December 28, 2011: A year ago, the Indian military announced that it would solicit a new assault rifle design, buy 44,000 of them and then have more of the winning design built under license in India. But the process has moved very slowly and many Indians, inside and outside the military, suspect that the much hated corruption in the procurement system is at work here.
India has been increasing spending on equipment for its ground forces over the last decade but these efforts have been uneven. Some of this has been caused by corruption. Like many other nations, India has long had problems with kickbacks and favoritism in defense procurement. But it's been worse with India, which ranks 87 (out of 180) in an international survey of least corrupt nations. Despite increasingly vigorous anti-corruption efforts, India is moving in the wrong direction on this list. India has responded with a major effort to halt corruption in defense matters but this has stalled some procurement efforts.
The end result of this is that India is under increasing pressure, from below, to honor promises to upgrade the weapons and equipment, especially for the infantry. These troops have fallen far behind other armies and the troops, and especially their officers, are not being quiet about it. But government plans to upgrade infantry weapons and equipment have not amounted to much. The troops are not happy with this.
While India spends a lot of money on its fighter aircraft, naval vessels, and heavy ground equipment like tanks and APCs, very little is spent on taking care of the infantry. This isn't unique to the Indians, it just happens that the infantry historically doesn't get first grab at funds within the military and are usually at the bottom of the list when it comes to spending in general.
The government tries. It has already, with great fanfare, announced an effort to design and create its own version of the U.S. Army Land Warrior system. Countries around the world have been designing, trying out, and testing similar combat systems for over ten years now, including Britain, France, and Germany. The Indian effort is not going well. The Indians version is INSAS (Infantry-Soldier-As-A-System). One of the major things the Indians want to build as part of the program is a domestically produced multi-caliber individual weapon and a programmable airbursting grenade launcher for the infantry. This is basically the exact same thing that the U.S. Army's OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) was supposed to be. The Indians are hoping their weapon will be more successful. But so far, progress, much less success, has been scarce.
Other plans include introducing new anti-tank weaponry, laser rangefinders, a new carbine/submachine gun, new combat uniforms for the infantry, better communications, and improved body armor. The new platform, the Indians are hoping, will reduce the load carried by the individual soldier by 50 percent. The helmet device the Indians are designing is equipped with video cameras, thermal sensors, and a visor set-up that contains two computer monitors. Plans to issue each infantryman with a "palmtop" computer are a high priority. But there's little to show for all these ambitious plans.
Despite the massive amounts of money the Indians are spending on their military, equipping all 28 infantry regiments with the new system (which hasn't been designed or manufactured yet) by 2020 is already being recognized by members of the Indian military as a major drain on resources and not a real possibility. Even for a wealthy country like France or the US, completely re-equipping 28 regiments with entirely new weapons and gear is an expensive and lengthy proposition.
Most of the Indian sergeants and junior officers, trained in the practical and common sense tradition of the British Army, would be happier with more modest goals, like an improved assault rifle, better boots, and body armor that actually stops bullets, rather than with a computerized infantry system that shoots around corners and gives the troops instant message capabilities. In particular, better load bearing gear and better quality field rations tend to be high on the list of wants for the foot soldier, especially in a country like India.
The sergeants and junior leaders are also smart enough to realize that the country is getting ahead of itself. The Indian Army, for example, only introduced their current standard assault rifle, the 5.56mm INSAS (Indian National Small Arms System) during the late 1990s and even this weapon has yet to be issued to every soldier in the Army, particularly in reserve units. About 300,000 are currently in circulation in the Army, including the carbine and light machine gun versions. Older equipment is still in use and, in a country like India, introducing and issuing any kind of new weapons or gear to every single soldier in the Army is an expensive, lengthy, and often difficult task. Moreover, the INSAS has a bad reputation with users, which led the army to buy Israeli assault rifles for elite units and to undertake the current search for a new rifle design.