With the request for proposal (RFP) for import of 66,000 numbers of 5.56 mm assault rifle for an estimated $ 250 million sent out to foreign vendors last month, Defence Ministry has indicated that all the bids will be opened after submissions by mid-February next year. The 5.56 mm assault rifle will supplant the DRDO-made Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) assault rifle with the Indian Army for about two decades.
As per the RFP, the Indian Army wants the rifles to be equipped with under barrel grenade launchers and capable of firing indigenously- produced ammunition. The RFP also requires the 3.66 kilogram assault rifle to convert to 7.62 x 39 mm and be fitted with reflex sights. The RFP also mandates a transfer of technology to the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for local production of the rifles of which the eventual requirement is expected to be around 2 million for the Indian Army. In the first lot, the Indian Army will procure 66,000 rifles after which complete transfer of technology will enable local production.
The replacement of the DRDO-built INSAS rifle has been long coming. While INSAS 5.56 mm rifle was put in service in the mid-1990s after replacing the heavier 7.62mm FNFAL self-loading rifles, the INSAS 5.56 mm rifle came with its own problems. INSAS 5.56 rifles by the DRDO had shortcomings in its sighting system which malfunctioned in cold climates and the firing mechanisms that kept getting jammed. The INSAS rifle failed miserably in cold places such as Kashmir Valley and Siachen glacier. Due to the cold weather, the rifles would jam occasionally and the polymer magazines would crack. As usual, the Indian Army had to bear the brunt of DRDO’s shortcomings and since they were subjected to an inferior weapon system that came with its limitations.
After years of tribulation faced by Indian Army, the Defence Ministry finally issued an RFP last December to acquire 44,618 numbers of 5.56mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines and 33.6 million rounds of ammunition for an estimated $ 444.45 million. This RFP also mandates tender a 30 per cent offset liability and transfer of technology to the OFB to build around 400,000 CQB carbines to replace the outmoded 9mm model currently being used by the Indian Army.
Last year, DRDO had stated that its lab Armament research and Development Establishment (ARDE) is working on a Future-INSAS (F-INSAS) rifle to go along with the future infantry soldier project that the Indian defence establishments are currently working on. DROD officials said that a future INSAS rifle is being developed which can be integrated into the Future Infantry Soldier project by including a sensor and a thermal imaging device onto the rifle itself. Another inclusion in the Future-INSAS family of weapons will be a modern sub-machine carbine with 5.56mm by 30mm calibre incorporating both a pistol and a rifle design, so that the soldier can fire the weapon using just one hand. The future rifle and carbine will come alongside the Future Infantry Soldier project, which itself will be completed in three phases. The first phase of the Future Infantry Soldier project would be completed in three years.
As for the Indian Army, it is eagerly awaiting the replacement of its outmoded assault rifles. The Army had first expressed its intention to replace the INSAS series rifles with modern assault rifles in its technology capability roadmap prepared last year. As for the F-INSAS project, the Indian Army is going full swing with it. The F-INSAS project envisages army troops to be equipped with equipment such as safe and effective grenades, surveillance and night vision devices, personal protection suites and net connectivity.