‘Made in India’ Rifles, Pistols Find Few Takers, Witnesses Steep Decline in Demand

Indian Army

New Delhi: With the government vigorously  pursuing ‘Aatmanirbharta’ or instilling self-reliance, especially in the defence sector, one would have expected ‘Made in India’ small arms like rifles and pistols to be selling like hotcakes. But they aren’t.

A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that assessed the overall performance of Ordnance Factory Boards (OFBs) tabled in Parliament says: “Production of small arms by OFs was meant for meeting the needs of the Armed forces, mainly Army. However, the factories have witnessed either no demand or very less demand from the Armed Forces during 2015-16 to 2019-20 for their principal items of production such as 5.56 mm INSAS Rifle, 5.56 mm LMG, 9 mm auto pistol etc.”

From about 100,000 rifles a year, the top customer, the Army’s order quantity has come down to zero. “As a result, the factories were mostly dependent on the orders of the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs). However, the orders of MHA were not found sufficient to utilize the production capacity of the small arms.”

In the audit period, MHA, which also buys for the paramilitary forces, bought 28 per cent of the weapons, states and Union Territories picked up 24 per cent and private buyers bought 22 per cent with the Army accounting for only 10 per cent of the buys.

Explaining its position in April 2022, the Army said the mainstay weapon 5.56 mm INSAS Rifle were already in surplus. But. more significantly, the Army said that “there was a shift in the philosophy of small arms in 2015-16 from 5.56 mm caliber to 7.62 mm since 7.62 mm weapon was found to be more lethal as well as suitable for operational tasks.”

On the contrary, with the OFBs failing to develop new and modern small arms, “the Army had to resort to importing small weapons like the 7.62X51 mm Assault/Sniper/LMG to meet their operational requirements.”

What accentuated matters was non-receipt or late receipt of payments by state police organisations which also led to accumulation of raw material and semi-finished and even finished small weapons.

As on March 31, 2020, the three OFs that make these weapons—the Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI), Small Arms Factory Kanpur (SAF) and Ordnance Factory Trichy (OFT)—held an inventory of Rs 641 crore or 72 per cent of the total cost of production of the three factories.

What makes the scenario even more dismal is the fact that many of the weapons had to be returned for rectification with the percentage ranging between 11- 41 per cent for four types of small weapons. Significantly, during 2015-16 to 2019-20, the Army reported 269 accidents with these four types of small arms.

Post the audit period, the OFB had been dissolved and 41 OFs were converted into seven Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) which started functioning from October 1, 2021. Production of small weapons has been mandated with the Kanpur-headquartered Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited.