The small arms development programme of DRDO has always interested me immensely and for some time I have been making an effort to understand it in the context of other similar development around the world.
Today, most of the current weapons used are derived from the lessons learnt from World War II and are post WW II developments.
For the western world the rifle that came to the forefront and incorporated the latest developments of the day was FNFAL. This rifle was developed by a Belgium company of the said name. The basic working principle of the rifle is delayed blowback. It taps of some propellant gas from the fore end of the barrel and uses it to provide the necessary force to work the bolt to feed the next cartridge and to fire it. After extensive evaluation, it was adopted by UK. The US also tested but decided that it only offered marginally better performance than its own M14 and hence decided to go in for M14.
FNFAL is a very well made rifle with extensive use of machining and high quality alloys. It was also adopted by Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brunei and India - to name a few of the countries that come to mind off hand. It was considered the best rifle the western technology had to offer in its day and was/is the most widely adopted design/rifle in the (free?) western world and its allies.
It is basically a battle rifle and fires a over powerful round (un rimmed) 7.62x51. This round was adopted as NATO standard on the insistence of USA. The British never seem to fail to point out that they were interested in less powerful round. This round is effective upto around 800m. The disadvantage is that no ordinary infantry soldier engages targets at this range, the accuracy of the standard rifle/ammo is not adequate to engage the targets at this range, the rounds are costly and impose excessive recoil on the firer.
While adopting this rifle (and connected NATO 7.62x51 ammo) UK did extensive testing and intentionally deleted the auto firing and kept it at single shot SLR. The reasons were: -
· Soldiers cannot fire such a powerful rifle off his shoulder on full automatic/burst fire.
· To decrease the consumption of ammo on battlefield and to prevent firing off all the ammo in panic.
· Any rifle jumps around so much on auto fire that it cannot be aimed even roughly at short range also.
· No. of experts, determined that even for spray fire, it was almost impossible to pull an auto-firing rifle in rough arc. It would simply start rising and will be pointing at the sky apart from wobbling all over the place. Better and even quicker to fire single shots at distinct targets.
Just to give an idea sterling gun (incorrectly called sten gun) fires 9x19 round and its recoil is only 1/5th of the aforesaid round but still it is not fired in full auto. Even double taps are only used in face to face situation at say 10m to 50m depending on firing posture.
(But for instance Argentineans army used auto firing FNFAL)
India also adopted this single shot doctrine in its variant of the rifle.
As already said, USA went to adopt M14 (7.62mm x 51) based on their WW II M1 based on WW I Garand firing the NATO round.
Another major gun design was G3 by German H&K. The story is that the Germans wanted to adopt the FNFAL but the Belgium was still embittered by WW II. So after the refusal of Belgium to licences the design, the Germans adopted the firing principle of locking bolt from their MG42 machine gun. This rifle also fired the NATO 7.62mm x 51 round and has auto firing as standard. This gun was also adopted by our Jehadi brethren.
The Soviets were the ones who came with revolutionary developments in the assault rifle after WW II.
Based on the research of the battles of WW II, they decided that a normal soldier does not engage targets beyond 200-400m and hence a less powerful round being 7.62x39 was adopted.
Next the legendary Kalashnikov design was born with a rotating bolt. The principle was simple. Some gas was tapped from the fore end of the barrel and provides the working force for a rotating bolt. A round would be fired, some gas from the propellant was used to rotate the bolt to eject the fired cartridge and accept a new round to be fired.
The gun was very simple and could be field stripped with bare hands (no tools) for cleaning. As the round was not very powerful the rifle could be fired in auto mode that led to the birth of “assault rifle”.
Another important factor was that round was tapered which means there were hardly any extraction problems and jams compared to western rounds which were straight walled.
The ample gas tapped from the fore end meant that bolt moved very forcefully and violently but reduced the jamming. So this rifle had many important achievements as follows:-
· Designed at the outset to be fired at automatic.
· Correctly realized by the designers that soldiers donot/cannot engage targets beyond a certain distance and they reduced the power of cartridge.
· Designers also decided most of the soldiers simply fire their weapons as suppressive fire and for this some accuracy could be sacrificed.
· Most of the Russian infantry was conscript and they simply could not achieve the accuracy and discipline for a battle rifle. [Note this situation does not apply to Indian volunteer army and the soldiers would be excepted to fire the guns more accurately and maintain then better.]
· Made cleaning of the rifle easy by designing it to be disassembled without tools quickly, simply and avoiding any loose small parts that can be lost.
· Design feature to prevent jamming at all costs, even at the cost of making the gun somewhat difficult to balance while firing (due to hard strikes of the bolt on the receiver wall)
· Tapered cartridge to reduce extraction problems.
· Simple and cheap manufacturing techniques were used (specially on later versions) to make the rifle cheaper and simpler to produce. But this also gave the rifle shorter life and made it inaccurate.
I have always believed that Soviets came up with some very good designs & concepts and rotary bolt/Kalashnikov was one of them. This design by next fifty years became universal.
Now this rifle/design first came to the attention of the Indian army in fifties when used by Naga terrorists but then who has guts to claim that sense and IA brass ever walked together. We were still fielding bolt action.
The next major development was in the sixties during the Vietnam War where the Soviets supported Vietnamese were using AK-47. The US advisors realized that M14 was unsuitable for jungle warfare use and started ad hoc purchase of M-16 firing a smaller 5.56x45mm round. This rifle also adopted the rotary bolt with some changes.
This rifle got a first major order from UK (SAS or Airborne?). Slowly it also got into the hands of US soldiers in Vietnam. It could be fired on automatic and was accurate to a longer range then Soviet AK-47. So compared to M14, the M16 is/was lighter had less recoil and the soldier could carry more ammo for the rifle.
But the M-16 was born in a crisis situation and had problems from the word go. Some of them were as follows : -
· Over engineered. Aluminium and synthetic material used, costly but light and accurate.
· The main difficulty was the maintenance it required and extremely prone to fouling and jamming
· Difficult to clean.
· Difficult to extract a jammed round
While the AK-47/AKM started getting cult status for its reliability, the M-16 was called turd and crap among other things. The issue was that though it was supposed to be stop gap arrangement, it dragged on and on.
Then the NATO round was changed to 5.56x45 SS109 again at the insistence of US. The Europeans also started designing their rifle around the smaller 5.56mm x 45 round. The rotary bolt was almost universally adopted (except the French FAMAS).
The British initially decided to adopt a variation of a Armalite design from USA in their bullpup rifle. It turned out a disaster the folk tales are made of. The gun was extremely prone to jamming and breakages. (If you remember the DDM blamed Indian ammo for the difficulties in Sierra Leone faced by British troops with their guns.) Anyway, after substantial production for almost (10 years?) the design was scrapped for bullpupped version HK-36 (German). US also went in for HK-36 in the rifle part of its new (combined bazooka, rifle, shot gun and death ray) OICW.
The USSR followed by fine-tuning its original design in AK-74 chambered for a still smaller round of 5.45x39.
Some of the most reliable designs of the western allies were based on AK being Galil/Tavor of Israel and Swedish rifle. These rifles also consistently scored over the other designs in working in extreme weather. Singapore discarded its design based on M-16 and adopted a design based on galil/tavor which as said were based on AK as were south African rifles. Even the HK-36 seems very closely based on the principles pioneered by AK.
At this stage a word about the bullpup design. Though it seemed very attractive initially and was adopted by numerous nations like Austria, UK etc. But later on some difficulties were seen with the design like firing chamber was very close to the face, cartridge ejection also took place very close to the face, difficulty to fire from left shoulder, too short length for iron sights etc.
Now though Indians were pretty late in catching on the trend but the development started in early 1980s for the INSAS system in order to adopt a rifle firing a less powerful round compared to 7.62mm x 51.
The development and production has been plagued by delays but then this is not new. The bulk production was to start in and around 1988 but only started 10 years late. The positive thing is that around 4 lakh plus rifles have been issued which means that all the frontline troops are now equipped. The ammo production is in full swing and is around 300+ million rounds per annum. The LMG also seems to be now being produced at the required rate.
Before we criticize the delays and difficulties of INSAS, It is important to study the case of British rifle where there design failed after 10 years struggle. M-16 always had problems and has to replaced (in effect) by HK-36. Atleast our rifle was one of the best designs around, adopted after extraordinary detailed testing and created after studying/incorporating the features of AK-74, HK-36, FN FNC, M16 (? Steyr, SA-80) etc. [No, it did not become a kitchidi and is a good design : D ]
As the tech was very mature by this time, therefore it was a matter of making various choices. The whole point of the aforesaid discussion was to demonstrate that what were the difficulties/choices confronting the designers. For instance
it is my guess that: -
· The round that was chosen was 5.56x45 in preference to 5.45x39 due to its longer range and to maintain compatibility with the western ammo. (Though the benefits of tapered cartridge were lost)
· The conventional layout was chosen to prevent the disadvantage of Bull pups.
· The basic action was from AK-74 because it was the best. (Some other features of other successful rifles were chosen like charging handle from H&K etc. This I suppose would make the extraction of a jammed round easier.(?))
· The gun was given very high quality finish, chroming to make it accurate and having longer life. Attention was paid to detail like providing recoil compensator, cleaning pull through rag etc in the butt.
· Disposable fiberglass magazines were chosen, as reusable metal sheet mags are prone to getting damaged/bent which cause jams. Also one can check the number of bullets in transparent fiberglass mag by looking at it. The disadvantage is they are more fragile (but pretty sturdy for the use envisaged). It is correct that one can bang around a sheet metal mag and use it for hammering nails but then when the rifle is to be used, it may cause jams. If a fiberglass mag breaks then one can always put in another. Also disposable mags removes the problems of dirt getting into mags and causing malfunctions.
· The butt stock etc was adopted from FN instead of adopting the straight layout of M-16/HK-36. Probably for lowering the profile of the soldier while firing the gun though the disadvantage is the gun will climb rapidly if fired on full automatic.
· A much-criticized feature is that the gun only has burst fire of 3 rounds and not full auto. Firstly let me say that OFB is already offering a full auto rifle but the army is not purchasing the same. The reasons are similar to what has been said before. For instance US deleted the full auto fire from its latest M-16 and replaced it with burst fire. In fact, it is not usually appreciated that making a gun full auto is cheaper. Adding single shot and burst fire features increases cost and complexity. Just to reiterate the reasons again – the gun cannot be controlled in full auto specially beyond 3 round burst even in roughly general direction, even limited 3 round burst fire is for spraying/suppressive fire only, full auto increases consumption of the ammo to the extent that it may be a disadvantage in battles etc. For hitting anything specific even at very short range say 10-50m, single shots is the norm. Many experts continue to be of the opinion that in real life situations it is quicker to fire multiple single shots at various targets even at short range then trying to control/bring a gun on full autofire to bear on the targets.
· Furniture of the gun is brown. Now full black is available.
· Carbine is one of the most unique designs of the world. It has combined the advantages of both bullpup and a conventional design by two triggers. It was suffering from some problems probably due to excessive muzzle flash and recoil due to short barrel length. It seems the same is being solved. I donot know how, but short barrel lengths are seen on guns Kalashnikovs using vortex bleeder, new US gun OCIW (10 inch stainless steel barrel) and M4 etc. I would love to learn as to how this issue has been tackled on INSAS carbine.
· The INSAS LMG does not have rapidly changeable barrel. But on the other hand it is accurate enough to even allow a scope to be used with it. I think the fixed barrel is to increase the accuracy of the LMG. For instance, British Squad weapon 5.56 x 45 with fixed barrel can be used as a sniper rifle at around 400m to take out man sized targets. In any case, LMG are not supposed to be fired in auto for a length of time that the barrel would become too hot and would require to be changed. Even an LMG inspite of its heavier barrel/weight would start climbing off the target if the burst starts increasing beyond 3 rounds. So, if the LMG is being fired in proper manner then barrel change is not required. The absence of barrel change has been a feature of number of similar weapons.
· LMG uses a 30 round mag instead of belt. This is also a matter of choice. The mag feed decreases the complexity of the gun and makes it more reliable. The requirement to change the mag gives the opportunity for the barrel to cool down. Mag feed has been a feature of a number of weapons. For instance, in Sierra Leone there were some complaints about dirt problem in GMAGs which were belt fed weapons. Mag change also allows the soldier some time to reacquire his own composure in the heat of battle and not fire off all his belted ammo. (This sentence is going to get some flames I suppose)
· To increase the effectiveness of the rifle/LMG, they are also been offered with scopes. It must be noted that with the introduction of new production plant for the ammo/rifle and cold swaging technique, INSAS is much more accurate then the old issue FN. Theoretically even though INSAS have a shorter range but effectively they can be used at a much longer range due to accuracy. FN power to a large extent goes waste. Now to tackle some of the criticism of this gun:-
· Low quality
Incorrect. Very high quality. OFB goes to the extent of chroming the barrel/receiver and fine finish. Uses cold swaging technique for manufacture. Price of around US$ 300 compared to AK for US$ 50.
Incorrect. Costly compared to AK as it is more powerful, more accurate and has longer life. But pricing is competitive to its western counterparts like M16 around US$ 400.
· Complaints recorded by CAG
All equipment has complaints. The whole struggle of mankind is to improve. The point that CAG does not consider is whether any other gun could have performed better? In any case lot of problems are being dealt with by OFB/DRDO. This is called improvement. Recently when M4 a variant of M16 was being evaluated by US marines, there were some complaints/deficiencies noted in the gun. This is to show that even after a long time the improvement to weapons remains a constant feature and nothing is ever perfect.
Correct. But then this is another story on which I have lot to say about GOI in general.
· It is poor rifle as Kalashnikovs are being imported.
This is the criticism that is unwarranted. Frankly it is also the motivating factor of this long rambling piece.
I would have hoped that the aforesaid by this time would have made the situation clear but for my satisfaction I will paraphrase it.
i. Kalashnikov is a very special rifle and its unique feature is its extreme reliability. This is not matched by any other design in the world. It is feature created by the combination of the rifle and the ammo. To create this feature numerous sacrifices are made.
ii. Kalashnikov are also used by many nations (for special forces) like Israel which have very well developed small arms industry.
iii. Kalashnikov 7.62mmx39 imported by India is a short ranged inaccurate gun compared to INSAS.
iv. It also has a shorter life and is off course cheaper.
v. The Kalashnikov was mainly purchased when the INSAS was being delayed but now production is in full swing. Some orders were recently given to the Bulgarians but it was because grenade launcher was wanted and for compatibility sake some (around 10,000) guns were also imported.
vi. The Kalashnikov was also purchased, as in some situations it is beneficial to have inaccurate rifle. This type of gun can provide a spread of fire at short range. This requirement to some extent now will be met by carbine and auto INSAS rifle. Note – During Sri Lanka situation some soldiers cut off the barrel of FN to give spread to the bullets and also filed of (? some part) to make the gun fully automatic.
vii. An important feature of Kalashnikov is that to increase the reliability of the gun to work in extreme climate and in presence of dust/dirt contaminants, the gas tapped from the fore end is excessive, which makes the bolt move violently and hammer against the receiver walls. This in fact make the firing and extraction of spent cartridge reliable but does wear down the gun. More importantly it makes the gun instable while firing on auto or burst firing. This makes the gun difficult to control and the inaccuracy/spread is even greater if fired in burst/auto mode by soldiers. So it may have limited use beyond short range spread fire.
viii. The Kalashnikov is not a substitute for INSAS. If it was so then 5.45mm x 39 variant would have been bought and not 7.62mm x 39 variant. This variant is specifically for COIN/CI/Special ops as the bigger round gives more killing/stopping power at short range. In many situations in Kargil as the battle was at a very short range the soldiers might have taken Kalashnikov. Incidentally, even silenced UZIs were used. This does not mean that INSAS is bad, it only points out that various tools are used to meet different situations. One rifle is not an answer to all situations. Though the bulk of troops used INSAS even in Kargil.
ix. The tapered round of Kalashnikov as said, prevents jamming. Short of inventing a new bore for IA, the option is to purchase some guns for special needs.
x. My feeling is that Kalashnikov is more of a replacement for Sterling gun (sten gun) as it is very short ranged rather than main rifle. The Sterling can only be useful for max 50-100m while the Kalashnikov is good for 100-200m. This enhance range is more useful range for military or quasi military situations compared to police situations. [INSAS is easily 400m+]
xi. The purchases for Kalashnikov are for ~100 crore ammo and guns. INSAS purchase are almost ~1200 crores (gun and ammo)
(This is a first effort. All the criticism is welcome. It should directed against the aforesaid note and not against me