Great Indian Gun Hunt
-Alan Jai Kuriako
The Indian Army is one of the largest armies in the world with an active personnel count of 1.2 million and reserve personnel of 960,000. Therefore, it requires a large number of small arms in both its active units as well as its armories. The great Indian gun hunt was initially started in the year 2017 as a response to criticisms for the continuous usage of INSAS rifles which have gotten a reputation as an outdated platform that frequently had operationally related issues.
For example, frequent jamming as well as oil spillage onto the face during sustained fire created a potentially hazardous assault rifle that did not perform well against the guns that the enemy frequently used, the AK series of rifles. Outdated concepts such as transparent magazines frequently cracked in the cold climates of the Himalayas. There were some of the issues addressed in newer variations of the model (such as Insas 1C) but these upgrades were still very much outdated as compared to other rifles used internationally.
Therefore, the government started an extremely confusing gun hunt through the procurement of assault rifles for different requirements. This article aims to bring clarity to the procurement policy as well as to provide suggestions where the policy could have improved on.Currently, the procurement is for three different rifles; SIG 716 Tread-I, Caracal 816 and the AK203.
These are the current status of procurement:
- SIG 716 Tread-I: 144,000 units ordered in total. Already under induction.
- Caracal 816: Order for 94,000 rifles delayed. 360,000 Carbines planned to be inducted (compulsory production in India)
- AK203: 650,000 units to be procured and to be built in Amethi by OFB
Reasons for Current Procurement & Changes to be Made
[7.62 x 51mm – SIG 716 Tread I]
For the frontline units, the 7.62 x 51 round is a reintroduced round ever since our last tryst with it during the era of the Ishapore (SLR) 1A1. It is an extremely potent round that has an immense stopping power. However, there is a small amount of criticism that reintroducing the 7.62 x 51 creates a logistical nightmare. However, this is a ridiculous notion in a very large army that has an extremely structured logistics chain that already deals with a myriad of ammunitions such as small arms, artillery, tank rounds, etc. Adding another additional type of round does not make any difference in terms of logistical strain. Only a centralized ammunition depot handles the wide varieties of ammunition while individual armories handle a relatively small collection of ammo that their unit depends on to complete their respective missions.
The SIG 716, although a foreign rifle, is the best complement for frontline units. These units who are most exposed to the line of fire in a battle requires a no-nonsense rifle that can withstand engagements in extremely hostile climates. They also require the fastest procurement and support services for their weapon system, something which not even private companies in India nor the OFB can provide as of now. Therefore, the SIG716 is a perfect investment for our frontline soldiers.
[5.56 x 45mm – Caracal 816]
The CAR 816 is a close quarters carbine that is planned for Indian army troops that regularly engage in urban combat. It is also meant for officers as a replacement for the vintage Sterling 9mm carbines. The lack of a proper systematic planning has caused numerous delays in the process to acquire the first batch of 94,000 units, with numerous vendors complaining about the unfair way in which Caracal was chosen even though they do not look like they have the manufacturing capability to deliver the required amount in a short span of one year. This has led to the next batch of 360,000 units to undergo another RFI/RFP based selection process that is essentially restarting the entire competition all over again.
This entire issue could have been avoided if the Indian Army went for a joint venture opportunity between IWI-PLR and OFB to develop the TAR-21/X95 family of rifles. It was an extremely well-loved platform when it was inducted into Indian service. Initial reliability issue with the rifle was solved further down the development line. The only issue is that the bullpup system is not something easy to get used to. However, the argument I would like to put up is the fact that the carbines are going to be mainly used by officers/specialist units that could easily adopt this rifle.
This same venture could also be used to modernize the JVPC carbine to the same 5.56 x 45mm profile instead of the current 5.56 MINSAS rounds (otherwise instead of the 5.56 x 45mm requirement, the Zittara carbine which also uses the 5.56 MINSAS round can be procured if we can build better quality MINSAS rounds). The JVPC can be used by soldiers that need an even smaller carbine than the CAR 816 or the X95. These include specialist personals such as snipers, manpads/ATGM team, mortar and artillery units, mechanized infantry who need a smaller carbine to be used as a self-defence weapon. This could also be used by fighter/helicopter pilots (for self-defence in hostile environments) as well as police/paramilitary units. Therefore, the scope for these carbines (both the JVPC as well as the X95) are the largest amongst all the rifles to be procured and therefore the expertise of PLR-IWI and the industrial strength of OFB can be leveraged in an effective manner.
[7.62 x 39mm – AK203]
The biggest mistake that the Army is about to make is the induction of around 650,000 units of AK203 for rear support units. The major reason for this decision is the vast amounts of AK ammunition that the army possesses that they simply could not discard away and also because of the years of experience that the Army has with the AK series of rifles. However, there has been a significant delay in the signing of this deal because of the cost of the rifle. It has to also be noted that the Indian final production AK203 is a severely degraded variant of the originally showcased AK203 (lack of an upper handguard rail as well as retractable buttstock) because of the need to lower the costs.
Therefore, my suggestion is to completely drop the AK203 as an option for the support units. It is unimaginable to procure a rifle which is a degraded variant of modified FAB AK rifles used by counter insurgency troops in Kashmir. An opportunity I feel that can be undertaken here is to provide two or more private companies to build 7.62 x 39mm rifles for the support units (200,000 – 300,000 units for each company; examples include SSS Defense P72 RECR & ASTR Defence AR ). There are various benefits to this. The private companies can start from a small production rate and scale it up as the procurement for support units can take some time as compared to the urgency required for frontline troops. This will allow private firms to scale up their business in an efficient manner. There could be more leeway given to the quality of the rifles as well as feedback from support units could be used by these firms to build up their products to more world class levels for use by frontline and special force units towards the future (ample space for private firms to grow with a proper quantity of business generated – without the army being significantly affected in terms of operational capability).