Earlier this month, the Indian Army reportedly rejected the indigenously manufactured Excalibur assault rifle and demanded that a better, deadlier gun be imported.
Designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Excalibur is a much advanced version of the INSAS assault rifle, which is currently extensively used by the armed forces.
The INSAS has had a long and problem-filled history. Though we have reason to be proud of it for the fact that it is an Indian product, one must, in a pragmatic manner, accept that it is not a great assault rifle.
Soldiers carrying INSAS fight enemies who carry AK-47s. Though infamous for being the choice weapon of terrorists, one cannot deny the fact that AK-47 is the deadliest assault rifle ever made. Its range, rate of fire and stopping power is great enough for conveniently winning a gun battle if the opponent is not carrying a similar gun or anything above an assault rifle.
This is the principal reason why the Army is asking for a deadlier gun.
So why is AK-47 so deadly and INSAS (or Excalibur) not?
The difference is in the cartridges but before that one should know that the AK-47 can fire even if it gets submerged in water or slightly bent and is so light that even a young boy can use it. (This is why you see some young boys in terrorist groups carrying an AK-47.)
No other assault rifle in the world has these features.
But where AK-47 scores over INSAS is the cartridge. While an AK-47 uses a 7.62x.39mm cartridge, the INSAS (and the Excalibur) uses 5.56x45mm cartridge.
There is a huge difference between the two cartridges, which in a battlefield decide who lives and who dies.
Though it is true that bullets of any size can kill if all conditions such as distance and target type are met, the 5.56mm bullets can incapacitate enemies but have a lesser chance of killing unlike the 7.62mm bullets.
Note that even the world class Dragunov sniper rifles and some other sniper rifles too, use 7.62mm cartridges of a different size. The bullets have a deeper penetration power and, therefore, provide a greater chance of killing the enemy than a 5.56mm bullet.
However, the standard assault rifle of nearly every army in the world is a 5.56x.45mm firearm. Some of the world’s finest assault rifles have this cartridge. It includes Germany’s Heckler & Koch G36, Israel’s IWI Tavor (MTAR), Italy’s Beretta ARX-160, Britain’s SA80, and United State’s M4A1 and M16.
So Excalibur, which is much improved version of the INSAS, including the capability of firing after submerged in water or mud, makes for a great choice for an assault rifle.
But India’s two rivals – Pakistan and China – use assault rifles with either 5.8 or 7.62mm cartridges. Perhaps this is one reason why India should have a gun that has a better killing capacity.
Under such a scenario the call for a 7.62mm gun is understandable but one must also note that initial tests indicate that Excalibur is better than INSAS. Improved features and a much improved rate of fire (there were just two stoppages during tests) means that Excalibur can be a very potent weapon in the hands of paramilitary forces who counter internal threats such as naxals.
At the same time, having two different types of standard assault rifles is actually better than having imported assault rifles of one type, which not only have a higher per unit cost as compared to indigenously manufactured assault rifles but also require a higher maintenance expenditure.
But having a better weapon actually makes a huge difference so whatever gives our soldiers an advantage over our enemy should be considered.