Monday, September 7, 2009

Saddled with Insas, Army wants new AK-47s


Shishir Arya

The indigenous 5.56x45mm Insas (Indian National Small Arms System) rifle has been the standard assault weapon for the Indian Army since the late 1990s. However, the jawans using it in counter-insurgency operations find it ineffective.

As part of the new Army doctrine, the gun is meant to incapacitate the enemy, rather than kill. Insas has a smaller calibre, which means it has less power. This is because — and it’s the official view — injuring an enemy can lead to enemy soldiers getting engaged in tending the wounded, thus yielding a tactical battlefield advantage.

The technocrats who interacted with soldiers in the forward areas were told that this theory does not work with terrorists who, apart from attacking in small numbers, are never bothered about evacuating their injured. Hence, the soldiers say, they want to shoot to kill, rather than maim.

The soldiers also spoke about practical difficulties in using Insas. It’s accurate but not as rugged as the AK-47 used by terrorists, they say. Also, its sling often snaps while firing, making it fall during manoeuvres. The sling also obstructs the rifle’s sight. But most of all, the size of the sling never took into account the bullet proof jacket worn by jawans. As a result, it falls short and is uncomfortable to hold. This hampers quick reaction. Insas also does not have a rapid fire feature; it shoots only three rounds in a single burst.

‘‘The barrel overheats with continuous firing. The magazine cracks even on falling, which is common during action. Oil spillage while firing is also major trouble,’’ said a source quoting soldiers. ‘‘Zeroing (adjusting the sight for aim) has to be done each time the rifle is opened to clean or for any other reason. Lack of proper zeroing hampers the working of night vision device,’’ said the same source.

The total additional weight — around 40 kg with bulletproof jacket and signalling equipment — that a soldier carries is also a matter of concern, as is the colour of the rifle: they want it in brown which offers better camouflaging. On the positive side, Insas’s transparent magazine helps soldiers keep a count of bullets.

Former director general of infantry, Lt General Shanker Prasad, said Insas is antiquated and the Infantry needs a modern rifle. The Army has repeatedly asked for new assault weapons, but nothing has moved. It’s learnt that forces are now expecting new indigenously developed AK-47 rifle said to be an improvement on the original.

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