India needs a reasonable small arms policy


Image result for pics of small arms

Army marches on its stomach, but needs an uninterrupted supply of small arms and ammunition to fight. Besides the army, seven para-military organizations, and innumerable state police forces, as also military Special Forces and in the states, have to be equipped. Some two million pieces, ranging from 5.56mm to 12mm, and hundreds of thousands of tons of matching ammunition, are required every year by all armed forces in the country. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) seems incapable of meeting this demand or satisfying its customers in terms of product quality (INSAS 5.56mm rifle) or quantity.

Frustrated armed services, paramilitary units, and Special Forces have learned to buy weapons of their choice to supposedly meet time-critical needs by importing them in small enough tranches at high prices to avoid censure. It has multiplied hard currency expenditures and logistics headaches owing to the sheer diversity of weapons, and highlighted the absence of a reasonable national small arms policy.

The defence public sector (DPS)is beyond repair. According to a Niti Ayog study, the value produced per worker in ordnance factories is a meagre Rs. 6 lakhs versus the minimum of Rs. 40-50 lakhs in value that is required to be produced per employee to make even a micro, small, and medium enterprise financially viable. A far reaching solution has been bruited about within the Ministry of Defence (MOD) ever since the previous defence minister Manohar Parrikar was briefed about a unique ‘strategic partner’ model stressing economies of scale to drive the flagship‘Make in India’ programme and to generate millions of jobs.

Per this model, the partner-company is selected on the basis of its versatile portfolio to manufacture not just one kind of weapon, hardware, or piece of military equipment but the entire family of weaponry and systems. Such schemes would cover the gamut of military use items, where the country is deficient. The selected foreign company would be helped to secure land and the basics (power, water, etc.), but would be free to choose its Indian collaborator– a private company or DPS unit –and to run its business as it sees fit without any Indian government interference, and to export what it produces after meeting the country’s requirements; in other words, to make India a global manufacturing hub.

In the small arms field India’s estimated demand in the next five years will be for eight million assault rifles worth a billion dollars with the strategic partner expected to manufacture the full panoply of automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, carbines, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns. The 2016 Arms Act now permits Indian private sector involvement. There are four principal non-US sources – the German company Heckler and Koch (HK), the Belgian corporation Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN), the Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI) and Rosoboronexport representing the Russian Kalashnikov systems.

HK has decided not to sell its wares to corrupt, undemocratic, non-NATO countries, including India (with a recent order by the Border Security Force being turned down). FN is ruled out because it owns the American arms-making companies, Browning and the firm that once produced Winchester repeater rifles and,inthe context of the 2018 Countering Adversaries of America Through Sanctions Act, is susceptible to American pressure. IWI got a drop on the competition by first tying up with OFB to produce the ‘Zittara’ assault rifle, which was rejected by the army. Having learned its lesson, it next tied up with Punj-Lloyd to locally produce its X-95 Tavor family of weapons and has fared better.

But because the requirements for small arms and ammo are large and recurring, the country should ensure competition by also selecting, if belatedly, the Kalashnikov Concern as a second strategic partner to produce its range of weapons based on the ‘Avtomatni Kalashnikova’ (AK) series of weapons, famed for their ruggedness, ease of operation, and low cost of production,for local use and for exports. This strategic partner model can be applied to the production of ammunition too. Commonality in arms and ammo should lead to shared armouries and logistics system for all forces –military, paramilitary, and police, and to the more economical use of the Indian national security rupee.

This solution has not found traction because the government is keen on diversifying sources of arms supply. The real reason is that procurement is zealously protected turf for all organizations and ministries. More frequent tenders and acquisitions deals mean greater opportunity for more people in the decision loops to make money. Fully indigenizing supply sources will end this nefarious business. Who wants that?


[A version of this piece published in the Hindustan Times, June 14, 2018, also reproduced with the title “India needs to find a solution for its arms and ammo shortages” in the net version of the paper at



About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian para-military forces, Internal Security, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to India needs a reasonable small arms policy

  1. Ankit Hooda says:

    Good articles that cut through facade and noise into imoprtant things and workings. Since i have subscribed your articles, i have started to check mails. Keep it up professor karnad.

  2. Vishnugupt says:

    Given the failure of DPSUs i think it is wise for Delhi to deregulate and facilitate the development of a world class small arms industrial complex in India. But don’t you think that such and industry if and when it takes shape will inevitably move to bigger and lethal platforms with “war winning” capabilities?

    And given Delhi’s strategic myopia do you think it is a wise move to allow PVT companies “to run its business as it sees fit WITHOUT ANY Indian government interference, and to export what it produces after meeting the country’s requirements”. How would Delhi then makes sure that the weapons made within its territory isn’t used against its own interest?

    Since pvt corporations seldom have “national interest” as their highest priority, how do you suggest Delhi make them fall in line to its foreign policy decisions which may not be in the economic interest of the aforementioned companies? (Just like the Pentagon decided to bury a very promising Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 in favor of a sightly better(allegedly) F-22 platform, when rivals and allies would have paid any number of Billions for the YF-23 technology which is even now decades ahead of anything flying(SU-57/J-20) or in the drawing boards).

    Do you think Delhi will have such an overriding say when it comes to private players selling high end weapons?

    If MOD is too corrupt, do you think NSCS or PMO should take the final call on defense exports on a case by case basis?

    Coming to the foreign policy implications of failing to regulate weapons companies.

    As you yourself have articulated in many of your books that arms sales set the tone for further strategic partnership, just like in the case of India and USSR/RUSSIA and the lack of the same with US.
    Why do you think that the US is wrong in considering “technology as a strategic asset” and why shouldn’t India not do the same?

    • Indians, pickled in the socialist ethos of the Indian state, need to wake up to the capabilities of the private sector, and the sort of sensitive projects they are already involved in where they racked up great successes, instead of raising doubts and the suspicions that babus, in their vested interest, usually express.

      • Vishnugupt says:

        Like they say, it is possible to wake those are actually sleeping and impossible to wake those who are just pretending to sleep.

  3. Rupam says:

    Bharat ji namaste,
    Is this a good area for entering in the defence sector by the likes of me who wants to start a industry in it. Will this be doable given the present laws? Would be great if you could give some pointers or place where one can get to know the know hows of the industry in arms and ammunition.

    • If you have a manufacturing background and have a running industry and feel you are up to the exacting task of producing weapons, approach FICCI which has a robust interface with the military and government.

      • Rupam says:

        Bharat ji i do not have a running industry but would like to start my own factory in this sector. I am a student right now. Is this a sector that a first timer should get into or only after i have a existing factory should i try in this sector.

  4. &^%$#@! says:

    @BK: :The article says “HK has decided not to sell its wares to corrupt, undemocratic, non-NATO countries,”, but it does allow sale and even licence manufacture by non-corrupt, democratic NATO countries like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan,,,to name a few,

  5. AD says:

    As I wrote in a reply to a previous post, a significant number of those who make decisions in the Indian government (and armed forces) come from an era where anything “phoren” is always better and way more personally profitable than its indigenous version. Furthermore, many people involved in making such decisions have no recent experience with actually using what they are making decisions about. Imagine how ludicrous it would be for a senior executive involved in approving funding for certain automobile projects to not have personal experience using a car? Now tell me how many of those involved in small-arm requisitions have any recent experience with using them in realistic situations?

    Just have a look at how bureaucracy, incompetence and just plain stupidity screwed up the INSAS program. They spent god knows how many years on building an OK but mediocre product. Any pragmatic person would have simply copied the Vz-58, AK-74 or RK-62 and iteratively improved on the indigenous copy. Yes, I am aware that redesigning a gun using a 7.62×39 cartridge to one using a 5.56×45 is non-trivial. However, it can be done by a country advanced enough to build nuclear reactors and ballistic missiles. Israel did that in the 1970s by copying and then modifying the RK-62 as the Galil.

    But the “smart” bureaucrats and “honest” people involved in procurement for the Indian armed forced evidently know better. The sad fact is that these people are still working for a colonial administration which has no interest in improving the lives of those they claim to serve. Perhaps more importantly, there are no personal consequences for them making bad decisions. The Chinese system, for all it faults, does hold enough people responsible for their decisions that they cannot afford to screw up all the time.

    • Vishnugupt says:

      Do you know what is the core of every governmental evil?

      “Job Security” of sarkari naukri is what every “middle class” Indian dreams about, and no it is not about money, it is about a “stable”,”reputed” job, where once he gets in can do what ever the F***K he wants and nobody will fire him.

      This is because of the “socialist hangover” of the past 50 years, where employees have more rights than duties, and they don’t pay the price for screw-ups. And to make matters worst, the bureaucracy prefers “seniority” over merit.

      Make no mistake: This mentality is not changing and will eventually destroy India.
      All our outrage is pointless when if we don’t understand this core issue.
      Its 60% bureaucratic and only 40% political.

      The old uncles in the secretariat in Delhi should have the fear of loosing their job, should they screwup. This is the only way out. PERIOD

  6. AD says:

    Retaining the British colonial-style administrative system was probably the single biggest mistake made in the 1947-1950 era. The system in question was designed to facilitate the exploitation and pauperification of Indians while simultaneously protecting the perpetrators and enablers. The system as it existed, and still exists today, cannot be fixed. Also, there is no ‘nice’ way to replace it a better and more responsive system.

    To be blunt, they should have liquidated most senior administrative types who were around at the time of independence and then reorganized the entire bureaucracy to make it more like that found in other developed countries. India was always populous enough to easily repopulate the new bureaucracy with competent and enthusiastic replacements. But they were timid and chose to retain what is probably the worst feature of British colonialism.

    • And retaining the colonial admin structure was solely Vallabhbhai Patel’s idea.

      • AD says:

        Interesting! I was under the impression that it was Jawaharlal Nehru’s idea. Any insight into what was behind Vallabhbhai Patel’s decision to retain the colonial admin structure? What was he trying to achieve, or avoid, by retaining the old colonial ways? Also, why was there no concerted effort to change it within the first decade of independence? FYI- all this occurred during my grandparents time, so my insight into this is, at best, second-hand.

        I am sure you must have read Nassim Taleb’s “Skin in the Game”. Indian bureaucracy seems to be a worst case example of what happens when people without any ‘skin in the game’ get to run it. Even bureaucrats in former communist eastern European countries had to demonstrate some level of competence and connection to reality. Wonder why successive governments did not attempt any serious reform of the admin system?

        Even Modi, who in the first two years of BJP government, had a lot of public enthusiasm and support behind him never tried anything beyond superficial fixes at the periphery. The small arms procurement fiasco is a classic example of this problem. Why did no BJP minister make them accountable for their unwillingness to develop, improve and deploy indigenous small-arm systems given that worldwide technological progress in this area has pretty much stopped since the 1980s.

  7. Vishnugupt says:

    @AD the fact that a politician as powerful as Modi got cold feet on reforming the bureaucracy speaks volumes of the combined “formidable” power of the Indian BABUs.

    Modi realized albeit lately that the babus can manufacture a scam out of thin air should they feel their truf is getting eroded and decimate the reputation of his government. It don’t have to be true necessarily, just prima facie a scam and big enough to catch the attention of the citizenry to vote the government of the day out in “bad faith”. And the babus know that the opposition will pay them in their weight in gold for this “favour”.

    This is why i think Modi backed off from disturbing the hornet’s nest that is Indian babudom.
    And this is why the babus are the undisputed champions of the Indian state.

    One might think it is the politicians, but in reality the culprits are the babus, because most politicians loose power after 5 years, but guess who “serve the nation” for 40 years uninterruptedly, yes the babus.

    • AD says:

      I am not sure that is the real reason. Maybe, Indian politicians and elected leaders lack testicular fortitude, among other attributes. And here is why I think that is the case.

      Why does the government bureaucracy in many other functional countries, from China to USA, largely obey the government? Conversely, why are senior bureaucrats in dysfunctional countries such as Brazil and South Africa often more powerful than the elected government? What keeps bureaucrats in reasonably functional countries in line? Why do bureaucrats in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina etc behave like their Indian counterparts?

      Then there is the question of how countries which used to have self-important and treacherous bureaucracies got rid of them. Look at pre-WW1 Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Third French Republic, pre-ww1 Russian Empire. Notice a trend? Yes.. it has something to do with the public losing confidence in an existing regime after a big disaster resulting in its replacement by another which then got rid of the old bureaucracy with varying degrees of tact and violence.

      • Vishnugupt says:

        I don’t think Indian most politicians lack any “testicular fortitude”, to the contrary all they have is bellicosity. What they lack is grey matter not testosterone.

        You see the constitution of India does not mention a “minimum level of educational qualification” for candidates to become MPs, this was because only 18% of Indians were educated in 1947,to solve this issue the whole practice of “delegated authority” in Indian parliamentary system was devised,wherein the “intellectually challenged” ministers draft laws broadly and “delegate” their law making powers to the bureaucracy to fine tune it and take care of the nitty gritties, and this practice over the years have become a standard operating procedure, which made the babus the “virtual lawmakers” of the nation.

        Coming to effective bureaucracy in China and US, these countries follow the carrot and stick approach, whereas we don’t.
        The literacy level of the citizenry plays a crucial role too, because only educated voters hold their government accountable. The best example is my home state Kerala,where an enlightened citizenry hold the government of the day accountable in a manner unseen in rest of India(not saying it is the best, but certainly better than rest of India).

        Coming back to the DPSUs, there is no way anyone can fix these departments now, the babus just won’t let them. The only way out is disinvestment.

      • AD@ — Ever the realist, Vallabhbhai Patel thought the new state couldn’t do w/o the civil structure and schemata in place. In contrast, a more imaginative Nehru actually was for disbanding the ICS as colonial lapdogs, and replacing it with a nationalist civil service. But, as the organization man Patel held sway.

  8. Shridhar Patwardhan says:

    Has India any policy to encourage indigenous development of Special Purpose Automatic Machines required for production of Small Arms Ammunition? Presently, most of these are imported from 3-4 Western companies specializing in this field.
    We have developed number of such machines but find the bureaucratic approach is less encouraging and more a hindrance.

  9. &^%$#@! says:

    The Indian system is among the corruptest in the world. However, corruption is everywhere, though in most instances the situation is better than in India. The :”devils brew” that ruins a Nation is corruption + incompetence. These two are in abundance in India,

  10. Kya says:

    In 99s when Russia was being looted by anglosaxons India also contributed to the loot.
    India stole the desugn of kalaniskaw and made several thousand kalaniskaw rifle clones to which Russia put official protest to which vulgar punjabi cabal like ” India today and mr. Singh if ranbaxi) hatungly said as ti what russia can do to impose her intelctual property rights?
    For defence acquisiion has become a source of commission for Punjabi theiving cabal in delhi. hence their attack on DRDO and on local self sufficiency

  11. says:

    Hi DP
    We are direct to a mandate for a major weapons dealers out of Europe. He sells to governments. Not sure if this is something you would be interested in, maybe Sri Lanka or some other country is buying can you check on this please. Seems lots of African countries buy maybe you can try with your contacts there

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