Archive for June, 2018

Army marches on its stomach, but needs an uninterrupted supply of small arms and ammunition to fight. Besides the army, seven paramilitary organisations, and innumerable state police forces, as also military special forces and in the states, have to be equipped. Some two million pieces, ranging from 5.56mm to 12mm, and hundreds of thousands of tons of matching ammunition, are required every year by all armed forces in India. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) seems incapable of meeting this demand or satisfying its customers in terms of product quality (INSAS 5.56mm rifle) or quantity. Frustrated armed services, paramilitary units, and special forces have learned to buy weapons of their choice to supposedly meet time-critical needsby importing them in small enough tranches at high prices to avoid censure. It has multiplied hard currency expenditures and logistics headaches owing to the sheer diversity of weapons, and highlighted the absence of a reasonable national small arms policy.

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The defence public sector (DPS) is beyond repair. According to a Niti Aayog study, the value produced per worker in ordnance factories is a meagre ₹6 lakh versus the minimum of ₹40-50 lakh in value that is required to be produced per employee to make even a micro, small, and medium enterprise financially viable. A far-reaching solution has been bruited about within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) ever since the previous defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, was briefed about a unique ‘strategic partner’ model stressing economies of scale to drive the flagship Make in India programme and to generate millions of jobs. As per this model, the partner-company is selected on the basis of its versatile portfolio to manufacture not just one kind of weapon, hardware, or piece of military equipment but the entire family of weaponry and systems. Such schemes would cover the gamut of military use items, where India is deficient. The selected foreign company would be helped to secure land and the basics (power, water, etc), but would be free to choose its Indian collaborator — a private company or DPS unit — and to run its business as it sees fit without any government interference, and to export what it produces after meeting India’s requirements; in other words, to make India a global manufacturing hub.

In the small arms field, India’s estimated demand in the next five years will be for eight million assault rifles worth a billion dollars with the strategic partner expected to manufacture the full panoply of automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, carbines, submachine guns, and light machine guns. The 2016 arms Act now permits Indian private sector involvement. There are four principal non-US sources — the German company Heckler and Koch (HK), the Belgian corporation Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN), the Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI) and Rosoboronexport representing the Russian Kalashnikov systems.

HK has decided not to sell its wares to corrupt, undemocratic, non-NATO countries, including India. FN is ruled out because it owns the American arms-making companies, Browning and the firm that once produced Winchester repeater rifles and, in the context of the 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, is susceptible to American pressure. IWI got a drop on the competition by first tying up with OFB to produce the Zittara assault rifle, which was rejected by the army.

But because the requirements for small arms and ammo are large and recurring, India should ensure competition by also selecting, if belatedly, the Kalashnikov Concern as a second strategic partner to produce its range of weapons based on the Avtomatni Kalashnikova (AK) series of weapons, famed for their ruggedness, ease of operation, and low cost of production, for local use and for exports.

This strategic partner model can be applied to the production of ammunition too. Commonality in arms and ammo should lead to shared armouries and logistics system for all forces.

This solution has not found traction because the government is keen on diversifying sources of arms supply. The real reason is that procurement is zealously protected turf for all organisations and ministries. More frequent tenders and acquisitions deals mean greater opportunity for more people in the decision loops to make money. Fully indigenising supply sources will end this nefarious business.

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India has expanded its search for hightech assault rifles, carbines and small arms for its frontline soldiers, but has excluded its traditional ally, Russia, from the list of five countries that the Army-led procurement team plans to visit mid-June.

The team is set to visit gun manufacturers in the US, Israel and South Korea, and even countries from where India has never bought military equipment, a defence ministry official said.

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The shortlisted manufacturers include Colt and Sig Sauer of the US and Israel Weapon Industries.

The manufacturers had expressed their willingness to tie up with India in their responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs) for procuring 72,400 assault rifles, 93,895 carbines and other small arms for frontline troops based under the Fast Track Procedure (FTP). The RFP was given to 12 vendors.

“Russia had also responded positively to the assault rifle RFP, but it didn’t have the calibre we are looking for, so there’s no point going there,” explained the official.

The team will be led by a major-general rank officer and will have representatives from the Directorate General of Quality Assurance, defence ministry, Army’s EME (Electronics and Mechanical Engineers) and infantry corps.
These manufacturers will come to India between July and August for further tests, and the trial team will try to ensure that demonstrations are done on a fast-track basis.

An advantage of the FTP is that there are no lengthy user trials. The FTP also allows procuring equipment which are in service. After the demonstrations, the lowest bidder (L1) will be selected for supplying the weapons to the army.