With the joint plan with Russia to produce the AK-203 being delayed, the Indian military is extensively upgrading the indigenous INSAS, instead of going in for expensive imports, to fill up the infantry’s need for 200,000 assault rifles
The Indian military’s decade-old hunt for a robust assault rifle—the primary weapon of the infantry soldier—continues till date.
The long-awaited production of the Russian-origin AK-203 assault rifles here in India has been lagging behind schedule due to Russia’s engagement in the 20-month-long war with Ukraine. In addition, the recently acquired US-made assault rifles have also reported several ‘glitches’ during use in counter-insurgency operations along with the Line of Control in Kashmir and in the Northeast.
In February 2019, 72,400 SIG Sauer 716 rifles—66,400 for the Army, 4,000 for the Indian Air Force and 2,000 for the Navy—of 7.62 x 51mm calibre were contracted from the US under the government ‘Buy (Global) category’ through the fast-track procurement route as a stop-gap arrangement.
India has the distinction of being the largest user of small arms globally, with approximately 20 lakh weapons currently in use. The Indian military uses a variety of assault rifles, like INSAS (Indian Small Arms System), AK-47, SIG Sauer 716, and Tavor. INSAS forms the major chunk of India’s small arms inventory, with close to 10 lakh INSAS rifles in use.
The Indian infantry desperately needs over 2,00,000 primary 7.62 x 51mm assault rifles. Military planners have therefore worked out a plan to upgrade its existing inventory of INSAS rifles, considering its large-scale use, instead of waiting for new weapons. While some paramilitary forces and state police have already started using the upgraded INSAS, the Indian Army, too, is coming out with its proposal to do the same. Instead of phasing out the India-made rifles, defence officials maintain that upgradation of the existing INSAS rifle is an operationally viable and cost-effective solution. Moreover, Indian soldiers are extensively trained to operate INSAS rifles as their primary weapon in both conventional and sub-conventional conflict zones.
Introducing a new weapon requires a marshalling resources related to ammunition, magazines, spares, training, vests and gears, especially during the evolving regional threats on the country’s eastern and northern borders and the uncertain internal security situation.
Official sources claim that modifications required in the rifle include steady butt stock—its back portion–for ensuring sustained fire under all conditions, minimising recoil, a pistol grip, a handguard, and a sling to provide carriage and combat effectiveness. Besides, attachments for mounting optical sights and lower Picatinny rails—raised ridges that run parallel to the barrel–to support accessories such as grips or bipods will afford stability during combat. Without any further requirement for user training, the lethality of the weapon should also remain intact with minimal changes in its weight, defence officials believe.
“Any new weapon costing approximately INR 75,000 should be capable of addressing current and future battlefield challenges. Thus, an optimally modified INSAS rifle offering state-of-the-art characteristics and contemporary features at 45 per cent of the cost gives the end user a rifle powered by the latest technology and warfighting attributes,” says Samir Dhawan, director of Star Aerospace, which has offered an upgrade of the existing INSAS rifles. Dhawan claims that his company has already providing upgraded INSAS rifles to paramilitary forces and state police and has got its design (modified kits) approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Dhawan even claims to have got its design patent in India after the MHA’s recommendation and says parts for the upgrade can be sourced locally with support from the ARDE (Armament Research & Development Establishment) of the DRDO.
India and Russia had, in 2019, inked an inter-governmental agreement under which the joint venture Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) was formed. Under the plan, around 671,000 AK-203 rifles (7.62 x 39mm) will be manufactured at the Korwa Ordnance Factory in Amethi. However, the production of AK 203 is affected due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.