From a Hospital Bed, an Indian Soldier Damned His Defective Rifle
New Delhi can’t expect its troops to fight rebels with these awful weapons
Originally published on April 15, 2015.
On April 13, 2015, a dozen Indian soldiers and police in an armored vehicle patrolled near their camp in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. It was a small part of a little-known war with Maoist rebels in the state.
The rebels waited in ambush, and blew up the vehicle with an improvised explosive device. “The Maoists, who had taken up positions nearby, opened fire and launched grenades,” the Indian Express reported.
Five soldiers died in the attack. One of the surviving soldiers later recovered in a hospital bed. From there, he singled out their Insas rifles for criticism on national television.
“Government doesn’t give us anything,” he told the Times Now television network. “How do we fight Maoists with Insas and without bullet proof vests?”
The soldier, who appeared to be in shock, said the survivors fought with the Maoists for an hour before reinforcements arrived.
He didn’t specify what — if anything — went wrong with their rifles. But it’s indicative of Indian soldiers’ loathing for their much-maligned guns, and it’s another sign of a growing revolt among the country’s counter-terror troops.
The Insas is an Indian-manufactured 5.56 x 45-millimeter assault rifle developed in the 1990s. It’s something of a hybrid, and combines features from the AK-47 and FN FAL rifles.
The problem is that the rifle includes lots of redundant and poorly-engineered parts. India’s state-owned Ordnance Factories Board designed the weapon from an “amalgam” of metal that’s “almost guaranteed” to fail in harsh conditions, according to one Indian blogger who obtained an Insas.
Worse, the rifle is prone to “slam” firing — or inadvertently firing in fully-automatic when the operator pulls the trigger. “Funny, it didn’t have a full-auto mode,” one general told the Times of India.
What’s even more bizarre that India may have designed the rifle to wound, not kill.
“A low killing capacity made sense because in war, if you kill a soldier you have deactivated only one person,” an official with the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization told the Shillong Times.
“But if a soldier is injured, at least two other soldiers will come to his aid and thus three of the enemy will be deactivated.”
Wound or kill, the Insas still has to … work. During the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan, the guns jammed up in cold weather. Their plastic magazines cracked.
Indian troops complained that Pakistani troops outgunned them with their more powerful AK-47s — which the Russians very much designed to kill back in the late 1940s.
With the Kargil War over, the Indian Army shifted to counter-insurgency in Kashmir and in Chhattisgarh. The fighting branch developed a more-lethal Insas with a longer barrel, giving its a bullets a higher velocity. But the Army never adopted it.
New Delhi exported the standard Insas to Nepal. In 2005, 43 Nepalese troops died during a Maoist rebel attack when their Insas rifles overheated.
Last year, India’s Central Reserve Police Force — which is fighting Maoists in several central states — had enough and demanded the government replace its Insas with AK-47s. Anything to give them a chance against the rebels.
The Indian Army wants to get rid of them, too. The Army hasn’t bought any new Insas rifles for two years, and wants to purchase different rifles with interchangeable barrels from abroad.
But despite its problems, the Ordnance Factories Board asked the Indian Army in January to buy more of the faulty Insas … to keep its production lines open. The ground combat branch stated that it would consider the proposal.
Keeping Indian companies in business — that’s a big reason why the rifles exist in the first place. But that’s not good enough for soldiers who will either live or die.