Procurement: Carbine Politics

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September 3, 2020: India is again invoking its emergency FTP (Fast Track Procurement) procedures which enable immediate purchase of essential military items without the usual political and procurement delays that can add years, sometimes a decade or more, to obtaining needed items. In this case the FTP is being invoked to purchase 93,895 Caracal 5.56mm carbines from of the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This will cost $110 million and ends a twelve-year army effort to obtain a new carbine. Technically a carbine is a military rifle with a shorter barrel. Carbines have been around since the introduction of firearms five centuries ago as the shorter barrel made these rifles easier to use by mounted troops. This is still true as troops spending a lot of time in vehicles prefer carbines. So do troops operating in urban areas or jungles.

During World War II rifle-based carbines were often replaced by machine-pistols (automatic weapons firing pistol bullets). India still uses such a World War II weapon; the British 9mm Sterling submachinegun. The Sterling weapon is manufactured in India under license. The effort to obtain a new carbine goes back decades as other nations adopted carbines firing rifle rounds. The Sterling was supposed to be replace in the 1990s by the Indian developed INSAS assault rifle, which also came in a short barrel carbine version. Other 5.56mm assault rifles already came with a carbine version. The U.S. adopted the M4 Carbine, a short barrel M16, in 1993. The INSAS assault rifle turned out to be a disastrous failure in combat and India finally relented in 2015 and replace INSAS with foreign assault rifles.

The Caracal is a 3.4 kg (7.5 pound) short barrel assault rifle designed by the same team that created the HK416 and SIG516. The Caracal is available in three different barrel lengths and has proved very effective and popular. It is also produced under license by South Korea. Other Indian security forces have been able to import smaller quantities of various carbine-type weapons. The size of the army request generated more opposition in the defense procurement bureaucracy, who demanded, as always, that the army carbines be locally designed and made. That was another epic failure before FTP was allowed to solve the problem.

During World War II there were several experiments with carbine design. The American M-1 Carbine was designed to provide a lightweight weapon for combat support troops, who would probably never have to use it. Among its intended users, the Carbine was popular. The 2.7 kg (six pound) Carbine weighed about half as much as the M-1 rifle. Both used a 7.62mm bullet, but the M-1 rifle round generated 3360 joules of energy, while the Carbine had only 1070 joules in what was essentially a pistol round. In practice, the Carbine could wound and kill. Indeed, the Russians used an even lower powered cartridge (also 7.62 mm, generating 499 joules) in the millions of PPS series submachineguns they issued to their troops. While it's nice and elegant to take down an enemy soldier with one 7.62mm high powered rifle bullet, he's just as out-of-action if you spray him with your PPS 7.62mm submachinegun. The Russians did this frequently with PPS submachineguns equipped with 50 round drum magazines. The Germans and British used 9mm submachineguns, one of which, the Sterling, is still produced in India. It has been found more effective to take a small caliber (5.56mm) assault rifle and equip it with a shorter barrel and folding stock to create a very effective carbine. This is what the Indian troops get with the Caracal carbine.

Invoking the FTP to get the carbines is risky because if it is done too frequently and too many incidents of related corruption are later uncovered, FTP will be made more difficult to use and might even be eliminated. Since 2004 FTP has been made easier to declare under the assumption that government efforts to clean up the corruption and other problems with the military procurement process to make FTP unnecessary. That has not happened.

The problem India has with corruption is compounded by a resistance to prosecuting the senior Indian politicians and bureaucrats who keep these corrupt practices alive. Since the 1990s there has been growing popular pressure to shut down the corruption that pervades every aspect of government and commercial enterprise. Indian officials went along with this public sentiment as much as they could without actually halting the illegal practices and the huge amounts of cash that ended up making so many politicians rich. With so many of the best foreign weapons suppliers unwilling or unable to do business with the Indian procurement bureaucracy, it became difficult to find anyone willing, or able, to provide the modern weapons India wants. Thus the need to wait for a clear emergency and then invoke FTP, which the bureaucrats cannot mess with.

 


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