Monday, September 27, 2021

DEVELOPING THE FIRST INDIGENOUS MACHINE PISTOL

by Lt. Col. Prasad Bansod

SUCCESS OF ATMANIRBHARTA IN DEFENCE.

The Indian Armed forces are amongst the finest globally with rich operational experience, numbering approximately 14.5 lakhs and CAPF numbering about nine lakhs. Each individual in these organisations is authorised as a personal weapon—the sheer numbers required for equipping these troops to outmatch any other military hardware. Therefore, success in the “Atmanirbhar” initiative calls for greater responsibility from the users in the development process, currently restricted to R&D establishment. India’s recently developed 9 mm indigenous Machine Pistol was newly created. The design approach utilising the User-Designer team supported by the private industry led to developing a prototype in record time.

The Prerequisite. Within the Armed Forces and security agencies, personnel require a weapon between a pistol and a Carbine to perform their task optimally. This weapon platform must be light, compact and in an emergency, capable of single-handed operation, preferably equipped with pistol sized cartridges. Hence we saw the emergence of a class of firearms called the Machine Pistols (MP) like the Israeli Uzi and Swiss MP-9. These are light, compact weapons fitted with reflex sights, capable of firing accurate bursts from high capacity magazines, making them ideal weapons for personal protection and CI/CT operations. The Indian Army and other agencies have inducted a limited number of machine pistols ex-import (Swiss MP-9 and Israeli Uzi) for Infantry and other units at substantive costs. In addition, the German HK MP-5 is in service with many agencies/organisations in India. A need was therefore felt for an indigenous machine pistol.

Developmental Approach. The weapon was conceptualised at the Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU), Mhow. The design simplicity and robustness of the 9x19mm AK derivative influenced the basic design thought process. These two features inherently led to the third most crucial feature – reliability – as the MP will operate in varied terrains and extreme weather variations. Many other weapon systems were also studied to arrive at the ergonomics as MP was to be an extension of a soldier’s arm. Finally, a mock-up of the envisioned prototype was developed and demonstrated. The next logical step was to team up with ARDE, Pune, which has rich design experience and a strong team of technically qualified personnel capable of developing.

Envisaged Employment. The platform has been developed for Infantry, Mechanised Infantry, Artillery troops and their commanders, Armoured vehicles and aircraft/helicopter crews, radio/radar operators and other personnel on similar duties. Of late, many counter-terror units both at the Central and State levels have been raised, and the platform can be an ideal weapon for the same.

The Calibre Choice. Weapons intended for Close Quarter Battle (up to 100m) and personal protection are invariably based on the 9×19 mm round. What makes the ammunition special is the low muzzle velocity yet longer dwell time (hence better energy transfer and wound profile at short ranges), making it an ideal calibre for CQB and Law enforcement. In-room intervention scenarios, especially with hostages involved, it is vital to have a light, a compact weapon that is controllable in single /auto fire yet has low recoil. Furthermore, the rounds fired should not ricochet in confined spaces. With the above qualities, the choice of calibre for such operations is the 9×19 mm ammunition. The round is the mainstay for specialised units like NSG and is in service with Armed Forces and CAPFs and is currently in domestic production by both OFBs and Private Manufacturers.

Design Process and Objectives. In August 2020, with support from the Army’s Training Command (ATRAC) and Army Design Bureau (ADB), ARDE Pune was approached to design assistance and manufacture the initial prototype with users steering the project. Lt Col Prasad Bansod was sent to ARDE Pune to discuss feasibility and commence work on the project. The User – designer team initially brainstormed the overall design layout. With the choice of 9 x 19 mm ammunition, the design process of the Machine Pistol commenced with the following objectives:

  • Lightweight ( less than two Kgs)
  • Fire indigenous nine x19 mm in-service ammunition.
  • Safe to operate.
  • Capable of single-handed operation.

Design Challenges. The design challenges were as under:-

(a) Operating Principle. With Indigenous 9×19 mm as the choice of ammunition, the functional system had to be designed on a simple blowback operation. Unfortunately, simple blowback designs have inherent safety issues, as with the erstwhile 9 mm carbine. This was a significant concern and was required to be addressed immediately. Also, the weapon was to fire from a closed bolt to enhance accuracy.

(b) Construction material. Simple Blowback system necessitates heavy breech blocks. With a weight requirement of less than two kg, it was a significant challenge.

(c) Accuracy and Controllability. Three Pivotal features were quintessential to the design of the MP– single-handed operation, better accuracy and controllability. The design team had to brainstorm three significant variables and their interplay to incorporate these features, namely, barrel length, breech weight, and layout. A semi-Bullpup configuration was selected for compactness and single-handed operation.

Execution of the Design Phase. The work began in the third week of Aug 2020 and progressed rapidly. The design software incorporated requirements and feedback from users, and the initial design was developed and simulated. Various parameters like stress, muzzle velocity, ejection pattern and other behaviours can be affected with 95% accuracy even before the metal cutting starts. Armed with the new template of the User- designer team, positive mutual criticisms and debates, an entirely new small arms design acceptable to users was achieved.

The prototype was realised with the help of the Prototype manufacturing unit (PMU), the in-house workshop at ARDE. The results were encouraging, with the prototype firing on the 53rd working day and initial design development achieved in just under four months. The prototype was showcased to the COAS and Chairman DRDO at various forums like Idea and Innovation Display organised by ADB on 13 Jan 2021 and was highlighted as a path-breaking indigenous design. The same was also showcased to the Honourable PM, RM, CDS, and other commanders from all services at the Combined Commanders’ Conference at Kevadiya in Feb 2021. ARDE has now taken up a project for limited serial production of the MP.

Advantages: Machine Pistol is one of the best in its class. It has the following benefits which will make it versatile to be adopted by Armed Forces and other agencies: –

(a) Safe, robust and reliable indigenous design.

(b) Effective range of 100m plus.

(c) Compact weapon – sub-two kg weight category.

(d) Single & Auto fire ability.

(e) High capacity (26/33 rounds) magazine.

(f) Capable of single-handed operation.

(g) Ability to attach Picatinny sights and accessories.

(h) Modular Lightweight Aircraft Grade Alloy upper receiver and Polymer-based lower.

(e) Designed with quick response in mind – emphasis on ergonomics of pistol grip contours, location of magazine catch and fire selector.

(f) Ability to attach any standard suppressor for silent operations.

(g) Detachable forehand grip based on Picatinny Rails.

(h) Expected to cost around Rs 50,000 per piece – one-fourth of ex-import systems.

With the initial prototype ready, the team is now focussing on limited serial production of 100 MPs. To this end, ARDE has taken up the project with private defence manufacturers who have acquired licences, have the requisite wherewithal and technical depth to undertake such development. Modern manufacturing techniques like Metal-Injection-Mounding (MIM), use of modern composites and additive manufacturing processes are used, and stringent-quality controls are maintained. For the selection of production partners, an Expression of Interest (EOI) has already been raised, and a number of vendors have responded to the same. With refinements, its limited serial production is likely to commence by Jan 2022.

Inclusion in Import Ban List. The next logical step is to include a finalised product in the ban list to boost domestic products and save costs to the exchequer. In addition, attractive incentives must be offered to the teams which bring products under the import ban list to motivate more to follow suit, paving a rapid path to indigenisation.

Small arms are the symbolic backbone of national security. Therefore, all attempts must be made to achieve 100% indigenisation in small arms. Turkey’s arms industry is an excellent model to emulate wherein increased indigenous arms manufacturing and induction has been increased from 30% to 70 %, reducing reliance on defence imports and boosting exports. The joint user-designer developmental template is renewed through the “Atmanirbhar” initiative and must be exploited.

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