Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) Battle Rifle

The combat soldiers who have an aptitude and are keen to get into this domain need to be trained. The combat soldiers who have an aptitude and are keen to get into this domain need to be trained

by Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)

The Indian defence and law enforcement agencies are dependent on foreign OEMs for their weapons and ammunition. The Ordnance Factory Board has manufacturing plants at Kanpur in UP and Ishapore next to Kolkata in West Bengal.

The L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle, also known as the SLR (Self-Loading Rifle), by the Canadian Army designation C1A1 (C1) or in the US as the “inch pattern” FAL, is a British version of the Belgian FN FAL battle rifle (Fusil Automatique L├ęger, “Light Automatic Rifle”) produced by the Belgian armaments manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN), was the main weapon of the Indian Army till 1987, during the Sri Lanka operations, the LTTE was equipped with AK series weapons (armed by the Indian Government). The high rate of fire and no stoppages in the humid jungles of North Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka led to the import of weapons from East European countries and captured weapons and ammunition was supplied to the infantry units to be at par with the LTTE.

Ishapore factory designed and developed the 5.56 mm INSAS following the footsteps of NATO nations that was aimed at increasing the logistics evacuation chain of an adversary vis a vis a ‘kill’ by the heavy calibre 7.62 x 51 mm. Over the years with focus on terrorism; 7.62 x 51 mm is the preferred calibre to get a kill in one shot.

The DPSUs hold sway on the Arms and Ammunition, though the Government of India did open up the same to private players. The Service HQs have not been able to come to a consensus in spite of best efforts to have a common inventory of small arms weapons.

The Special Forces and the Police forces of the state have an advantage of procuring their choice of weapons without going through the lengthy process of RFI, RFP, submission of bids, TEC, NCNC trials and price negotiations. Most times as seen in recent past, RFI and RFPs are issued and withdrawn for reasons best known to the bureaucracy of MoD.

The Financial support for such procurements are downgraded in Priority as the baseline is “that there shall be no conventional war”. This is a “Pennywise Pound Foolish” thought process as each time we have a situation of National Security as is the ongoing case, the coffers are opened up to do off the shelf purchase for all “warlike stores”.

The private players are keen to step in under the “Make II” provision of the DPP 2020 subject to assured orders. These manufacturing units will be automated with robotics and will have a higher degree of Quality Control vis a vis the OFB plants.

The L1 scenario has to undergo a change and it has to be T1 L1. Technically superior and keeping that in mind be best in price, the comparison has to be “apples to apples”.

The Indian industry needs to gear up and set up the complete ecosystem for the modern-day combat soldier who is well equipped.

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) obtained a decision from the Cabinet during 2001 – 2002 to allow the manufacture of arms and ammunition in the private sector with nil or up to 26% FDI, and issued Industrial licences to some firms in the private sector namely Max Aerospace, Bharat Forge, L&T and Punj Lloyd etc to manufacture arms and ammunition. The Government of India has since then opened up the FDI up to 76% and on a case to case basis it is even 100%. Hughes Precision has set up a plant in Goa for manufacturing of small arms ammunition with a focus on exports as the domestic market is erratic and biased towards the OFB, due to political and bureaucratic compulsions.

The Government should direct these companies and make them compete for the best in design small arms and ammunition ecosystem and let the best player win the order. To make it sustainable it could request the companies to suggest their interest in pistols, carbines, close quarter battle weapon, assault rifles (with an ability to change the barrel to suit the calibre of ammunition to be fired), sniper rifles, Light, medium and heavy machine guns with matching ammunition.

The need for sighting systems both day and night matched to the weapon need simultaneous design and development. The blockchain technology is developed in the US and is being embedded in their small arms design and development. These technologies are available with a complete transfer of technology package for India and its friendly foreign nations for export.

The weapon and ammunition research and development temperament don’t exist in the country. The leading Engineering Colleges need to set up this facility by ploughing back grants they receive/encourage industry leaders to set up “centres of excellence”. The Army Design Bureau has been able to kick start this to an extent and the technology development fund is allocated up to Rupees Ten Crores for a project.

The MoD, Engineering colleges and the OEMs have to come on a common platform to make this happen. We have service officers who do their B. Tech at CME Pune, Signal officer’s degree course at Mhow and MCEME at Secunderabad. These institutes sadly have no R&D work happening. This is something the Army Training Command and its affiliates in the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy need to address.

The combat soldiers who have an aptitude and are keen to get into this domain need to be trained. These officers should be shortlisted soon after commissioning and sent abroad for training in foreign universities on the concept of “Train the Trainers” to build up in-country capability.

If one was to scrutinise the educational qualifications of our civil servants many hold M Tech degrees now engaged in mundane administrative work having spent years in getting their technical education.

CME Pune has been doing some innovative work in terms of Bullet Proof Jackets and helmets along with Boot anti-mine with its variants.

This day all weapons under the category of Small Arms are cleared by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the larger calibres by Ministry of Defence. This should remain under the Ministry of Commerce under whom the DIPP is mandated to issue the license. Any breach of security instructions should have punitive ramifications for the promoters of the companies to include their personal liability. The processing time for such applications needs to be reduced and should be online to prevent running around from pillar to post and discourage the “dealers and fixers” in the National Capital Region.

The Indian Industry has to step forward and look at the futuristic needs of the Indian Defence Services and its law enforcement agencies. The end-users and the industry need to set up viable platforms both physically and in the virtual world using digital platforms available.

From an importer of arms and ammunition India needs to become the centre of excellence in this sector.

It’s late; but it’s better late than never; to wake up and smell the coffee; that way we must become “Atamnirbhar” and “Vocal to be Local” the Prime Minister’s buzz words are converted to reality.