Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) or paramilitary forces in public parlance are always considered a crucial part of India’s internal security mechanism, without which the war against anti-national elements can’t be taken to a logical conclusion and sociopolitical order can’t be maintained. While the three branches of the Indian Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) are expected to counter external security threats at the border, paramilitary organisations such as Assam Rifles, Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and National Security Guard (NSG) are expected to reign in internal sub-conventional level threats emanating from isolated pockets and closely guard the nation’s vital strategic installations from hostile forces. It goes without any saying that these troopers need better arms and ammunitions along with cutting edge communication gadgets to live up to the best of national leadership’s expectations.
Replacing old service rifles
Assault rifles are one of the primary weapons being used by CAPF troopers in sub-conventional level battlefields. Starting with close quarter battle (CQB) engagements with left-wing insurgents in an asymmetric warfare environment and ending with long-range shooting at infiltrating terrorists at the border, the assault rifle remains the standard issue weapon of paramilitary soldiers for countering threats. While the Indian government decided to phase out the L1A1 Self Loading Rifles (SLR) and the highly obsolete Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles from the Indian Army’s armoury during the early 1990s, many of these scrapped weapons were handed over to CAPFs till the advent of INSAS (Indian National Small Arms System) weapons in the late 1990s. Large numbers of AK series rifles were also inducted into paramilitary forces as a stopgap measure until the induction of INSAS weapons.
Three variants of INSAS which included an automatic assault rifle, a carbine and a light machine gun (squad automatic weapon) were planned by the Indian Ordnance Factory Board (IOFB) which entered serial production in 1997. The weapons were displayed during the 1998 Republic Day parade in Delhi.
Capable of firing the 5.56X45mm ammunition, the INSAS underwent the first combat use during the 1999 Kargil war during which a lot of issues came up regarding the battle-worthiness and the quality of the weapon system. Indian Army and paramilitary soldiers have frequently complained of the rifle jamming during automatic firing. There are also reports of the weapon firing in fully automatic mode while it was set to fire three-round bursts, thus rapidly draining out ammo during long-range target engagements. Reports of the magazines cracking in cold weather and high-altitude conditions has also come up quite frequently. It is thus proved that INSAS isn’t the gun the Indian Army or CAPFs are looking for in order to meet their long-term operational requirements.
While there is an increasing thrust on replacing some of the ageing INSAS weapons with the Russian-designed AK series automatic assault rifles capable of firing the highly penetrating 7.62X39mm calibre rounds, the orders are still running short of addressing the massive deficit. With the CRPF itself having almost three lakh active personnel, the union government approved the initial batch of 36,000 AK-47 rifles for quick import and induction into the force. As a matter of great disgrace, the vintage INSAS rifles also remain as the mainstay service weapon of the BSF. With over 2.5 lakh active BSF personnel serving the nation, the availability of AK series rifles is very limited.
Other CAPFs like the ITBP, CISF and SSB also suffers from modern infantry combat weapons shortage and are equipped with the infamous INSAS weapons. There is an urgent need to arm all 14-lakh active duty CAPF troopers with cutting edge AK series rifles at the earliest. On March 3, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a manufacturing unit of AK-203 rifles at the Ordnance Factory in Amethi. More than 7,50,000 rifles will be initially manufactured in the new plant under full technology transfer from a Russian firm, Izhmash.
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