Cover Story

Cover Story : Army – ill-equipped to fight a war

The brunt of the paucity of small arms is borne by the army’s 360-odd infantry battalions. Procuring the assault rifle is critical, for the infantry bears the brunt at the borders besides undertaking counter-terrorism operations. But, procurement has witnessed significant delays due to a variety of reasons, including the Army’s failure to finalise the specifications

by Neeraj Mahajan

MANY years ago during the height of pro-Khalistan insurgency in Punjab, a senior police officer interrogating a captured militant received the greatest shock of his life when the militant asked the police officer to be polite and treat him (the militant) courteously. “Why?” the officer asked. “Because, you are one of the biggest beneficiaries and gained as a consequence of our armed struggle. Look at what you were and what you have gained. Till a few years ago you had World War-II army discard .303 rifles, outdated jeeps and wireless sets. Today, thanks to our armed struggle, at least you have been issued with better weapons, transport and communication equipment,” the militant replied. Needless to say the Punjab Police officer was taken aback and did not know what to say.


Vendors wanting to capture the defence market

INDIA’S defence market is expected to cross Rs. 38 lakh crore by 2022. Over the next 10 years the three armed forces, paramilitary forces, and states police would need at least two million different types of small arms and ammunition. This is such a big demand that no armament supplier can afford to ignore. Everyone wants a piece of India’s defence business.

Till a few years ago only factories owned by Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) were permitted to produce weapon systems. Private sector companies were only allowed to manufacture parts of ammunition such as the shell or fuse. The whole environment is in for a big change. For the first time the Government of India is allowing Indian private sector companies to manufacture equipment for defence services.

Many overseas defence companies are negotiating joint-venture agreements with Indian private sector companies. These include, Expal (Spain), Nexter (France), Rosoboronexport (Russia), Chemring Group (United Kingdom), Saab (Sweden), Elbit (Israel), Rheinmetall Defence (Germany), Diehl Defence (Germany), Denel (South Africa), Yugoimport (Serbia), Bumar (Poland), Orbital ATK Armament Systems (United States) and Arsenal (Bulgaria).

This is good news for private sector companies like Punj Lloyd, Chowgule Group, Kalyani Group, Reliance Defence Engineering Limited, Godrej & Boyce, Indtech Construction Private Limited, HYT Engineering Company Private Limited, Micron Instruments, Premier Explosives Limited, Solar Industries India Limited, Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited and Continental Defence Solutions Private Limited.

Some of the other companies in the race to manufacture defense equipment include: Tebma Shipyards Ltd (submarines), Neco Defence Systems Ltd (unmanned aerial systems), Maini Precision Products Pvt. Ltd (rocket launchers), Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering Co. Ltd (aircraft and spacecraft parts), Ois AeroSpace Pvt. Ltd (aircraft sub-systems), Solar Industries India Ltd (helicopters), Titagarh Wagons Ltd (armoured vehicles), Modest Infrastructure Ltd (warships) and JSW Projects (unmanned aerial vehicles).

The list of firms that have applied for license to make military equipment makes interesting reading:
Punj Lloyd Raksha Systems Private Limited (PLR): Punj Lloyd has tied up with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) to develop and manufacture Small Arms in India like Tavor assault rifle, Galil sniper rifle and the Negev light machine gun. IWI’s product basket include TAVOR assault rifles, three calibre X95, NEGEV light machine guns, UZI SMG and JERICHO pistols.

The IWI TAVOR Assault Rifles are in service in India with the Special Forces units of the Indian Army (Para SF), Navy (MARCOS), Air Force (GARUD) and CRPF (CoBRA) and multiple State Armed Police Forces. They are battle proven around the world under extreme and adverse environmental conditions.

Punj Lloyd has strategically established itself as a credible player in the Defence and Aerospace sector. The group’s objective is to become a supplier of choice to the Indian Armed Forces and provide impetus to the ‘Make in India’ programme. Israel Weapon Industries is a world leader in innovative small arm systems for over 80 years. The weapons are widely used by military and homeland security agencies worldwide. As per the ‘Make in India’ joint-venture arrangement – Punj Lloyd and IWI will manufacture these weapons in India and also export them to other countries friendly with India and Israel.


Kalashnikov Concern : The manufacturer of AK-47 rifles—Kalashnikov Concern—is working out a business agreement with Indian companies for the joint licensed production of advanced versions of AK-47 assault rifles in India. Kalashnikov Concern is Russia’s largest manufacturer of automatic and sniper weapons. The AK-47s is a popular weapon with great demand in India.

Tata Group : One of India’s largest private sector conglomerates—with more than 98 companies in various sectors—the Tata group is on a look out for new partners to take its 60 year old relationship with the MoD to a next higher level. The Group is looking at collaboration with foreign partners to develop sophisticated weaponry, like amphibious armoured platforms, blast-proof vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, multi-barrel rocket launchers, electronic warfare systems and nuclear submarine control centres. Tata Motors has orders in hand for about Rs. 900 crore, for specialist vehicles related to the defence and security forces.
Another Group company Tata-Boeing has signed up a joint venture agreement to develop Apache helicopters in 2018. The Tata group’s defence and aerospace revenues are expected to touch Rs. 2,650 crore.

Bharat Forge Limited : Bharat Forge Limited, a subsidiary of Kalyani Group, has signed a joint venture agreement with BF Elbit Advanced Systems Private Limited—to manufacture different variety of ammunition and smart bombs in India. Currently, the annual ammunition market in India exceeds $1 billion, there is scope of additional annual capacity of approximately $250 million in private sector.

Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd : Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd (HFCL), is interested in making airplanes, weapons and ammunition. The group has already been granted industrial license to produce electronic fuses, electro optical devises, electronic warfare devises and helicopters.

Mahindra Group : Maker of the well-known Willeys jeep, the Mahindra Group is looking to regain its presence as Indian army’s leading supplier of trucks, armoured vehicles and other equipment. The group has created two verticals to focus on land defence and naval defense.

Hero Group : Once a leading manufacturer of bicycle components and the world’s largest two wheeler company, the Hero group is planning to get a toe-hold in the Indian defence market.

Anil Dhirubhai Ambani’s Reliance Group : Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence and Engineering Ltd is planning to manufacture Kalashnikov class of weapons for Indian armed forces in a joint venture with Kalashnikov Israel an Israeli company. Reliance Defence and Aerospace, a Group subsidiary, is expected to bid for 387 Army reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters and 100 Naval utility helicopters, together valued at Rs. 25,000 crore.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries : Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries has partnered with Boeing to build P8I naval reconnaissance aircraft for Indian Navy. Reliance has also signed a deal with Dassault aviation to build medium multi role combat aircrafts (MMRCA) for Indian Air Force.

Hinduja Group : The London-based maker of Ashok Leyland buses and trucks has set up Ashok Leyland Defence Systems, which has shown interest in manufacturing armoured vehicles for the armed forces.

This is a fact which cannot be denied. The same goes for all the police, para-military, special commando outfits and Armed Forces, irrespective of the colour of uniform they wear. Their presence and sacrifice is always taken for granted. No one bothers about their equipment, ammunition or training needs. Suddenly, after a major incident, concerned people at all levels wake up and make all kinds of promises, which are often forgotten till the next big incident awakens a few sleepy heads.


Indian Army has one of the finest soldiers in world in terms of training, motivation and morale. They are soldiers prepared to do and die for a cause. But frankly they are not magicians who can change the complexion of the battle without a proper gun in their hands. A soldier—at the very least—needs a weapon.

The Indian Armed Forces have always been expected to perform miracles—without a proper gun in their hand. Why couldn’t the country capable of sending satellites into space, producing aircrafts, ballistic missiles, and tanks cobble a decent rifle or pistol? India imports nearly 70 per cent of its military equipment from foreign suppliers

First class troops–third rate guns
The Indian Armed Forces have always been expected to perform miracles—without a proper gun in their hand. Why couldn’t the country capable of sending satellites into space, producing aircrafts, ballistic missiles, and tanks cobble a decent rifle or pistol? India imports nearly 70 per cent of its military equipment from foreign suppliers. The Indian soldiers get maimed or killed fighting an unequal battle in the extreme temperature with sub-standard or obsolete guns in his hand. Why? So that politicians can make money in yet another deal? In such a scenario, would it be fair to expect the soldiers to fight a war without a weapon?

This has a direct and proportional impact on the operational readiness of the Indian Army. The Army doesn’t have a choice but to make do with outdated assault rifles designed in the 1980s. A majority of army units haven’t practiced firing at the field firing range in the last one year. There is an acute shortage of ammunition most of which is sub-standard. The last consignment of artillery guns were purchased nearly three decades ago. The net result is that the second largest standing army is ill-equipped to fight a war.

This fact was acknowledged by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) which categorically blamed the inefficiency of the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Ordinance Factories, amongst the top 50 defense equipment manufacturers in the world, to meet the demands of the Indian Army. According to the CAG report, rejected ammunition worth Rs. 1,618 crore is lying in depots due to manufacturing defects. Apart from this ammunition, worth Rs. 814 crore has been declared unserviceable within shelf life due to its poor quality. Further, according to the report, nearly 17.5 per cent of total ammunition is lying in segregated, repairable and unserviceable condition. Apart from this ammunition, worth Rs. 2,109 crore is lying in repairable condition due to routine failure of OFB in supply of repair components.

According to the CAG report, out of total 152 types of ammunition considered critical by the Indian Army to fight a war, stock of as many as 61 types of ammunition is available for just 10 days only. The root cause of the problem is that environment of indecisiveness in the defense ministry cannot visualise the fact that wars are fought with weapons and equipment, not statistics of money saved or not being spent where it is needed.

1947 : Post Independence scenario
At the time of independence, the Indian Army was living in a make-believe world, playing soldier-soldier with the obsolete, world war vintage Lee-Enfield rifle and Webley Mk IV revolvers. At a time when the British were discarding the bolt action guns in favour of semi-automatic weapons after the World wars, the Indian Ministry of Defense, like a typical scrap dealer, decided to make it standard issue weapon for the Indian Army.

1962 : Humiliating defeat
The Sino-Indian War taught us a lesson how not to go to war—unprepared, inadequately armed and clothed in extremely inhospitable and harsh mountain conditions at high altitudes. One of the primary reasons why India suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1962 war was because the soldiers were ill-equipped, un-acclimatised and totally unprepared to fight the war. The Indian land forces fought the one month-long war at a height of 14,000 feet only at God’s mercy. The Indian side was over-confident that there would be no war and hence made no preparations. Nehru firmly believed that ‘not a blade of grass grows there’.


As a result when the Chinese Army launched an attack in October 1962, the Indian jawans didn’t even have enough guns, ammunition or warm clothes to wear for fighting in extreme cold. The troops were ready to fight but there were no weapons, ammunition and maps for directions. On the other side, almost three months before the war, the Chinese side had started augmenting its combat readiness and started stockpiling ammunition, weapons and gasoline. The Chinese troops were acclimatised for high altitudes combat. They had proper clothing, shoes and weapons to fight in the mountains.

After the war, bodies of Indians soldiers were recovered buried in the ice, frozen, but with weapons in their hand. The biggest blunder in the 1962 war was that while the Army was taking the bashing, the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy were not even deployed. They kept watching the ‘game’ from the pavilion. As a result when the Chinese declared ceasefire, India had suffered heavy casualties—4,885 soldiers killed, 3,968 taken prisoners of war and 1,697 wounded. On the other hand, China only had 722 soldiers killed and 1,696 wounded. It was a Himalayan blunder.

Militancy in Punjab & IPKF Ops (Sri Lanka)
LATE 1970s and early 1980s added a new dimension to warfare. The army now had to face—the AK-47 wielding militants in Punjab and Kashmir as well as LTTE guerrillas in Sri Lanka. The army now wanted a rifle with a longer barrel—that would give the bullet higher speed and greater power of impact. No such product was given to them. As a result, the Indian Armed forces and police started equipping themselves with AK-47s captured from insurgents. In Punjab some police officers used their own resources to develop a bullet-proof tractor which could offer armour protection and mobility in rugged terrain.

In 2011, the Army had issued a global tender for 44,618 CQB carbines and 3,36,11,500 rounds of ammunition. However, even after six-years of rigorous tests the weapons haven’t been brought into service

Kargil 1999, another war—a bigger jolt
The Indian Army was caught ill-equipped and off-guard during the Kargil operations when Mujahedeen fighters, backed by regular Pakistani Army, intruded into the Kargil-Batalik sector. Indian troops who went to fight in the high-altitude war in Kargil-Dras sector were issued INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles for the first time. The INSAS repeatedly got jammed while its magazine and metal parts cracked due to the extreme cold. The rifle went into automatic firing mode when it was set for three-round burst. Apart from this, oil sprayed by the rifle caused many eye injuries to troops. That was until some Indian troops, including some Gurkhas, picked up the Kalashnikovs of the fallen Pakistanis because they were better and more accurate than their own guns.

Typically, the Indian troops, among other things, ran out of ammunition for the Bofors guns. Home production could not be undertaken overnight. The political system had cancelled all deals for purchase of equipment from abroad. They vehemently supported transfer of technology and production of ammunition in India. No arms supplier was ready for this. India virtually went door-to-door, begging for ammunition. Luckily South Africa agreed but at its own price. India didn’t have any option.

Post Kargil : Counter Insurgency Operations
Immediately after the Kargil war, the Indian Army floated a tender to replace the outdated INSAS, which still has not materialized. A majority of troops still have to carry the INSAS rifles. DRDO tried to plug the gap by the pushing forward its home-grown Excalibur guns. A similar effort was made by the Ishapore Rifle Factory, which tried to offload another indigenous weapon. Both the guns failed miserably at the firing tests.

In India, police forces armed with INSAS 5.56 mm rifles have frequently complained of the rifle’s lack of stopping power in anti-Maoist operations. In Jammu and Kashmir too, Army soldiers prefer using a captured AK-47 instead of unreliable INSAS. Army troops involved in active operations have complained about frequent jamming of INSAS rifles. The Army rejected the indigenously made 7.62mm rifle on the grounds that it was poor quality and had ineffective fire power.


The Indian Army was caught ill-equipped and off-guard during the Kargil operations. Indian troops, who went to fight in the high-altitude war in Kargil-Dras sector, were issued INSAS rifles for the first time. The INSAS repeatedly got jammed while its magazine and metal parts cracked due to the extreme cold

The brunt of the paucity of small arms is borne by the army’s 360-odd infantry battalions and 106 units involved in counter-insurgency ops, like the Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles. Procuring the assault rifle is critical for the infantry bears the brunt at the borders besides undertaking counter-terrorism operations. Hence, it is important for India to acquire modern and sophisticated assault rifles, light machine guns and CQB carbines.

Procurement of assault rifles has witnessed significant delays due to a variety of reasons, including the Army’s failure to finalise the specifications for it. Ideally, the development of rifles is a scientific process. Every rifle has to go through extensive and simulated battlefield environment before being brought into service. Researchers developing these rifles look at fire power, ease of use, weight and number of bullets required to kill a single enemy under adverse conditions.

IN 2011, the Army had issued a global tender for 44,618 CQB carbines and 3,36,11,500 rounds of ammunition. However, even after six-years of rigorous tests the weapons haven’t been brought into service. The Army’s quest narrowed down to two rifles, Beretta’s ARX-160 and Israeli ACE. According to sources, the defense ministry scrapped the tender for the 7.62 calibre guns as there was only one vendor left after a series of field trials.

Though the proposal to purchase 7.40 lakh 7.62 mm assault rifles, 5,719 sniper rifles and light machine guns was cleared by the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC)—the induction of the assault rifles is getting delayed due to change in the GSQR. Initially some 20 firms responded to the RFI issued by Indian Army. The request for information (RFI) is a means to collect information about capabilities of various vendors. A few years later the ministry of defense reissued a request for information for a 7.62x51mm assault rifle that can “shoot to kill” instead of a 5.56mm INSAS. DRDO was previously developing a 7.62×45 mm gun but the Indian Army was then interested in a 7.62×51 mm assault rifle. Indian Army now wants to procure an assault rifle with 500-m range with night vision capability.

The Indian Army (IA) has finalised plans for acquisition of about 800,000 assault rifles. This includes acquisition of around 250,000 7.62×51 mm rifles from overseas manufacturers and the remaining 550,000-odd indigenous rifles for units, who are not in direct contact with enemy forces. One of the factors behind this compromise is the fact that the state-of-the-art assault rifles are expected to cost around Rs. 200,000 each in the global market.

As Napoleon once said, “God is on the side of the battalions with the bigger cannon.” Two of the greatest lessons to be learnt from this is: one, never go to war without doing your homework; two, never underestimate your enemy and always have a gun in hand and adequate ammunition in your pocket. gfiles end logo



VOL. 11 | ISSUE 11-12 | MARCH 2018

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