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The Indian Army Really Wants A Foreign Battle Rifle

July 4, 2018

This week India’s The Economic Times revealed high ranking army officers are visiting a handful of gun makers to find a new battle rifle and a carbine for the country’s soldiers. This follows a Request for Proposal (RFP) submitted to at least a dozen potential suppliers who could fulfill a huge order of 7.62x51mm battle rifles and 5.56x45mm carbines.

After rejecting a locally made battle rifle in June 2017, the Indian Army plans on importing 72,400 rifles and 93,895 carbines. The latter are for its special forces and paramilitary units. The same RFP from earlier this year specified light machine guns as well, but it seems these are no longer being sought.

The Economic Times’ report named five gun makers as viable candidates–Caracal from the UAE, IWI from Israel, S&T Motive from South Korea, Sig Sauer USA, and Thales Australia. Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern was excluded because it didn’t manufacture small arms chambered for 7.62x51mm ammunition. The Indian Army promised that firearms chosen by the committee will undergo a Fast Track Procedure or FTP.

An FTP means that once a report on each manufacturer has been finalized these companies can send sample batches of their guns to India for testing. The lowest bidder among the companies whose guns were successfully tested gets the lucrative contract for delivering the rifles and carbines.

The goal of this effort is to supplant the Indian Army’s standard issue INSAS rifle, which is copied from the Israeli Galil albeit with some peculiar features. The mass-production of INSAS rifles in the Ordnance Factory Board’s (OFB) facilities in the late 1990s resulted in dismal quality control. Even if the INSAS has been improved with the Excalibur variant, the Indian Army no longer deems the rifle fit for service. Jawans deployed to Kashmir are often given AK-47’s instead while special forces operators are equipped with Israeli Tavor 21 bullpups.

The MCIWS was one of the DRDO’s stranger creations. It was ignored by the Indian Army.

In 2017 the OFB unveiled a “7.62x51mm rifle” that was fed by 20-round box magazines previously used on the FAL/SLR rifles issued to the Indian Army during the 1970s. This model was rejected by the army. The OFB’s catalog includes an unlicensed AK-47 with either a fixed or folding stock called the Ghatak that’s popular with Indian policemen and a 5.56x30mm carbine called the Amogh.

The Indian Army committee’s mission abroad is a sure sign of the institutional disdain for the OFB. But some of the gun makers eager to win India’s titanic small arms contract have their own limitations. The UAE’s state-owned Caracal International LLC, for example, offers a modified M4 carbine and a 7.62x51mm battle rifle called the 817AR. The production of the latter was even transferred to an Indian company in March this year. Unfortunately, these guns have no track record.

IWI, on the other hand, is a trusted partner of the Indian military. Its Tavor rifles and Negev machine guns are already used by the army’s commandos. Out of all the contenders, IWI has the surest path to victory. It has a new 7.62x51mm bullpup called the Tavor 7 and several carbines under the Galil brand. The same applies to Sig Sauer USA with its SIG716 battle rifle and a selection of modular carbines based on the AR-15.

But the inclusion of S&T Motiv and Thales Australia make for odd choices. The South Korean gun maker’s K2-series of rifles are almost the same as the INSAS when it comes to functionality. S&T Motiv doesn’t even have a battle rifle in its catalog. Thales Australia’s small arms subcontractor only has the 5.56x45mm P90 based on the Steyr AUG bullpup and a shortened variant of the same.

Whatever the outcome of this competition, it needs to be emphasized that India can mass-produce its own small arms–from revolvers to heavy machine guns. If the army want an AR-pattern battle rifle and something close to an M4 carbine, the OFB have the blueprints and production lines ready to go.

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