In January 2001, the Government of India initiated a series of major initiatives that, among others, included Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) up to about 26 percent and full private participation in certain sectors in the defence industry7. This policy indeed marks a critical departure from the past. Followed by this, the Group of Ministers (GoM) Report on ‘Reforming the National Security System’ was made public in early 2001. This laid stress on reforms in all-encompassing aspects of national security, of which changes sought in higher defence management emphasised the need to create specific institutions like the Defence Acquisitions Board8 to adapt and facilitate changing needs of the defence industry.
The latest generation Indian Small Arms Systems (INSAS), the 105mm light field gun, mortars, carbines, light machine guns, and related ammunition were produced in several of OFs. Of note is the latest generation of 5.56mm INSAS assault rifle, which is said to be an equivalent of an AK- assault rifle. Production of all these systems were going on with average to expected turnover during the 1990s.
The Indian Army introduced their first 5.56mm rifle family with the INSAS (INdian Small Arms System) built in the state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) in the late 1990s. The Indian Army initially wanted to buy 528,000 rifles and 37,600 squad support weapons. The 1B1 assault rifle with 464 mm barrel and three-round burst fire option with fixed and folding stocks and the 1B2 automatic rifle with 535 mm barrel were introduced in 1998.
The INSAS first saw combat in 1999 during the armed conflict in Kargil. The Army reported that the INSAS rifles had some reliability problems in that cold climate, although the OFB stated that it had fixed these malfunctions. The INSAS design is strongly influenced by the AK assault rifle, combined with some features of the 1A1 (Indian FN FAL) battle rifle. There are at least three other INSAS variants under development: the Excalibur rifle with 400 mm barrel, and full auto mode, the Kalantak carbine with 330 mm barrel and MINSAS submachine gun fed by a 5.56x30 mm cartridge.
The Ishapore designers similar to the Chinese Type 86 and South Korean XK8/DAR-21 attempts also were trying to convert their standard assault rifle INSAS to a bullpup variant, and manufactured several prototypes, but the status of this development is still unknown. New weapons may also be introduced with India’s future Future Infantry Soldier As A System (F-INSAS) programme.
The coming year in Asia will be dominated by India’s enormous new weapon tenders. The small arms side of the F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier As A System) project is to buy over 43,318 Close Quarter Battle (CQB) carbines from abroad plus the manufacture of another 116,764 of them in India under a transfer-of-technology agreement. The Request for Information was announced in January. Moreover, India wants to purchase over 10,730 lightweight assault rifles for their special forces and the OFB wants to manufacture 218,320 modular carbines, easier to operate than full length assault rifles.