18 October 2016

Indian Army Looks for Assault Rifle Globally

Umong Sethi 
Oct 14, 2016 

Indian Army Looks for Assault Rifle Globally

Ministry of Defence, Government of India, has requested information from global vendors in its quest to procure long delayed Assault Rifle for the Indian Army. Purchase of approximately 1.85,000 Assault Rifles of 7.62x51mm-caliber has been forecast. The immediate requirement has been pegged at 65000 rifles. The Request for Information (RFI) has dual aim of seeking information from OEMs and vendors on the product they can offer and identify likely sources that can take on the project.It is expected that a formal tender will be issued in April 2017.

An earlier attempt to buy assault rifles in 2011 by floating a global tender to replace existing 5.56mm INSAS had to be called off as only Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) met all the requirements. The present RFI is at variance from earlier one of 2011, in that has given up multi-caliber requirement and seeks single calibre of 7.62x51mm. Thus ruling out DRDO developed ‘Excalibur’assault rifle 7.62x45mm which has failed to meet the user aspirations.

The broad considerations specify modular design, lightweight, minimum effective range of 500 meters with limited recoil, compatibility with modern sights with provision to mount integrated sight and multi-option telescopic sights, compatibility with visible laser-target pointers, holographic and other sights and capability of being fitted with 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher. The rifle is expected to be the ‘state of the art’ regarding design, metallurgy and performance parameters to remain relevant for at least the next 25 years.

An endeavour has been made to make the RFI comparatively simple which is a good thing.A few experts are however intrigued by the minimum range of 500 meters for an assault rifle. Considering modern battlefield and counter-terror operations, this appears beyond the ranges at which engagements are expected to usually take place.

A survey of modern assault rifles across the world reveals that 5.56mm as the preferred calibre. Even Kalashnikov has moved from 7.62mm to 5.56mm for their new AK 100 series of weapons. India’s preference for 7.62mm is due to adherence to the philosophy ‘to kill’ rather than ‘maim or injure’ the enemy. Experiences in low-intensity conflict might have influenced the choice of calibre.

Having Picatinny rails in all rifles is a good idea. As per equipping scheme discussed a few years ago, every infantry section was to have two-night sights for rifles. Provision of all rifles having accessories to mount night sights is futuristic and is welcome. Some night sights to be procured or authorised is a matter that can be decided later.

The RFI also seeks information if the weapon offered by the OEM or vendor has the facility to fire corner shot without bringing the firer or the weapon in harm’s way. This would be an additional feature that seems to be a ‘could have’ feature.

Mandating Transfer of Technology (ToT) is a standard feature to boost indigenous development that is now being incorporated in all RFI or RFPs. A word of caution, ToT should be taken in full and not in part decided by experts with cost dictating the choice. This was resorted to in some earlier procurement in the 80's resulting in major equipment management challenges later. It might be a thing of the past yet flagging it is important.

Having got the ToT, the production agency, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) in this case should be tasked to absorb and incorporate not only the technology but also best practices for production, management and quality control into its work culture so that state of the art weapons are produced, and there is no drop in quality of the product.

The concerned development agency of DRDO must use the technology as a datum to upgrade research and testing facilities. A clear road map of developing an upgraded version of the weapon incorporating user feedback after exploitation of the weapon in the timeframe of 15-20 years and a new weapon in 25 years must be put in place.Sharing of spin-off technologies with civil industry and future development of next generation weapon must be mandated with non-negotiable time-lines. User involvement in production and development cycles needs to be institutionalised. This is the way to spiral up the technology and production curves. It might be a good idea to incorporate Technical Universities of repute to develop laboratories and facilities to work on developing different technologies. This will usher in a quantum jump in research and development and also have a ready pool of talent to be involved in the development of next generation weapons.

Maj Gen (Retd) Umong Sethi is a distinguished soldier scholar with wide experience in the armed forces and the government.

Also Read - How the GSQR/RFP for Assault Rifle Will Be Evolved?


No comments: