An assault rifle is the basic requirement of any army. But at the Make in India-themed Defence Expo 2016 here, little headway was made to find a suitable replacement for the Indian Army’s Insas rifles in use since 1996.
This is despite the fact that more than 1,000 firms from 40 countries are vying for a share in the Indian defence industry that is expected to swell to $100 billion in 10 years.
“The politicians think that they are safe when they see a jawan carrying a rifle. The need of the hour is to change that way of thinking. The army has been forced to use obsolete weapons,” said retired Major General Afsir Karim, who commanded a paramilitary battalion in the 1971 War.
After cancelling a global tender for assault rifles in 2015 that was floated in 2011, the army has pinned its hopes on the Insas Excalibur designed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
But army sources said the Excalibur is at best a retrofitted Insas and cannot be the primary weapon. Dr S Christopher, director general of DRDO, said, “We accept that there have been glitches, but we are constantly working to provide better equipment.”
The 2011 tender had sought to procure nearly 66,000 rifles and manufacture 100,000 more under transfer of technology. Beretta, Sig Sauer, IWI, Colt and Ceska had shown interest but nothing materialised. At the moment, the 1B1 INSAS rifles are standard issue for the infantry though some special and elite units use Uzis, Heckler & Koch MP5s etc.
A possible replacement may be Croatia-made VHS 2 assault rifle. Manufacturer HS Produkt’s India representative Shailesh Tewary claims the NATO-certified weapon has undergone testing in India and its performance was appreciated. HS Produkt is willing to transfer design, development and technology to India.
“While our weapon system has a proven track record and is in service with various armies we would like to study the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) thoroughly before planning our step ahead,” said a senior executive of one of the firms.
Experts point out that defence acquisition is not a standard open market commercial form of procurement as it has geo-political ramifications.