Home Ministry held discussions with some 17 private companies for manufacture of arms. It is known that a number of Indian private companies are into defence manufacturing.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
News reports of November 24 have stated that the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, has ‘finally’ accorded permission for the manufacture, with Russian help, of around 6,70,000 AK-203 assault rifles. The report also says that a formal contract for the manufacture of these assault rifles will be signed during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin visit beginning December 6. It is flabbergasting and rather depressing to note how our bureaucracy works and the red tape with no consideration to the ground situation and the operational requirements of the troops on the frontline.
It may be recalled that on March 3, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the AK-203 rifle manufacturing plant - the Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) at OFB Korwa in Amethi in presence of President Putin. The joint venture (JV) was between the Indian Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Kalashnikov Company.
At that time it was stated that production of the AK-203 assault rifles will start within one year. Then the skullduggery began and the culprit was the OFB which is directly under the Ministry of Defence (MoD). OFB was quoting a higher price than what a direct import from Russia would have cost. Isn’t it strange that you establish a factory without having decided on price of the weapon to be manufactured?
SSS Defence has emerged as the lowest bidder for a contract to upgrade a small number of Indian Army’s AK-47 assault rifles
If OFB had not created the price row, production of AK-203 would have commenced perhaps before the 2020 Chinese aggression. But the delay forced the Army to procure 1,44,000 x SIG716 advanced assault rifles from the US; signed under fast-track procedures, with the first 10,000 rifles arriving in December 2019. More significantly, Russia’s Kalashnikov had been seeking to establish a JV with Adani Group for manufacturing the AK-203 but government did not permit it because of uproar over the Rafale deal and for boosting OFB whose small arms record has been miserable.
Had the Kalashnikov-Adani Group JV for AK-203 been established in 2017-2018, there would have been no need to import the SIG716 rifles from the US.
In June 2020, the Home Ministry held discussions with some 17 private companies (including Larsen & Toubro, Godrej, Vem Technologies. Kalyani Strategic, Shyam Arms, Premier Explosives and HYT Engineering) for manufacture of arms. It is known that a number of Indian private companies are into defence manufacturing. These include Bharat Forge, Reliance, Kalyani Group, Larsen & Toubro, Tata Defence, SSS Defence, Mahindra Defence, Raphe Mphibr etc.
The OFB has been reorganised but the work culture will remain same under the same management. We need to focus more on the private sector in defence.
Navy has placed an order with an Indian private firm, PLR Systems, for the supply of India-manufactured specialised Israeli Masada 9mm pistols for its Marine Commandos
According to news reports of October 31, 2021, Bengaluru-based SSS Defence (a four year old company) has emerged as the lowest bidder for a contract to upgrade a small number of Indian Army’s AK-47 assault rifles, beating off competition from Israel’s Fab Defence that produces tactical equipment and weapon accessories, and has upgraded Kalashnikov rifles for the Indian Army. SSS Defence is a manufacturer of small arms, ammunition and weapon accessories, and will upgrade an initial lot of 24 AK-47 assault rifles with more orders likely to follow.
The retrofit system of SSS Defence’s AK-47 covers tactical flashlights, laser sights, flash hider, dust cover, hand guards and a variety of grips. It has met the Army’s exacting requirements. They are capable of being used across all AK-47 platforms in service with the Army including those of Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish and Czech origin.
The upgrade will entail a new foldable butt stock for the rifle, a new dust cover that will allow mounting of sights, and changes to the fore end, which will allow mounting of a bipod or a knife when needed, besides hand guard and vertical grip. SSS Defence also offered a flash hider at no extra cost though it was not part of the Army’s requirements. The company is also eyeing the upgrade of the Dragunov sniper rifle held by the Army.
Above is a good development. The AK-47 is a no-stoppage easy to handle weapon because of which it has been the favourite of terrorist’s world over. The Indian Army first imported some 1,00,000 AK-47s when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) went into Sri Lanka with the bulky 7.62mm SLR rifles and found the LTTE operating with the AK-47s. The type of upgrades that SSS Defence is undertaking now, could have perhaps happened three decades back if the requirement was projected to the indigenous private sector companies in defence.
EEL had recently bagged an order to make multimodal hand grenades for the Army. Apart from drones and loitering munitions, EEL has also developed anti-drone missiles, which can fire salvos to take on swarm of drones.
Concurrently, the Navy has placed an order with an Indian private firm, PLR Systems, for the supply of India-manufactured specialised Israeli Masada 9mm pistols for its Marine Commandos (MARCOS). These Masada pistols will replace the current lot of 9mm pistols in use with MARCOS. PLR Systems is a JV with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), which has been bought over by the Adani Group. The order placed on PLR Systems is for 500 x Masada 9mm pistols. The delivery is likely to be completed in early 2022.
Another good news is that the Nagpur-based private defence manufacturer, Economic Explosives Limited (EEL) has developed the first-ever indigenous drones and loitering munition system which was shown to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat on November 15, 2021 while visiting the company.
EEL says it is ready to go ahead with the project and offer it to the Armed Forces in the coming months. The company also says its product costs would be substantially lower than similar systems being imported by the Armed Forces at present. EEL had recently bagged an order to make multimodal hand grenades for the Army. Apart from drones and loitering munitions, EEL has also developed anti-drone missiles, which can fire salvos to take on swarm of drones. User trials are planned in the coming months for different versions of the drone and loitering munitions as well as the anti-drone systems.