Small arms for the Indian armed forces: Can the private industry deliver?  

The Indian defence and law enforcement agencies have been largely dependent on foreign Original Equipment manufacturers for their weapons and ammunition. However, there are some breakthroughs in India. Is the private industry ready to deliver? 

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The Indian army (File photo: IE)

The Indian defence and law enforcement agencies have been largely dependent on foreign Original Equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for their weapons and ammunition. India has been unable to manufacture a quality infantry assault rifle – the most rudimentary of weapons for the Indian Armed Forces. However, the scenario is changing.

While the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) hold responsibilities for arms and ammunition, the Government of India did open up the same to private players.

Other companies, too, have already tied up with foreign OEMs. The domestic defence entities have either set up plants or are in the process of doing so. This includes the Kalyani Group, which has a tie-up with French firm Thales. The Adani Group has collaborated with Israel Weapon Systems (IWI).  Another private entity, one of the largest stainless steel manufacturing companies, Jindal Group has tied up with a Brazilian firm called Taurus Armas S.A. and Neco Desert Tech, a joint venture between Indian and American firms.

Policy for small arms manufacturing  

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) obtained a decision from the Cabinet during 2001-02 for manufacturing small arms and ammunition for the private sector. Boosting it further, the GOI has since then opened up the FDI up to 76% and on a case-to-case basis it is even 100%.

The Indian army is in the midst of a massive modernisation drive that will re-equip over a million troops with advanced personal arms. In parallel, the country’s paramilitary forces, comprising a million soldiers, need a replacement for the redundant INSAS.

The modernization drive requires the upgradation of pistols, carbines, close-quarter battle weapons, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and light, medium, and heavy machine guns with matching ammunition. In fact, the Army Design Bureau(ADB) is focusing on indigenous technologies and solutions in the areas of small arms and ammunition. But the challenges remain for the domestic OEMs to navigate through the regulatory process.  

To address the challenges, the Indian industry needs to gear up and set up the complete ecosystem for the modern-day combat soldier.

The heavy investment cycle in defence manufacturing pushes the industry to the edge. The expectations remain on receiving early orders from the Armed forces which allow the domestic players to sustain and spend on research and development.

“This would be unfair to firms that have already invested their money and time to set up a manufacturing facility and have been waiting for orders,” said the head of the Indian defence entity.

Innovation in small arms— Indian industry  

Despite the ‘lost decades, the Indian private defence industry has seized some of the opportunities in this domain.

Kalyani Strategic Systems (KSSL)’ Assault Rifle 7.62 x 39 mm is power packed. The key differentiator here is the self-illuminated target tritium sights for faster target acquisition at low right conditions. The Assault Rifle also adds theprovision for attachment of Underbarrel Grenade launchers and firing with them.

Assault Rifle
7.62 x 39 mm – KSSL

In addition to the Assault Rifle, the KSSL has launched the Light Machine Gun. The 7.62mm MG-M2 is an automatic weapon designed to be used against enemy troops, light armoured targets, and aerial targets by firing in single and automatic fire mode.

The MG-M2 does come up with innovative technologies like the integration of a cold forged barrel and a rail for the attachment of optical sight or night vision. The key addition is the Interchangeable spare barrel.

One of the milestones in small arms is the development of Masada 9mm pistols for the Indian Navy’s marine commandos which are led by the Adani Group. While it has been under the joint development program with Israel Weapon Systems (IWI), the JV is a step forward in manufacturing the range of IWI weapons such as Tavor assault rifles, X95 assault rifles, Galil sniper rifles, Negev light machine guns and Uzi submachine guns.

Masada for Indian navy

On-time delivery has been the salient aspect after the Indian navy placed an order for over 500 pistols in November 2021 under fast-track procurement.

Indian defence entity — SSS Defence— has produced small and medium-calibre ammunition with impeccable performance. It has come up with hi-tech small arms, ammunition and military optics as platforms, including the Saber, a .338 Lapua Magnum long-range sniper weapon; the Viper, a 7.62X51 mm tactical sniper weapon; and the P-72 family of rifles.

The advantage is all about leveraging the core competence which exists in India. The manufacturing capability of high-end metallurgy and processes is fundamental to achieving military-grade

Advanced metallurgy allows us to produce lightweight alloys, and it saves cost as asper out industrial-scale production.

“That is how we have been making a mark with our advanced-level expertise in metallurgy,” said Baba Kalyani, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Forge during an interaction.

“If we can design a gun, which is 3 tons all over the world to 900 kilograms, you think we can’t design a tank, which is 50 tons to 25 tons,” Kalyani emphasized.

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First published on: 27-03-2023 at 20:57 IST