The Indian Army is finally getting its small arms acquisitions in order. From SIG716 Tread-I (Battle Rifle), AK203 (Assault Rifle), Negev (LMG) to a variety of sniper rifles acquired for the infantry to use. The only major hurdle left behind is the issue regarding the acquisition of carbines. The current requirement is for 93,000 units, with another 360,000 more carbines on the pipeline.
The carbines acquired will be used to replace the vintage Sterling sub machine guns. This raises the question on what a carbine actually is. The terms ‘carbine’ and ‘assault rifle’ used to be interchangeable terms until sub machine guns started becoming an outdated concept for close quarter combat. The discharge speed of rounds (sub machine gun advantage) did not start to matter anymore as terrorists also started donning bullet proof vests which were able to stop the smaller caliber bullets. There was a need for a gun that has the stopping power of an assault rifle with a smaller profile like a sub machine gun. This defined the ‘carbine’ term in the modern era.
Caracal – CAR816 Sultan (5.56 x 45mm)
The last iteration of the deal involved the Caracal CAR-816 as the final winner of the competition. However, the deal did not fructify, even though the SIG-716 (which was chosen around the same time as the battle rifle for the Indian Army) was not only ordered and the first batch delivered, but the army has also decided to purchase a second batch of rifles as a repeat order. The deal was eventually postponed due to the new requirements (under the Atmanirbhar Bharat movement) to induct a local weapon system instead.
However, a foreign weapon system built in India under license also qualifies as a local system, which was why Caracal decided to offer local production of its rifles if it wins the order. There are a few systems that can be ordered instead of the CAR-816 and we will be doing a proper analysis on the different systems to see which the best offer is available to the Indian Army.
With a limited budget setting, the Army will definitely prioritize on the SIG 716 Tread-I and AK203 to equip against China compared to these carbines which are mainly used for urban operations (mostly counter-terrorism or mechanized infantry). One way to be cost efficient is to modify existing Sterling carbines with new generation modifications. OFB already produces these in large numbers and with a sizeable inventory already present within the Army, these modifications are extremely time as well as cost efficient.
OFB can tie up with either FAB or SSS Defence to design these modifications. It would also enable SSS Defence an entry into the Indian gun manufacturing ecosystem. They have already proved their calibre to design modifications by already manufacturing mods for AK series rifles as well as for the Dragunov. This is an unlikely scenario of course, but still a cost-effective option.
PLR- IWI TAR 21/X95 (5.56 x 45mm, 9mm)
The Tavor 21 is an obvious choice for a carbine option as it already had an established history with the Indian military. It is a bullpup rifle (where the magazine well is placed behind the trigger and allows for the rifle barrel to be contained further within the rifle, thus creating a smaller profile for CQB operations) and was introduced to India as a special forces rifle for the Indian Para commandos as well as MARCOS and then finally Garuds. It also sees combat in the CRPF as well as some police units in its smaller and more modernized (X95) avatar. Its bigger variant (Tavor 7) which fires the 7.62 x 51mm was rejected for the battle rifle deal (which the SIG 716 Tread-I won).
This active service in the Indian Army vouches for the reliability of the rifle and is one of the best reasons why India should consider this for the carbine deal. It also allows for a longer barrel length to be encompassed within the gun, as compared to a carbine of the same length which can only house a shorter barrel (this is of benefit to mechanized infantry units who need a compact weapon for storage in confined spaces of vehicles but without compromising range or stopping power). Another benefit is that a joint venture established between Punj Llyod Raksha Systems and IWI has already started manufacturing these rifles in India and so a large order can be processed easily and within a short time.
However, a bullpup also has its own share of inherent issues. The magazine well’s rear placement affects reloading drills as it is an extremely unusual placement of the magazine behind the shooter’s trigger finger. The shooter ends up removing the gun from the line of fire to reload, thereby having to reacquire the target back again. Even if the back heavy bias allows you to point faster, having all of the major controls behind your cheek rest is uncomfortable for continuous firing. They also have a notoriously bad trigger as the action is set so far back that it requires additional complications to function which makes for a less crisp trigger pull.
Therefore, choosing to field a bullpup as a conventional army carbine is a move fraught with risk and would require field evaluations by infantry units before standardized adoption. However, if the evaluations are positive, the Tar 21/X95 will be the best option as an infantry carbine.
JVPC Carbine (5.56 x 30mm MINSAS)
The JVPC carbine essentially is a sub-machine gun with an UZI-like design that is a genuinely unique product from OFB. In terms of gun philosophy, the JVPC is the closest in characteristics as compared to the sterling sub-machine gun IA intends to replace. There is also the added advantage that this gun uses a higher calibre (5.56 MINSAS) than the Sterling (9mm) while still retaining a high rate of fire.
This is a fantastic option for the IA as it is an indigenous weapon system and therefore, would be able to be customized to the IA’s specific needs. However, the biggest issue is the MINSAS round itself. MINSAS (5.56 x 30mm) has a much smaller case length (30mm) as compared to the NATO 5.56 (5.56 x 40mm) with a case length of 44.70mm. This does allow it to be fired from a smaller platform such as a sub-machine gun, but it also means that there will be multiple logistics issues the Army will face in acquiring this round. Even the existing Insas rifle uses NATO 5.56 round and so the IA will be forced to induct a new round just for a single type of gun. This round is only built by OFB, which has inherent quality control issues as well.
PLR – IWI Arad (5.56 x 45mm)
Another rifle that might be of interest to the IA would be the Carmel and Arad from the stables of the PLR-IWI joint venture. While Carmel is a dedicated 5.56 x 45mm platform, Arad is a multi-calibre solution with a current calibre choices of either (5.56 x 45mm and .300 AAC Blackout). Arad also plans to cater for the 6.8mm calibre as well, thus future-proofing the assault rifle.
Taking a look at the Arad rifle specifically, India has a huge opportunity that it can derive by acquiring this system. Since PLR has a production facility already present in India, they can start manufacturing almost immediately after the signing of the deal. It is comparable to the CAR 816 as both of them are short-stroke pistons. However, unlike the Sultan carbine, the Arad can be fitted in the future with the 6.8mm calibre. The 6.8mm is in development currently all around the world to replace all other types of rifle ammunition with a single ammunition that offers both range and comparative stopping power. The Indian Army will eventually end up replacing the AK203 (7.62 x 39mm), SIG 716 Tread-I (7.62 x 51mm) and the Carbine (5.56 x 45mm) with a single dedicated 6.8mm calibre rifle. Thus, by adopting the Arad, the IA could simply improve the rifle’s design over time to adapt it to new challenges instead of having to completely replace its inventory as it will eventually do to the INSAS.
SSS Defence – P72 Carbine (5.56 x 45mm, 7.62 x 39mm
As a gun designed and manufactured exclusively for the Indian Army, the P72 Carbine became the poster boy of the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ movement. It is offered in two different calibre; 7.62 x 39mm (Russian) and 5.56 x 45mm (NATO). The carbine features a full length picatinny rail at the top and has an extremely modern design. Amongst all the indigenous designs, the P72 provides the best capabilities to the IA.
However, a big issue is that the firm involved in building this rifle is relatively new and hence ordering a potential batch of 400,000+ rifles is fraught with risk. SSS Defence desperately needs to create a sense of trust amongst the Indian Armed Forces in order to sell such large cache of weapons to them (this is especially tricky since their competitors are world class gun manufacturers with decades of experience). There are a few interesting ways they are going about with this currently such as the upgradation package for the Dragunov and AK series of rifles.
The Indian military too can help them by taking the initiative and order a small batch of P72 carbines for combat operations in urban areas such as Kashmir. The rifle can be configured for the AK rounds (that is widely in circulation) instead of the 5.56 x 45mm if the Army wishes to increase the rifle’s lethality. The usage of the Russian 7.62 calibre also offers the same stoppage power as the AK but in a smaller profile which is useful in a close quarters combat scenario. One important thing to note is that the design for the carbine is a still a generation behind, with a clear lack of a ‘negative space’ rail (KeyMod/M-Lok), which offers more comfort and flexibility to operators. I do not believe this is a huge issue, as newer variations will arrive in the future, catering for Indian requirements of the time (another benefit of using an indigenous system).
DRDO/ARDE – MCIWS (5.56 x 45mm/7.62 x 39mm/6.8mm)
Another multi-calibre rifle option was the DRDO made indigenous prototype rifle (MCIWS) that was built as a response to the Indian Army’s multi-calibre requirement (now cancelled) in order to replace the INSAS. However, the Indian Army decided to go for three separate types of rifles instead. It was an untested system at that time and therefore the Indian Army decided not to proceed with it. The design is based heavily on the AR-15 (which is unheard of for an Indian rifle) but still is one generation behind from the rifles that Indian Army acquired instead (SIG716 Tread-I).
DRDO, however, has still not given up on it. Since it is a multi-calibre system, DRDO is now working on a more futuristic iteration of the rifle which would solely use the next generation 6.8mm calibre. By being ahead of the curve, DRDO can spent time building a rifle that can cater to future requirements and also undergo extensive trial and combat testing so that they can replace the current rifle group (SIG 716, AK203) when the forces adopt a unified calibre (6.8mm) requirement in the future.
OFB – Amogh Carbine/2020 Carbine (5.56 x 30mm MINSAS)
Amogh carbine is essentially a carbine successor to the INSAS rifle (based on the Excalibur rifle) built by the OFB. The Amogh was rejected by the Army after its first trial as it is just a rehash of the INSAS design that the Army already disliked. There were limited improvements done on the rifle and due to the poor quality of the ammo as well as the delay in its delivery, even the CRPF, who ordered limited batches of these rifles, were left unimpressed by the shoddy after – sales support OFB offered to them.
However, the rifle sees limited service in the Coast Guard, Navy and some state police units. The design is nowhere close to as modern as the CAR816 (the benchmark rifle) and although it has a smaller profile than the Caracal carbine, the MINSAS round offers limited stopping power compared to the NATO 5.56. It also complicates logistics issues as well. If the MINSAS round is what the Army wants, a better option will be the JVPC as it has an even smaller profile than the Amogh and weighs less. The design is also much more modern (built as a successor after Army rejected the Amogh) as it uses boron nitride coating which slows down gun wear and it also can integrate a suppressor.
The Amogh however, has a new iteration (that I have unofficially classified as the 2020 carbine). This comes with an almost fully monolithic picatinny rail. Some things can be improved on this system like the pistol grip and the buttstock, but this indigenous rifle could seriously give a competition to the other rifles as it will be the one of the cheapest option possibly available.
SIG Sauer – MCX Carbine/MPX Submachine Gun (5.56 x 45mm, 9mm)
The Sig Sauer MCX Carbine is a multi-calibre rifle system that can accommodate the 5.56 NATO, .300 Blackout as well as 7.62 x 39mm (Russian). This is a possible option for the Indian Army if Sig Sauer decides to set up a manufacturing base here as part of the SIG 716 orders. It is a short-stroke gas piston system and is a carbine variant of the MPX.
The MPX is submachine gun that had been built by SIG Sauer as an ideological replacement to the MP5. This could also be a replacement for the sterling rifle as well as it has a similar operational profile. The MPX also has the added advantage as it has already seen induction in some Indian special force units such as the national security guards.
OFB – TAR Carbine (7.62 x 39mm)
The ordinance factory board recently introduced the TAR carbine as a possible induction into the Indian Army as a replacement for the Sterling. It is an almost identical copy of the AK74U, but with additional picatinny rails integrated on this system. This is a solution Indian Army should seriously consider (together with the OFB 2020 carbine) as they are indigenous solutions that are cheaper than foreign systems. This comes into play when the scale of orders increases in the future.
However, the TAR carbine could face the same issues as the Ghatak assault rifle and might see some disapproval from Kalashnikov concern. But if supported by them, the same JV manufacturing site for the AK203 can also be used to build these carbines as well as they share similar components.
The verdict genuinely depends on the operational necessities of the Indian Army. The Sterling was used by the Army for CQB operations (where the high rate of fire and its lighter and smaller profile makes it easy to be used in confined spaces) as well as for mountain warfare (where the lighter load of the rifle as well as its calibre allows for more ammo to be carried up a mountain. Both carbines and submachine guns can be used to replace the Sterling in this role. IA would possibly prefer a larger calibre such as 5.56 or 7.62 which offers higher penetration power against terrorists and enemies who are equipped with BPJs these days (as stated above).
However, I would think that the best option for the replacement for the Sterling is a completely indigenously designed and manufactured option. The reason for this is extremely simple. A completely American design and the manufactured gun were selected for the IA’s battlefield rifle requirement for its frontline units (SIG 716 Tread-I), a Russian designed but made in India rifle will be adopted as the mainstay rifle of the rest of the IA. So why can’t this carbine deal be an opportunity for an Indian designed and Indian made rifle (JVPC, TAR, Amogh 2020, MCIWS and SSS P72)? There are multiple options available in India itself. But if they really require a foreign rifle, the best other option is the X95 as it sees quite a good combat service within the IA and already has a capable production facility in India.