Chaubatia (Uttarakhand): With the much awaited deal for AK 203 getting delayed, the Army is equipping its over 400 infantry battalions with the American Sig Sauer assault rifles, procured under fast-tracked process (FTP), as against the original plan to arm only its frontline troops with the latest weapon.
The Army had initially bought the Sig 716 G2 Patrol assault/battlefield rifles, chambered for the 7.62×51 mm rounds, in 2019 under FTP for frontline soldiers — posted at the borders and involved in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
However, all infantry battalions are now getting equipped with the American rifles, sources in the defence establishment said.
This will replace some of the obsolete Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56×45 mm rifles in use for over two decades.
According to the plan, at least two companies (about 100 soldiers each) in all the infantry battalions are being given the Sig 716 — irrespective of whether they are in the field or at peace stations.
The quantity will, however, differ with some of the battalions getting more weapons and the others.
Each infantry battalion of the Army has four companies, commonly referred to as the Alfa, Bravo, Charlie and Delta companies.
However, certain battalions have their own unique names. For example, 1 Mahar as the Whiskey, X Ray, Yankee and Zulu company. 13 Kumaon does not have a Charlie company but is called Rezang La company in honour of the fallen soldiers of C company.
ThePrint had in December 2020 reported that while the initial lot of the modern assault rifles from the US was sent to those guarding the Line of Control with Pakistan and for counter-terrorism operations in Kashmir, troops at the LAC in the northern sector in Ladakh are also being equipped with it now.
In December, the Defence Acquisition Council had accorded approval for the procurement of additional 72,400 Sig 716 rifles for approximately Rs 780 crore. This was also done under FTP and is part of the option clause of the original deal signed in 2019.
Shoot to kill
The Sig 716 rifles are more accurate and lethal than the INSAS because it has a higher caliber — 7.62 mm as against 5.56 mm.
It was in the 1980s that the Indian Army sought a lighter assault rifle chambered to fire the 5.56×45 mm cartridge. It was meant to provide relief to the Indian soldiers who fought the Siachen battle and the LTTE in Sri Lanka with the 5.1 kg Ishapore 7.62×51 mm rifle, but the INSAS has faced constant issues since its introduction in 1998.
At that time, the Army’s logic was that the rifle should injure an enemy soldier. This meant at least 2-3 other soldiers will be required to take away the injured soldier. However, with warfare tactics changing and the Army getting involved in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations too, the force wanted a high caliber weapon that is a “shoot to kill system”.
SiG 716 an instant hit with soldiers
Weighing just 3.82 kg without the magazine, the American rifles were welcomed by the infantry soldiers that ThePrint spoke to.
They explained the rifle has an effective kill range of 600 metres and with greater accuracy than that of the INSAS.
With corking from behind than the side, which is the case in most of the small arms, the rifle becomes ambidextrous.
Even though the butt of the rifle is not collapsible, it comes with six adjustable positions, and hence comes handy in operations.
While the 2019 order for the Sig rifles included a limited set of ammunition, the Army is now using the Ordnance Factory Board rounds meant for the SLR rifles of the late 1980s.
“The Sig 716 is good for operations at the border and also in CI/CT. With a shorter barrel than that of the INSAS, it is good for room intervention operation and for urban warfare,” an officer explained.
AK 203 to be the mainstay of Army
The formal process to replace the INSAS began over a decade ago, but never saw the light of the day. Among the many reasons was the fact that the Army changed specifications for the replacement twice.
It first wanted a dual-caliber rifle which could shoot two types of cartridges — the AK-47 bullet and the INSAS bullet, much to the dismay of every small arms manufacturer in the world. The Army eventually scrapped the process and then demanded a modified INSAS.
However, in 2018, India and Russia announced a deal to jointly manufacture the AK 103, which was then upgraded to AK 203.
On 3 March 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated an Indo-Russian joint venture, under which AK-203 will be manufactured at the Korwa Ordnance Factory in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district.
However, cost negotiations for the over 6 lakh rifles got stuck. This forces the Army to go in for emergency procurement of the SiG 716 rifles in 2019 and again in 2020.
Under the deal, the first 20,000 AK 203 rifles, which will be the mainstay of the armed forces for years to come, will be imported from Russia at a cost of about $1,100 (or Rs 80,000) a piece, depending on the conversion rate.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)