Basic infantry gear might not be as “sexy” or impressive as guided missiles, fighter jets, tanks, submarines and aircraft carriers – and its certainly not as expensive – but its just as (if not even more) important. So, amidst all the other improvements that India is making to its armed forces, the 1.13-million strong Army is also on course to receive 390,000 new carbines and assault rifles. Defence ministry sources say the aim is to bolster the combat potential of infantry soldiers and special forces ‘as soon as possible’.Interestingly enough, the first phase of Army’s high-tech F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier As A System) project also focuses on enhancing the ‘lethality and survivability’ of foot-soldiers. F-INSAS, in fact, seeks to transform soldiers into self-contained, fully-networked, mobile fighting units, with a high degree of ‘situational awareness’ and the ability to operate in all terrain and all weathers. F-INSAS was initiated based on prevailing trends which indicate that ’infantry-centric’ warfare will predominate in the present – and even for the foreseeable future at all strategic, operational and tactical levels, according to the Director General Infantry Lt. Gen. K Nagaraj.Within F-INSAS, infantry soldiers are to be progressively equipped with light-weight integrated ballistic helmets with a ’heads-up display’ and miniaturised communication systems; portable visual, chemical and biological sensors; hand-held computer displays, GPS and video links; and of course lethal firepower with laser-equipped modular weapon systems. The goal is to achieve this with a maximum total weight of 20 to 25 kg for the system.On the small arms side of the project, the first part of the project is to buy 43,318 ‘close-quarter battle’ (CQB) carbines off-the-shelf from abroad. This will be followed by the indigenous manufacture of another 116,764 similar guns under a transfer-of-technology agreement. Under the second part of the project, the Ordnance Factory Board is to manufacture 218,320 advanced carbines based on the new 5.56-mm model developed indigenously. Soldiers will find the compact and modular carbines, equipped with night-vision devices, laser designators and detachable under-barrel grenade launchers, much easier to operate than full-length rifles. The third part of the project involves the procurement of 10,730 light-weight assault rifles.Co-incidentally, the 10 existing battalions of the Indian Parachute Regiment, each with around 850 soldiers, have now more or less been reorganised into seven special operations forces and three airborne battalions. The SOF units are tasked with conducting clandestine and ‘irregular’ warfare deep behind enemy lines, but equipping them with specialised equipment has not been well-coordinated or diligently executed so far.The Indian Army, however, says the 40 specialised items earmarked for special ops forces are now being fast-tracked. These include weapons like the TAR-21 Tavor assault rifles and M4A1 carbines, all-terrain multi-utility vehicles, GPS navigation systems, modular target acquisition devices and laser range-finders, high-frequency communication sets and free-fall parachutes – among other things. This equipment is being purchased from countries like the US, Israel, France and Sweden.The Indian Army’s new Israeli-built TAR-21 “Tavor” rifles were recently battle-tested in operations against insurgents in Kashmir province.