India’s Schizophrenic Rifle Program Stutters Forward: Excalibur to Be Adopted in Interim, 7.62x39mm Rifle Sought

    The frothing, boiling cauldron that is India’s collective rifle development and procurement entities has shifted again. Just two weeks ago, we reported to you that India had restarted its search for a 7.62x51mm foreign assault rifle to replace the INSAS. Now, we learn from IHS Jane’s that the Excalibur rifle – an improved INSAS – is slated to be adopted as an interim measure, while a new 7.62x39mm rifle (with 5.56mm conversion kit!) is to be sought from foreign manufacturers.

    The Indian Army (IA) plans to temporarily induct locally developed Excalibur assault rifles into service until it shortlists a 7.62×39 mm rifle for import over the next few years, sources told IHS Jane’s on 24 October.

    Officials said the IA recently asked the state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to supply an unspecified ‘large number’ of prototype Excalibur rifles to conduct simultaneous testing at various locations around the country to hasten the Excalibur’s induction.

    “Keeping procurement delays in mind, the army has opted to provisionally employ Excalibur for its infantry and specialised counter-insurgency units, which desperately need an assault rifle,” military analyst Lieutenant General Vijay Kapoor (retd) told IHS Jane’s .

    The Excalibur is an upgraded version of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-designed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56×45 mm assault rifle, which the army had rejected in 2010 for being “operationally inadequate”.

    The gas-operated, selective-fire weapon has a foldable butt, a MIL-STD-1913 ‘Picatinny’ rail system for sights, sensors, and bipods. Its polycarbonate magazine is an improvement compared to that of the INSAS rifle, which is known to frequently crack in extreme hot and cold climates.

    What seems to be going on is some kind of problem with the internal politics of the Defence Ministry, probably in the form of competing personalities and their pet programs. We’ve seen multiple “next generation” weapons come from the country, caught in an ever-shifting procurement effort that is so indecisive it feels schizophrenic. These are the classic signs of a procurement system beset by political trouble.

    It’s clear, though, that the INSAS rifle must be replaced, and soon. The weapons are not up to the standards that the Indian military expects, and it’s not clear that the design is savable without a radical overhaul of India’s rifle production facilities. Therefore, the quickest and easiest way for the Indian Army to replace the troubled weapon is to seek rifles from outside the country.

    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]