on part of military, bureaucratic and political leadership to speed up the process of modernisation of the Indian Army
The past decade and a half or so has severely degraded the war fighting capabilities of the cutting edge of Indian Army, namely the Infantry due to complete neglect and apathy on part of the of the, political, bureaucratic and military leadership, to speed up the process of modernisation and procurement of vital equipment and munitions in the Army. The sorry state of affairs as far as procurements of “small arms” for the Infantry which includes assault rifles, carbines, light machine guns, sniper rifles, anti – material rifles 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 was on the lookout for assault rifles (AR) to replace the INSAS 5.56 mm rifles with technologically superior weapons. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued the tender for 66,000, 5.56 mm multi-calibre assault rifles (with interchangeable barrels of 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm calibers) out of a total requirement of 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 5.56x45 mm primary barrel for conventional warfare and a 7.62x39 mm secondary one for counter-terrorism proved to be impractical.
The issue that was discussed in April 2016 during the Army Commanders’ conference was whether the force required a 7.62 mm rifle that could kill the enemy or a 5.56 mm 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 7.62x51 mm rifle for its infantry battalions and its100 odd counter-insurgency units (both Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles).
On January 16, 2018, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman, met and cleared procurement of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines on fast track basis for 3,547 crore to enable the Defence Forces to meet their immediate requirement for the troops deployed on the borders.
On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, the Defence Acquisition Council, presided over by the Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman, cleared 15,935 crore worth of proposals including the one to procure 7.40 lakh ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ assault rifles at a cost of 12,280 crore for the three services.
In the meanwhile the DRDO has produced Excalibur as an upgraded version of the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56x45 mm assault rifle. The INSAS was rejected by the army in 2010 for being “operationally inadequate”. Excalibur, the gasoperated, 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 seven 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 MoD cancelled the December 2010 tender for 44,618, 5.56 mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines and 33.6 million rounds of ammunition on 29 September 2016. Official sources said the MoD now aims to ‘fast track’ the long-delayed CQB procurement for the Indian Army.
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.
On January 16, 2018, the DAC has cleared the procurement of 93,895 carbines on fast track basis along with the above stated 72,400 assault rifles.
Light Machine Guns
On August 9, 2017, MoD terminated its three-year old global tender to procure 9,462 light machine guns (LMGs) of caliber 7.62x51 mm for the Indian Army. 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.
On January 16, 2018, the DAC cleared procurement of 72,400 assault-rifles and 93,895 carbines for 3,547 crore for the army. On February 13, the DAC cleared ‘Buy and Make’ procurement of 7.40 lakh assault rifles for 12,280 crore for three services.
The proposed LMG’s were aimed at replacing the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-designed 5.56x45 mm LMG that was inducted into IA service in the 1990’s, but found to be inefficient.
On February 13, the Defence Acquisition Council, presided over by the Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman, cleared 15,935 crore worth of proposals. This clearance also included 1,819 crore worth of Light Machine Guns which will also be procured through the fast-track procedure to meet the operational requirement of the troops deployed at the border.
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 April 1, 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.
Notwithstanding the proposals now sanctioned by the DAC on January 16 and February 13, the cancellation of the global tenders to procure LMGs, assault rifles and close-quarter battle carbines after completion of trials showed that the government was not serious about its own proposals. Such decisions would certainly not send positive signals to the soldiery of frontline infantry units and global equipment manufacturers who bring their weapons for trials on their own expense. Moreover 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 and involving a large amount of manpower, and over 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.
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, it aids civil authorities which includes 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.