The small arms – assault rifles, carbines and pistols market in India is huge. A back of the envelope calculation would reveal the size to be approximately 2.5 million if the Armed Forces, Para military Assam Rifles and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are included which need to be equipped with what is known as personal weapons. Add on the state armed police battalions the numbers could be even larger.
Apart from the large market size, policy of the Government of India of Atma Nirbhar Bharat in defence means that several local companies both industry majors and startup have jumped into the fray and were evident in DefExpo 2022.
Given that the DefExpo 2022 was open only to Indian companies or joint ventures of foreign companies in India there was prominence given to indigenous arms providers.
With Government of India also encouraging exports, small arms manufacturers are expecting to bag orders from abroad given the possible cost advantage that they expect from low production at economies of scale in India
So, what is the contractual prize for small arms currently in India apart from being the huge numbers and who are in the fray, here is an overview.
Contract for provision of assault rifles for the armed forces is clearly a "no bid" for now.
Indo Russian Rifles Pvt Ltd a joint venture between India and Russia is set to commence serial production soon of the marquee AK 203 as per Alexander Mikheev, general director of Rosoboronexport, at the plant in Korwa in Uttar Pradesh by the end of this year.
Contractual complications and cost agreement were some of the hurdles which have reportedly been overcome.
Indian Army is looking at 6,70,000 of AK 203 of which 70,000 will be provided off the shelf from Russia and the rest are going to be manufactured in India at the Korwa in Uttar Pradesh.
As per the Times Now AK-203 assault rifle fires a 7.62×39mm round with a 30 rounds and sighting range of 800 metres. At 3.8 kg the weight is reasonably low.
India procured 73,000 SiG Sauer 716 G2 rifles from the US on an emergency basis but a repeat order is said to be in a limbo due to technical glitches including jamming while firing locally produced 7.62-millimeter rounds.
The erstwhile Ordnance Factory Trichy now a part of the Advanced Weapons and Equipment Ltd after corporotisation of the OFB has produced what is known as the Tiruchi Assault Rifle (TAR) which was delivered to the Border Security Force and other CAPF but did not find favour with the Army.
Thus now the focus is on the carbine – a smaller shorter range assault weapon.
As per the Request for Information floated by the Army, the force is looking for 5.56 x 45mm CQB Carbine which can fire In-Service Indian ammunition with an effective range of not less than 200 meters.
Quantity required is a huge 4,25,213 of 5.56 x 45mm CQB Carbine under the category ‘Buy (Indian)’ of the Defence acquisition Procedure 2022. Thus 50 % of the product on a cost basis ha to be Indian. This also implies that the weapon need not have been designed or developed in India.
Tentative date of issue of the Request for Proposal or tender is November 2022. This implies that the Army may be seeking to acquire the carbines a project that has been long delayed and has seen at least two cancellations in the past on the hurry (sic).
The carbine contract is expected to be the main driver as the large number implies that it could be split between manufacturers.
Companies in the Fray
Big industrial houses and conglomerates are stepping in to join the small arms market in collaboration with foreign manfacturers at this juncture.
Jindal Defence is said to have begun manufacturing small arms in partnership with Brazilian defence major Taurus Armas S.A. reported the Mint. The production of the joint venture which was incorporated in 2020 is set to commence from January in a plant in Hisar, Haryana.
“We have already set up our plant in Hisar and are now waiting for a plant approval from the various stakeholders to begin production", says CP Agrawal, head of defence and composite business at Jindal Defence and Aerospace. The plant was set up with an initial investment of $5 million for the land and construction costs.
Jindal Defence and Taurus Armas are participating in the latest Request for Information process initiated by the government for this weapon.
In addition Jindal Defence is looking at supply to the CAPF and the 9 mm Pistol to the Armed Forces. The joint venture between Jindal Defence and Taurus Armas S.A has a 51:49 equity participation ratio. The joint venture is said to include technology transfer.
UAE firm Caracal, has established a joint venture with an Indian company to produce its portfolio of small arms via the ‘Make in India’ route as per the Print.
Caracal CEO Hamad Saslem Al Ameri was quoted by The Print that the company is sourcing over 50 per cent of components from India for carbines and snipers that are being manufactured in its UAE factory.
“We are very optimistic about the Indian market which is large if you consider the armed forces and the police. Over the last year and half, we have been sourcing multiple components of our rifles from India. Over 50 per cent of the components are from India,” he said on the sidelines of the DefExpo 2022, being held in the capital of Gujarat as per the online source.
Interestingly the UAE firm has partnered with Icomm Tele Limited – an electronics firm. “Our Indian partner may not have prior experience in small arms but they bring to table their huge technical expertise. We will set up a manufacturing plant here where we plan to even manufacture the barrel,” the Caracal CEO was quoted by the Print.
Other companies in contention are likeky to be Bengaluru-based private defence firm SSS Defence, state-owned Advanced Weapons and Equipment Ltd erstwhile part of the Ordnance Factory Board [OFB], PLR Systems Pvt Ltd which includes the Adani Group owned by India’s richest and Asia’s second richest corporate honcho Gautam Adani. Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), Israel, an SK Group member owned by Mr. Samy Katsav is a partner.
Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) secured a $118 million contract in March 2020 for approximately 16,479 Negev NG-7 machine guns at a cost of Rs 880 Crores and has supplied 6,000 general-purpose machine guns so far.
Also in the race is the Kalyani Group which has two models of carbine which have been developed the Protective Carbine and the Advance Carbine for the DRDO.
The former Ordnance Factory Trichy had presented a carbine named 'TriCa' but was in 7.62X39 mm bore
Neco Defence Systems a company based in Nagpur is also said to be vying the small arms market.
SSS Defence which has a tie up with a Brazilian ammunition manufacturer CBC is also one of the strong contenders for the carbine.
Astr Defence Pvt Ltd, is to set up a weapons manufacturing factory near Hubballi, with in-house R&D, production and testing facilities as per the report in the Deccan Herald. The company, founded by Ankush Koravi claims three patents for the ‘Indra’ modular small arms platform, while applications are also submitted for three patents for ‘Atal’ modular pistol as per the report.
The first prize for Indian small arms manufacturers who are in the race is the carbine for the Indian Army. With large industrial houses, some linked to the DRDO and government owned Advanced Weapons and Equipment Ltd as well as UAE firm Caracal in the fray, smaller players may have limited chance to make a breakthrough in the huge orders that are to follow.
A word of caution however as in the past contracts with several strong players and large orders have failed to move forward in quick time. Transfer of technology if is desired is also expected to be a major hurdle.
The fact that a fully indigenised moderne small arms has not been designed and developed in India that makes the grade is worth noting even as the country has launched an ambitious Atma Nirbhar Bharat in Defence programme.