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Rifle-cramped army sets sights on five

New Delhi, Dec. 2: The army is now evaluating five rifles, any which will become the standard issue firearm for the Indian soldier.

The Indian soldier will have to junk the Insas, the rifle made by the ordnance factory in Ichhapur near Calcutta that is “failing to meet the demands of modern warfare”, an officer engaged in drawing up the army’s infantry-modernisation plan said.

Soldiers have complained that the Insas overheats and its fibre-glass magazine is fragile.

The five competitors are well-known names, each inspiring movies and stories and each used in small and big wars around the globe. But none is as widely used as the original Avtomat Kalashnikov, designed by the eponymous Soviet General in 1949. The Insas itself is a derivative of the Kalash.

Beretta, Colt, Sig Sauer are among the American and/or US-Swiss weapons makers. Israel Weapons Industries’ two rifles — the Galil ACE and the Tavor TAR 21 — are in the fray. The TAR 21 is in limited use in the Indian Army’s special forces and some units in Jammu and Kashmir. The Ceska Brena, from the Czech Republic firm, has a new version of its Bren.

The army’s first order is likely to be for 66,000 rifles. The order is part of a programme called F-Insas — Future Infantry Soldier as a System. It has stipulated that the rifles must have inter-changeable barrels for both 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds.

The measurements refer to the size of bullets, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. The 5.56mm is smaller and lighter and has a longer range but has less “stopping power”, meaning that even if it penetrates the human body it may not be fatal. The 7.62mm is heavier and bigger with greater penetration but a shorter range.

Having debated which calibre suits its purpose best, the army has resolved that it will use both: the 7.62mm for conventional armed conflict and the 5.56mm for close quarters combat in counter-insurgency. But of course, this is not a rule.

The selected rifle(s) will also have provisions for under-barrel grenade launchers (UBGL), reflex sights for sniper role and fixed-plus-foldable butts.

The Insas became the standard-issue assault rifle about 15 years ago replacing the Belgian-origin Fabrique Nationale-FAL 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR).

The winning-bid for the Indian Army’s order for a new standard-issue rifle will rake in huge bucks. One defence ministry estimate for an initial order of the rifles puts it in the region of $500 million for about 45,000 guns. The Indian Army is 1.1 million strong. The ministry requires the companies to transfer technology to the Ordnance Factory Board.