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Why India does not manufacture Carbines its soldiers need?

The carbine that is presently in use in Indian army was designed by George William Patchet, the Chief Designer of the Sterling Armament Company, way back in 1944 in response to a Qualitative Requirements (QR) circulated by the British General Staff in the same year. The weapon was formally introduced in the British Army as Sterling Sub Machine Gun L2A1 in 1953. It remained in service there till 1988, and Model L85 A1 was the last variant[i]. The Indian army has been using the Sub Machine Gun 9 mm 1A1, a variant of L2A1, produced under license by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), since sixties.

While the Mangalyaan may be well on its way to Mars, the case of providing our soldiers with carbines, which are primarily light weight, short barreled, automatic weapons with fewer than 100 metallic/plastic parts, is indeed very revealing with regard to our scientific prowess. A recent history of our endeavors to replace the weapon, which was designed almost seventy years ago, is a testimony of systemic inadequacies in small arms design, development and production, and failings in conduct of time bound procurement from foreign sources, who are willing to offer the new generation carbines. Chronology of events in the last decade is detailed herein with a view to facilitate understanding of our capability accretion process with regard to infrastructure creation, procurement, and design and development. It is also possibly one of the few cases where these three aspects are being pursued concurrently.    

In October 2005, the army projected an operationally urgent requirement of acquiring new generation carbines at the cost of Rupees 2,524 crores[ii]. The government accepted the necessity of acquiring 218,000 Protective carbines and 160,000 Close Quarter Battle (CQB) carbines during the acquisition plan period 2007-12. In February 2006, the Defence Acquisition Council approved induction of CQB carbines through import along with Transfer of Technology (ToT), and indigenous production of Protective carbines, as their user trials had commenced by then. In April 2006, a green field project was also sanctioned for production of CQB carbines in the country at an estimated cost of Rupees 408.01 crores[iii]. In December 2007, the foundation stone of the forty-first Ordnance Factory for manufacture of new generation carbines was laid down at Korwa in Amethi Tehsil of Sultanpur District. Rupees 120.36 crore have been spent on the factory up to March 2012 against the original sanctioned cost. Notwithstanding the operation urgency, approvals, trials, inaugurations and expenditure on infrastructure, the factory doesn’t have a carbine design which it can produce. It can be safely said that our troops will continue to use the 1944 model carbine for a few more years.

Infrastructure Creation. The CAG in its audit report of 2010-11 observed that the sanction of the forty-first ordnance factory was ill-conceived for a variety of reasons. The factory’s construction had commenced without any knowledge of the intended product’s design. The Ordnance Factory Korwa was to be completed by 2010 but even till then, neither the CQB carbine was selected and nor the indigenous Protective carbine had qualified in user trials. The CAG also observed that the factory was being accommodated in 34 acres land of HAL at Korwa, against the requirement of 60 acres. The CAG questioned site selection, since 118 acres of surplus land and residential buildings were available at Field Gun Factory, Kanpur. Similarly, Ordnance Factory Tiruchirapalli has 1,300 acres of surplus land. The OFB decided to set up a new factory when three of its small arms factories at Tiruchirapalli, Kanpur and Ishapore near Kolkata operate at less than half their capacity[iv]. The CAG in its report opined that the project needs to be reviewed urgently by the Ministry of Defence and a pragmatic decision taken by looking into the cost and benefits of setting up a new factory vis a vis the augmentation of the facility in any of the existing ordnance factories.

Procurement of CQB carbine. Post issue of General Staff Qualitative Requirement in 2005, the RFP for procurement of CQB carbine along with ToT was first issued in April 2007, and subsequently withdrawn in Dec 2007. A fresh RFP was later issued in April 2008, with specific mention of “Less the TOT for passive night sight”, which was also withdrawn in June 2009 on account of inadequate competition and since it did not meet user’s requirement. After a lapse of nine years and more than a couple of RFPs, the army has just reached the confirmatory trials stage[v]. Assuming that the trials are completed expeditiously, the delivery of carbines and ToT can take place only after the commercial bids are opened, commercial negotiations are completed with the L1 bidder and a comprehensive contract is concluded. Even by the most optimistic estimates, receipt of the carbines by the combat units is at the least two years away, and that too, only if everything goes well.  Commencement of production at Ordnance Factory Korwa after absorbing the transferred technology will be much further away. The almost ready factory at Korwa in all probability will remain unutilized for a very long time.    

Indigenous development of the Protective carbine. Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) and Small Arms Factory Kanpur (SAF) had earlier attempted to develop and produce 5.56 mm INSAS Carbine. However on account of repeated failures, Army had to foreclose the requirement in January 2000 after a lapse of 13 years and expenditure of Rupees 22.18 crore[vi]. This attempt was followed by development of OFB's Amough, a 5.56 mm carbine that superficially resembled an AK-47, but was rejected by the army several times between 2006 and 2009. The DRDO-designed 5.56 mm modern sub machine carbine (MSMC) was also found unfit for induction. The trial team observed that there was a definite and sharp decline in reliability performance, manufacturing, workmanship standards and material appropriateness. The weapons were not fit for induction into service. The team recommended that the development agencies should undertake de-novo approach breaking free from the current unsuccessful design[vii]. In February 2009, the OFB and DRDO decided to develop and produce the Protective Carbine jointly. The latest attempt at development is the Joint Venture Protective Carbine (JVPC), which has had some success in trials last year[viii].

The case more than anything brings out the need to reflect on our nation’s capability to address the most basic requirements of the armed forces. Many issues come to fore on analysis of the case.

  • Firstly and foremost, establishing of defence industries needs to be done with the singular purpose of capability accretion. It is in our national interest that such projects are not looked at only as avenues of job creation/boosting of local economy. The Ministry of Defence needs to draw very pragmatic inferences from its experience in establishing of ordnance factories at Nalanda and Korwa. Forty-first ordnance factory at Korwa should be the last ordnance factory ever sanctioned. The country doesn’t need any more.
  • Secondly, we still need to go some distance in training acquisition staff to draft and frame RFPs and SQRs for even technologically simple products. Institutionalised training in acquisition is an immediate need requiring attention at the highest levels. At the service headquarters level there is need to collate such case studies which can be very helpful in providing exposure to staff officers.
  • Thirdly, it’s time we realize that the pace of processing of the acquisition cases is certainly one of the chief causes of failure to acquire. Time-crashing should be the major agenda when the DPP is revised next.
  • Fourthly, the decision makers need to internalise that for indigenous development to succeed it is very important that the user, development agency and the production agencies work together. An independent venture of either of the agencies has and will never produce any worthwhile result. There is a need for systemic and strategic coordination between entities that comprise the defence supply chain.
  • Fifthly, the government of the day needs to monitor on a regular basis, progress in meeting the basic requirements of troops, for whom such wants are a matter of life and death. Very loud alarm bells should ring somewhere, if the system is repeatedly failing to replace the personal weapon of 400,000 troops and they continue to depend on a 1944 designed weapon.
  • Lastly, but not the least, the Indian scientific community should draw some inspiration form the fact that George William Patchet responded to the British General Staff’s Qualitative Requirements within an year, in 1944.

Views expressed are personal.

References

[i]Sterling SMG. (n.d.). Retrieved Aug 24, 2014, from imfdb: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Sterling_SMG

[ii] Factual data with regard to procurement as well as indigenous development of carbine has been taken from CAG’s report No.12 of 2010-11 (Defence Services)

[iii] New Ordnance Factory at Amethi, UP. (2010, Dec 08). Retrieved Aug 24, 2014, from Press Infomation Bureau: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=68250

[iv] Unnithan, S. (2010, Aug 21). The Ghost Guns. Retrieved Aug 22, 2014, from Indiatoday: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/the-ghost-guns/0/109678.html

[v] Bedi, R. (2014, June 19). Indian Army kicks off final carbine trials. IHS Jane's 360.

[vi] Ibid ii

[vii] Ibid ii

[viii] ARDE Celebrates its 54th Raising Day. (2013, Nov). DRDO Newsletter, Vol 33 No 11.

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Sanjay Sethi
Former Senior Fellow
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