India Scraps Assault Rifle Competition

    The Indian military will have to live for a while longer with the troubled and increasingly dated INSAS, and antique hand-me-down AKM rifles, it seems. Daily Mail India reports:

    In a setback to the Indian soldier’s quest for a reliable assault rifle, the Army has scrapped a four-year-old tender for purchasing 1.8 Lakh weapons.

    In a June 15 letter to the four short-listed international firms, the Army said it was retracting the Rs 4,848-crore contract.

    In 2011, the Army floated a contract to supply Multi-Caliber Assault Rifles (MCAR) for the Army and the Navy to replace the existing INSAS rifles.

    The Army has scrapped a mammoth tender to replace INSAS rifles

    An initial 65,678 assault rifles and 4,680 under barrel grenade launchers were to be procured off the shelf for Rs 2,500 crore.

    With over 1 lakh more rifles to be built by the Ordnance Factory Board through technology transfer, it was the world’s largest such rifle contract.

    The scrapping of the seven-year quest is a setback to the Army’s modernisation plans.

    Army chief general Dalbir Singh had, in January this year, identified assault rifles as one of 20 ‘critical requirements’ including bulletproof jackets and artillery guns for the Army.

    The Army cannot blame anyone but itself. The rifle quest began with the Army’s unhappiness with the indigenous 5.56 mm INSAS assault rifle which entered service in the late 1990s.

    But the solution to the INSAS’s quality issues was to ask for a weapon so expensive with specifications so outlandish that it raised questions on the Army’s competence in framing General Staff Qualitative Requirements.

    The Army wanted a rifle with interchangeable barrels firing different calibers, the 5.56 mm INSAS round and the 7.62 mm AK-47 round.

    The requirement originated in the present practice of soldiers in counterinsurgency operations using AK-47s and switching over to INSAS rifles in peace stations.

    Army officials say the specifications were deeply flawed. Five international firms — Beretta of Italy, Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI), Colt Defense of the US, Ceska Zbplojovka of Czech Republic — were shortlisted.

    All the weapons they presented for the trials were prototypes, meaning, none of them were actually in service with their respective armies.

    The contract appeared doomed right at the start in 2012 when the Army first delayed the technical evaluation of the rifles. Companies then began asking for extensions for sample submission. As of 2015, no trials of the competing weapons were conducted.

    A whiff of corruption accompanied the contract. It was speculated that the GSQRs were tailor-made by Army brass to favour one of the vendors.

    Another concern the Army had was cost. At over Rs 2 lakh a piece, each multi-caliber assault rifle with a conversion kit cost twice the price of a regular imported assault rifle and six times the cost of a Rs 35,000 OFB-made INSAS rifle.

    A General called the MCAR contract the equivalent of equipping a mass transport taxi service with Mercedes S-class saloons.

    Major General Mrinal Suman (retired) says the failure of the rifle contract shows the Army’s deeply flawed system of framing GSQRs.

    ‘Just because you drive a car for 20 years does not give you the capability to design one. Acquisition staff are neither trained nor equipped to select weapons,’ he says.

    Experts say it will now take the Army at least five years to acquire rifles. The infantryman’s wait continues.

    The unit lakh is equal to 100,000, while crore represents 10,000,000. An Indian Rupee (Rs) is equivalent to approximately 1.6 US cents, so therefore the initial off-the-shelf purchase would have been worth about $400 million US dollars, a very high price of almost $6,000 per rifle or grenade launcher.

    We reported that the Indian government was temporarily substituting AKM rifles for all INSASes used in “Red Zones” (combat areas), awaiting the fielding of the new rifle. Now, this will not happen, leaving Indian soldiers to be issued with rifles decades older than the person using them.

    Nathaniel F

    Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. He can be reached via email at [email protected]