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India Is Ready To Export A Lot Of Guns

September 27, 2022
Via AWE India Ltd.

The state-owned AWE India Ltd. is now offering its entire catalog for export with an emphasis on small arms and artillery. At the recent Africa Aerospace and Defense (AAD) 2022 exhibition, which took place from September 18 to 22, the manufacturer displayed its products for a regional audience–AAD 2022 is still considered the most high profile arms show in southern and central Africa. But there was little to surprise potential end users unless they were looking for familiar alternatives that can replace their existing weaponry. Kalashnikov rifles and their clones are still spreading across the continent and AWE India Ltd. has its own AKM copy it can mass-produce.

AWE India Ltd. is among seven new entities that were once part of the sprawling Ordnance Factory Board–a military-industrial conglomerate that governed multiple plants for supplying the armed forces–but were spun off from their corporate parent from August until October 2021. For the seven rebranded state-owned enterprises competitiveness and profitability are their prime directives. But the plan isn’t without its risks; until recently the OFB’s small arms manufacturing was responsible for the long ridiculed INSAS rifle whose quality (or lack thereof) was upheld as proof of the government’s failure to spur homegrown success. It doesn’t help that most of Awe India Ltd.’s weaponry are copied from older designs (its L7 machine gun comes to mind) or, such as a “revolver” grenade launcher and an anti-material rifle, originated from South Africa.

But even the INSAS evolved over time and many improvements are found on the Excalibur carbine, which has a proper 30-round magazine and better ergonomics, and in 2017 the OFB tried to win an Indian Army tender for a 7.62x51mm battle rifle. Their offering was an INSAS chambered for the heavier caliber that had rails for mounting optics and a sidefolding polymer stock. Other infantry rifles advertised by AWE India Ltd. and the OFB–especially the small arms plant in Ishapore–are the “Self Loading Rifle” or SLR (copied from the British Army’s storied Enfield L1A1 SLR’s) and the venerable .303 Lee Enfield bolt action rifle. Mass-production of the Soviet vintage AKM is the OFB’s worst kept secret despite the armed forces and government importing huge quantities from Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland. To this day the army, the police, the border security force, and government militia carry these ex-Eastern Bloc weapons whose current stockpile reaches the high six figures.

It wasn’t until 2019 when the OFB unveiled the “Trichy Assault Rifle” to the public. Little more than an unlicensed clone of the Bulgarian Arsenal JSCo AR-M1 the TAR found a sizable clientele with India’s border guards. Since then AWE India Ltd. is now responsible for production of the TAR their engineers added an underbarrel 40mm grenade launcher for it–again copied from an Arsenal JSCo design, the UBGL-M8. Another Kalashnikov-pattern small arm in 7.62x39mm is offered by Awe India Ltd. called the “TriCa.” (Pictured above.) Its best comparison is with the Serbian Zastava M05 C1 “submachine gun” and its ideal role is as a defensive armament for vehicle crews and rear echelon soldiers, even members of law enforcement.

Although the army is open in its preference for NATO-standard small arms–its search for a viable 5.56x45mm modular rifle continues–the Kalashnikov rifle is burrowing deeper in the country’s military-industrial sector. Since 2021a joint venture based in Uttar Pradesh called Indo-Russia Rifles Pvt. Ltd. (IRRPL) was opened to begin licensed assembly of the AK-203 assault rifle. Part of Kalashnikov Group’s 200-series of new generation infantry small arms the AK-203 is an improvement of the popular AK-103 although both share the same ammunition and furniture. After the AK-203 the IRRPL may launch other Russian military products such as machine guns and sniper rifles.

India’s “defense” sector has little to no experience supplying African militaries although this may change soon if manufacturers like AWE India Ltd. and its cohort present themselves as better options than the competition from China and to a lesser extent Israel and Türkiye. The road ahead won’t be smooth and the evidence is overwhelming for the popularity of Chinese-made weapon systems.

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