Infantry to get foreign rifles, others to get ‘made in India’ - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 4 November 2017

Infantry to get foreign rifles, others to get ‘made in India’

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Nov 17

The army’s highest levels have arrived at a vital decision that could open the doors to buying new rifles for the entire army, while remaining within a strained procurement budget. The decision is to equip infantry soldiers with a world-class assault rifle, while non-infantry soldiers would get a cheaper, less effective, indigenous rifle.

Earlier, the army had planned to procure some 800,000 state-of-the-art assault rifles from the global market, each costing about Rs 200,000. That would have cost about Rs 16,000 crore – significantly more than what the army can afford.

Now, army chief General Bipin Rawat has decided to buy only 250,000 assault rifles from the international market, and issue them only to combat infantrymen – the frontline foot soldiers who are directly in contact with the enemy.

The remaining 550,000 army soldiers who are authorised rifles but serve mainly in non-infantry arms and services will get a new indigenous rifle. The army will choose between the INSAS-1C, designed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO); and the Ghatak, designed by Ordnance Factory, Kirkee. These are less lethal than the infantry’s assault rifles, but also significantly cheaper, at about Rs 50,000 apiece.

“My thinking is: Since a state-of-the-art assault rifle will cost about Rs 200,000 each in the global market, let us issue these only to frontline infantry soldiers who confront the enemy armed only with their rifles,” Rawat told Business Standard. “Let us provide a cheaper indigenous option to other soldiers, for whom the rifle is not a primary weapon,” he added.

The chief explains the army has evaluated two different weapons philosophies. The assault rifle it has chosen for the infantry is a weapon optimised for conventional war, with a longer range and a larger bullet that kills or completely incapacitates the enemy soldiers that it strikes. It is also equipped with a night vision sight. The second type of weapon, which will arm non-infantry units, is optimised for counter-insurgency operations, being lighter and with a smaller bullet that a soldier can carry in larger numbers.

* * * *

A variation of this debate played out in the Indian Army in the 1970s, when it was looking to replace its old 7.62 millimetre self-loading rifles (SLRs). At that time, it was argued that the army should get a 5.56 mm rifle, since that would not just be lighter, but it would also injure, rather than kill, an enemy soldier. That would take out of battle not just the enemy who was shot, but additional enemy soldiers who would be tied up in evacuating the casualty.

This resulted in the army equipping itself with the 5.56 mm INSAS-1B1, manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). However, the army was unhappy with the INSAS-1B1, complaining that it was prone to stoppages, and that jihadi militants (and Pakistani soldiers in the Kargil conflict) who were shot by its lighter bullet did not always get incapacitated.

“We would shoot a militant with the INSAS and he would just keep coming at us. That is why we have always preferred to use the 7.62 mm AK-47 in Kashmir, rather than the INSAS,” says Lieutenant General VP Singh, a recently retired officer who has served multiple tenures in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

Notwithstanding this, only the infantry is going back to 7.62 mm calibre rifles. The bulk of the army will get 5.56 mm rifles, which means that the stock of older AK-47 rifles, which equip specialist Rashtriya Rifles counter-insurgency units, would have to remain the mainstay of operations in J&K and the Northeast.

Rifle economics

The army currently fields 382 regular infantry battalions, 28 mechanised infantry battalions, 23 Guards battalions and nine Vikas and Scouts battalions, adding up to 442 battalions of infantry and its equivalent.

Even within an infantry battalion, not every one of its 800-odd soldiers will be issued a 7.62 mm assault rifle. These will go only to soldiers who can expect to be in direct contact with the enemy: its four rifle companies and the commando platoon (called Ghataks), totalling up to about 565 persons per battalion. The remaining personnel would be issued other weapons such as 5.56 mm carbines and rifles. At 565 rifles for each of these infantry units, the total adds up to 250,000 rifles.

At Rs 200,000 for each foreign assault rifle, equipping these 250,000 infantrymen will cost Rs 5,000 crore. For the remaining 550,000 non-infantry soldiers, their indigenous rifles – INSAS-1C or the Ghatak rifle, whichever is chosen – would be priced more cheaply at Rs 50,000 each, totalling up to Rs 2,750 crore. This foreign and indigenous mix of 800,000 rifles adds up to Rs 7,750 crore – saving Rs 8,250 crore, or more than half the Rs 16,000 crore cost of buying foreign assault rifles for the entire army.

The Ghatak and INSAS 1C both remain works in progress, with the army chief confirming to Business Standard there were minor problems during trial firing in summer, including stoppages that exceeded permissible limits. “However, there are significant improvements in those indigenous rifles too, and we expect the OFB and DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) to improve them quickly to meet our expectations,” Rawat said.

“We will not delay any further on the procurement process. I have passed orders for the RFP (Request for Proposals, as the tender is called) to be issued by the end of this year,” Rawat added.

The Rs 2 lakh cost of a state-of-the-art 7.62 mm assault rifle includes the cost of “reflex sights” and “night sights” that make it easier to aim and shoot with a high degree of accuracy, including at night. Without these add-ons, an assault rifle is fired with the help of its in-built sights – the soldier aligns a “rear sight” and “fore sight” on the rifles barrel with the target before squeezing the trigger. This requires a degree of skill and is tiring to the eye. With a reflex sight, which is fitted onto a small rail on the rifle (called a Picatinny Rail), the soldier only has to look towards the target through a small telescope, and align a red dot in the sight with the target before firing.

A modern reflex/night sight today costs as much as the rifle on which it is fitted – up to Rs 100,000.


For years, the Indian Army approached the acquisition of personal weapons, such as rifles and carbines, as part of the expansively named “Future Infantry Soldier as a System” (F-INSAS) programme. This aspired to integrate a soldier, along with his personal weapons and communications equipment, into a digitally networked battlefield management system. With this proving too ambitious, the army has now split the F-INSAS initiative into two distinct parts – the acquisition of personal weapons and, separately, a digitisation project termed the “Battlefield Management System” that is being pursued as a “Make” project in India.

* * * *

Infantry weapons and equipment have seldom received the attention that is lavished on more glamorous and expensive weaponry like aircraft, warships, submarines or tanks. However, with the infantry constantly engaged in live operations on the Line of Control with Pakistan, the Line of Actual Control with China and in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the Northeast, there is a growing recognition of the need to upgrade the infantry soldier, particularly his personal weapon, says Lt Gen Singh.

The need for infantry modernisation is especially urgent in India’s operational milieu, where rugged mountain and jungle terrain limits the applicability and effectiveness of support weapons and air power, making the infantryman the final arbiter of battle.

The role of India’s infantry has remained largely unchanged since independence: to close in with and destroy the enemy. In defensive operations, the infantry physically holds ground against all forms of enemy attack. The infantry is trained and tasked to fight to the end, firing rifles and machine guns and, when ammunition runs out, fighting hand to hand with bayonets – a long knife attached to the rifle.

In an attack, while tanks often lead and the artillery provides fire support, eventually it is the infantryman – no women are allowed yet into this most physical of combat arms – who must physically occupy the enemy’s positions, charging at them in the face of their firing. All he can rely on with certainty is his personal weapon – the rifle or the LMG.

The basic simplicity of the infantry’s role and the tenacity needed to discharge it eminently suits the Indian soldier. In active service around the world, including through two World Wars, the Indian infantryman has earned a formidable reputation for tenacity and courage.

“The defence ministry can spend Rs 58,000 crore on just 36 Rafale fighters. But it finds it difficult to spend Rs 16,000 crore on giving modern assault rifles to 800,000 soldiers. Sitting on our border posts at 15,000 feet, we marvel at these priorities,” says the commanding officer of an infantry battalion, talking over the phone.


  1. Some of these new rifles must immediately be tested on the corrupt, incompetent and self serving Babudom, followed by armchair journalists talking about military matters through their back sides. An underdeveloped military expertise in the bureaucracy and the news media, is causing the deaths of brave Indians every day. The test will clean up the system.

  2. Fascinating logic. We create a team A and a team B within fighting arms.let us buy a squadron less of whatever fighter we plan !


  4. Hahaha it's laughable stuff. So what weapon are the recruits going to train on both or one. If both than the recurring cost of additionl training ammunition has not been thought of Typical of this govts method of grand policy and eaually grand failure in implementation without crosscheking every aspect.

  5. It's fascinating to note that 70 years from independence while we can send 104 satellites into space, the Indian military prefers to remain one of the biggest buyers of arms in the world.
    Why, because as a nation we have been consistently subverted by the politico-bureaucracy. DRDO suffers from a lack of accountability assisted by the arm supplier countries who would rather not have India enable the offset requirements; duly helped by a military-bureaucrats (these are serial South Blockkers military officers with little or no real field experience talking through multiple volumes of Jane's all the world military weapons resulting in shifting goalposts).
    A nation like Israel sells us billions in upgrades, while we can send our best to silicon valley and dubai but can't see the fog created by the PB (politico-bureaucrat combine) and SBMO's.
    Want to fix the problem? get the people on the ground to decide. Close the loop and get the PB and SBMO's some real world experience and link the think tanks to real world issues. A nation that rewards proximity-to-power will always-always result in scams and undelivered promises.

  6. Two different rifles with two different calibres within a single battalion.
    Sounds like it's going to be lots of fun for the logistics corps.

    Given the vast size of the Indian army its quite a failing that they arent world leaders in small arms technology.

  7. NSR says ---

    Sad to know but you must know the Congress ruled for a decade...
    So I am hopeful as the ruling BJP at least moving forward in many areas...

    Submarines without torpedoes...
    Ships without sonars and helicopters...
    Just too many requirements and the silent congress PM MMS just was too happy to occupy the position and rubber stamp ... look other ways at corruption...

    On the other hand, they should have been mass producing INSAS using private contractors with strict quality control..They should have been collaborating with world wide small arms companies to improve INSAS and acquire other reliable guns...

    Also Jobs and development over guns to get re-elected...

    I hope that the soldiers gets their wishful gunes very quickly..
    With Xi acquiring immense power and constantly talking about sovereignty, he may want to teach some lessons to other countries so he can become a Mao or Deng...

    So India must not vacillate any more about the Infantry man needs...

  8. Do the foreign assault riffles cost that much. I do not think so. Best of assault riffles off the shelf cost about INR 75K hope we once again not going into another procurement scam. Had someone given a thought the logistics nightmares of having different weapons for different arms. We are talking of reducing the tail we will have to double everything supply chain, repair staff and stocking etc

  9. It is brazenly and disgustingly overdue to settle the issue of combat rifles and LMGs for the Indian Army. So far it has been insertion of 7.62 Kalashnikov that has saved the day for combat soldiers.The NATO philosophy of 1970s to shift to 5.56 still holds for NATO and the Western world but they have neither fought a conventional wars nor been fighting insurgencies and sub conventional wars at a scale which Indian Army has been engaged in to test its efficacy. Whenever and wherever they employed their soldiers for counter terrorist operations, they have been invariably shifting to 7.62 X 51 variants aka Kalashnikov types. Our fixation with INSAS has more to do with our DODO obsession or OFV / MoD blackmail rather than any utilitarian consideration. INSAS may be alright but not good for tasks at hand. The infantry soldier needs to be equipped with suitable and effective basic weapons - Combat / assault rifles and LMGs in the same line as equipping artillery units with modern guns and cavalry men with modern tanks. The distinction between the former and later being the the current combat and readiness for combat. The priorities thus must be in right place.

    The very basic idea of soldiering - confidence in his weapons, can and should not be ever neglected and compromised. That is fundamental to his efficacy. Economy, self sufficiency, logistics, training etc are all laudable considerations but secondary when one considers obtaining security for the country and society. What is the use of supporting those economic efforts, those indigenous organisations which takes you towards doubtful state of military security. Military can and should be an economy contributor but not by compromises on security. Indian Army has sufficiently and unreasonably inflicted avoidable wounds on itself by waiting for DODO / OFV bananas to fall down. By now the infantry soldiers should have sufficiently evaluated and tested a new weapon system over last 35 years and should have been on the threshold of yet a new futuristic weapon system to keep up with time and futuristic requirements.

    1. Anon
      The truth is calibre has very little impact on lethality
      The most important factor in lethality is the number of hits
      After that comes location
      Only then calibre

      The problem is, two thirds of the men shot on the beaches of Normandy survived, despite being hit by a bullet thats in every way superior to the 7.72

      The primary killer in a war, is artillery, the purpose of 5.56 is to pin the enemy in place long enough for artillery to kill them.

  10. Weak Army Chief has accepted this divide of weapons and this is the first time of this sort. In war, only Indian Army will have now 30% lethality and that raises concern.
    Is our Army ready to take on the battle field?

  11. Can't the army sell guns and other accessories to the soldiers only with same type of bullets that they provide as an other option so if the soldiers can be better equipped give them a subsidy or give it on a loan .Atleast they will have an option to equip themselves better because lives are at stake here

  12. India has 1.2 million men in its army, another million in reserves, probably half a million in various militarised police forces.

    Thats 3 million or so pistols, carbines, assault rifles, marskmens rifles, light machine guns and heavy machine guns.
    More than all of Europe combined.

    A factory that churned out 10,000 precision machined weapons a month would barely be able to keep up

    A family of fantastic indian small arms could easily be the worlds next AK47


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