Army’s baffling inability to induct basic assault rifle points at a deeper malaise

On July 15, troopers of the Jammu & Kashmir police, the CRPF and the army’s Rashtriya Rifles closed in on three Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists hiding in a cave in the Satoora forest, in Tral, south Kashmir. All three terrorists were killed after a fierce firefight lasting over 11 hours. After the fight, AK-47 toting security personnel entered the cave to recover the terrorist’s weapons, three AK-47s and 14 field magazines-bringing to a close yet another encounter.

If few noticed the intriguing fact of both sides using the same assault rifle, it was because this has ceased to astonish. The AK-47 is a legendary weapon among soldier and guerrilla alike because of its rugged simplicity and effectiveness it has just nine moving parts.

Its continuing use by security forces is also an indictment of the army’s failure to equip soldiers with a modern assault rifle kitted with force multipliers like day and night sights (which can be used irrespective of light conditions), ‘red dot’ sights to pinpoint targets and underbarrel grenade launchers, which can toss explosives twice as far as hand-thrown grenades. (The majority of in-service INSAS and AK-47 rifles lack these.) Army officials also bristle at the glitch-prone INSAS’s production quality, the breakability of its plastic magazines and its poor metallurgy.

In June last year, the army began a quest to replace both the AK-47 (issued to soldiers in counter-insurgency areas) and the INSAS rifle (for conventional conflict). It issued a request for information (RFI) for the purchase of 66,000 new rifles firing 7.62 x 51 mm (the diameter and length) ammunition. The actual order, for over 180,000 rifles to re-equip the entire army, is presently the world’s largest rifle requirement. This is the service’s third attempt to buy a new rifle in nearly a decade. It follows the collapse of two previous acquisition attempts- a 2011 tender for Rs 4848 crore, calling for an assault rifle that could fire both INSAS and AK-47 ammunition, with a barrel swap, was scrapped in 2015. Then, the army pulled the plug on a modified INSAS-1C rifle which the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) were developing last year when it decided to go in for a new caliber of ammunition. A senior army official emphasises why things will be different this time around with the new rifle: “The procurement of the weapon is being given maximum time and attention as it is the most important case at present.”

Even if this is the case, it could take a minimum of three years to acquire this new rifle to equip the army’s 382 infantry battalions. This is because the multiple levels of bureaucracy and the acquisition system is so complex and ponderously slow. Based on responses from global rifle makers, including the state-owned OFB, which developed a 7.62 x 51 mm prototype in under six months, the army will float requests for proposals and invite bids from vendors. This will be followed by extensive technical evaluation trials conducted by the army’s infantry school in Mhow. “We follow the same procedure for everything from a pin to a fighter jet,” says a general.

 

Part of the army’s delay in acquiring a rifle has been, quite literally, a dilemma over life and death deciding whether it wants its bullets to kill enemies or wound them. In 1982, the army’s general staff qualitative requirements (GSQRs) were for a bullet that would incapacitate enemies rather than kill them, the idea being that a wounded soldier requires more attention and therefore ties down more of the enemy’s manpower. The army was looking to replace its bulky Belgian-designed FN-FAL self-loading battle rifles with a lighter assault rifle and bullet. This resulted in the DRDO-designed INSAS.

The plan for the new 7.62 x 51 mm assault rifle is pitiless. The army is pretty explicit about wanting ammunition that allows its soldiers to ‘shoot to kill’. The requirements followed an April 2016 army commanders’ conference in New Delhi where the army prioritised a heavier caliber owing to its lethality.

“Owing to the dynamic nature of warfare, enhanced transparency in the battlefield, technological advancements and the capabilities of our adversaries, our operational requirements have changed, leading to the revised operational philosophy of ‘shoot to kill’,” says a senior army official. And so, the army is going back to the 7.62 x 51 mm caliber it used for nearly three decades following the 1962 border war with China. However, a heavier bullet means a heavier weapon. At around four kilos, the new rifles are likely to be about a kilo heavier than the INSAS or the AK-47. Also, a 5.56 mm bullet weighs 17 grams, while a 7.62 round weighs 25 grams meaning that soldiers will carry less ammunition.

Apart from the increased weight and recoil of the new rifle, a DRDO rifle scientist warns that heavier ammunition will also result in louder rifles. “Soldiers will not be able to hear orders in the din of combat,” he says.

This is one reason the armies of France, China, Russia and the UK are upgrading their rifles but sticking with 5.56 caliber ammunition. Only the US army is considering using heavier 7.62 rounds. Indian army officials feel that the increase in weight is acceptable keeping in view the enhanced lethality and range.

This month, the world’s second largest army acquired its first new item of equipment in over a decade lightweight ballistic helmets. The new helmets will replace the bulkier improvised ‘patkas’, a cloth-covered armoured steel plate worn around the forehead. The army will also acquire over 50,000 bulletproof jackets, after the completion of ballistic trials in September. Both items were procured by former defence minister Manohar Parrikar as emergency purchases in 2014.

The army’s infantry crisis has its origins in a deeper failure- the splintering of an ambitious project called F-INSAS, begun in August 2005, which aimed to field a future combat soldier. The ‘future soldier as a system’ programme covered all aspects of lethality, sustainability, survivability and situational awareness. It called for equipping all 380 infantry battalions with new assault rifles, lightweight helmets, bulletproof jackets and radio sets. A bodyworn computer would also indicate soldiers’ positions on the battlefield, the location of their comrades and the enemy. “It was a good thought but it is seemingly impossible to do a procurement as complex as this. Our systems are what they are today the whole thing is stuck in multiple webs,” says a general. With the programme as a whole being a non-starter, the army split it up into multiple acquisition programmes in July 2014. The acquisition processes for new carbines, sniper rifles and submachine guns are now individual programmes. All are at either the GSQR or RFP stage, it will take several years for them to materialise. The project to increase the situational awareness of the soldier, meanwhile, has been merged into an even larger project for a battlefield management system, which is at the detailed project report stage, and again, several years from conclusion. Clearly, the Indian army has much more to worry about than just acquiring a reliable rifle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:- India Today

The post Army’s baffling inability to induct basic assault rifle points at a deeper malaise appeared first on Indian Defence Update.



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