Procurement: April 21, 2004

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India has been building many of its own weapons for decades. But these efforts have been characterized by delivery delays, cost overruns and quality control problems. In the late 1980s, India began developing a family of 5.56mm infantry weapons (rifle, light machine-gun and carbine). Called the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS), the state owned factories were not only unable to produce the quantities required (and agreed to), but the rifles proved fragile and unreliable. The original plan was to equip all troops with INSAS weapons by 1998. Never happened. By 2000, half the required weapons ordered were still not manufactured. Moreover, in 1999, the INSAS weapons got their first real combat workout in the Kargil campaign. While not a complete failure, the nasty weather that characterized that Winter battle high in the mountains saw many failures as metal parts sometimes cracked from the extreme cold. Troops complained that they were at a disadvantage because their Pakistani foes could fire on full automatic with their AK-47s, while the INSAS rifles had only three bullet burst mode (which, fortunately, sometimes failed and fired more than three bullets for each trigger pull.) What was most irksome about this was that the INSAS rifles cost about $300 each, while AK-47s could be had for a hundred dollars each. The INSAS looked like the AK-47, mainly because its design was based on that weapon. But the Indians persevered, tweaking the design and improving the manufacturing process. Now, after fifteen years, the INSAS weapons are gaining acceptance. Some 300,000 have been delivered so far, with another 80,000 to come this year. Compared to most 5.56mm rifles on the market, INSAS has a price advantage and India is looking for export customers. But so far, only Nepal shows interest, and that is more for political reasons (to get Indian assistance in putting down a communist rebel movement) than for military ones.

 


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