by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
In 1999, the Indian Army fought a three-month-long undeclared war with Pakistan. It was also the combat debut of India’s new Insas battle rifle.
The Insas is a very bad rifle.
During the conflict—waged over the disputed and mountainous Kargil district in the province of Kashmir—the Indian troops’ rifles jammed up, and their cheap, 20-round plastic magazines cracked in the cold weather.
To make a terrible weapon worse, the Insas had a habit of spraying oil directly onto the handler’s face and eyes.
Designed to shoot in semi-automatic and three-round burst modes, some soldiers would pull the trigger, and the gun would unexpectedly spray rounds like a fully automatic.
Soldiers also preferred the heavier 7.62-millimeter rounds in the FAL rifle, which the Insas and its 5.56-millimeter rounds replaced.
Then in 2005, Maoist rebels attacked a Nepalese army base. The Nepalese troops had Insas rifles bought from India. During the 10-hour-long battle, the rifles overheated and stopped working. The Maoists overran the base and killed 43 soldiers.
“Maybe the weapons we were using were not designed for a long fight,” Nepalese army Brig. Gen. Deepak Gurung said after the battle. “They malfunctioned.”
In November, India’s Central Reserve Police—which uses the rifle—finally had enough. The CRPF is a counter-insurgency force tasked with fighting Maoist rebels known as Naxalites in several eastern states.
“We have sent a proposal to the government that all Insas rifles with the force be replaced by AK rifles,” CRPF general director Dilip Trivedi told the Times of India. “The Insas has a problem of jamming. Compared to AK and X-95 guns, Insas fails far more frequently.”
Another CRPF soldier alleged New Delhi chose to “lose the lives of our jawans to promote a faulty indigenous gun,” he said, using the Indian term for a soldier.
The Insas make up almost half of the CRPF’s arsenal. That’s become an acute problem as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party push the counter-insurgents to crack down hard on the Naxalites.
As part of this offensive, the CRPF is relying more on heavier weapons such as mortars and grenade launchers. At the same time, the Maoists are building bigger bombs to use against the CRPF’s armored, “mine-protected” vehicles.
But there’s larger reasons why the Insas is such an awful gun.
The main cause was a myopic obsession among the Indian military beginning in the 1980s about relying more on weapons made at home. The state-owned Ordnance Factories Board manufactures the Insas.
To be sure, India had practical needs for a new weapon. Well into the 1990s, the Indian Army and the country’s internal security forces relied on a mix of old, 1950s-era FALs, Lee-Enfields — first developed in the 1890s — and Russian-made AK-type rifles.
The Insas turned into a hybrid, combining features of both the FAL and the AK-47. But the result was an awkward weapon—and one prone to failure.
A few years ago, a pseudonymous Indian gun blogger inspected several of the rifles. Hoo boy, they’re a sight to behold.
There’s lots of redundant parts and features that seem to serve no purpose except to make the rifle more complicated and expensive to produce. Its plastic hand guard is wobbly. The gas cylinder—which powers the reloading mechanism—is prone to breaking.
The Insas is also “several times” more expensive than an AK, according to a 2012 report in The Hindu.
In addition to the plastic parts, there’s “four different kinds of metal, an amalgam almost guaranteed to impair their functioning in the extreme [mountainous] climates of Siachen and Rajasthan,” the paper added.
Nilkamal Plastics—the Indian plastic furniture giant—produces the crack-prone magazines.
“In the end it shoots fairly accurately and with reasonable reliability,” the gun blogger wrote. “But it’s plagued by shitty quality and needless refinements of dubious value.”
After the poor performance in the Kargil War, the Indian Army fixed some of the rifle’s flaws—such as the problem with the spraying oil. But the rifle still sucks.
Last year, the Army tested the Israeli Galil ACE, the American CM-901 Modular Carbine and the Italian ARX-160 rifles as a potential replacements. But it’ll still take years to swap out the Insas. And that’s a big if.
But remember what the counter-insurgency troops said. India could always buy more AKs.