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

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

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