Since late 1950s, Indian armed forces were equipped with 7.62mm NATO L1A1 self-loading rifles, which were licensed copies of the famous Belgian FN FAL rifle. As the 7.62mm self-loading rifles started to become obsolete by the 1980s, India began to develop the INSAS (Indian National Small Arms System), which incorporated features from several popular foreign designs. The INSAS system was originally planned to have three components - a standard rifle, a carbine, and a squad automatic rifle (LMG), all chambered for 5.56 x 45 NATO ammunition. In 1997 the rifle and LMG were ready for mass production, and in 1998 the first units were observed on an Independence Day parade armed with INSAS rifles. The mass introduction of the INSAS rifle was initially delayed by the lack of the domestically made 5.56 mm ammunition and India accordingly bought significant stocks of ammunition from the Israeli IMI company. At the present time at least 300,000 INSAS rifles are in service with the Indian army; some of these have seen action in Indo-Pakistani conflict. The INSAS rifles are made by the Ishapore Rifle Factory.
The INSAS rifle is broadly based on the famous Kalashnikov AK-47 action, but with many modifications. The basic gas-operated action with long stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt, as well as the stamped steel receiver, are generally the same as in modern Kalashnikov rifles. However, the gas system is fitted with a manual gas regulator, similar in design to that found on FN FAL rifles, as well as a gas cutoff. The charging handle has been moved from the bolt carrier to the left side of the forearm; it is similar in position and design to German HK G3 rifle. The selector / safety switch is located at the left side of the receiver, above the pistol grip, and allows for single shots and three round bursts. The rifle is fitted with a side-folding carrying handle, and either a solid or side-folding metal buttstock. Furniture can be made from wood or polymer. Standard magazines are made from semi-translucent polymer and contain 20 rounds. Longer 30-round magazines of similar design are available for the INSAS LMG but can also be used in the rifle. The sights consist of a hooded front, mounted on top of the gas block, and a diopter rear, mounted on the receiver cover. The flash hider is shaped to accept NATO-standard rifle grenades. INSAS rifles can be fitted with AKM-style multipurpose knife-bayonets.
There are still technical problems with INSAS rifle - in December 1999 Indian Army complains about jamming at sub-zero temperatures in Kashmir and the Siachen Glacier. Also among the faults of the weapon are a defective barrel, a faulty change lever system and a poor carrying handle. The offcial raport states that despite over 15 years of development work, the army has found the carbine unacceptable due to the "high sound level and heating of the muzzle". Comparing to the old Polish, Romanian and Hungarian AK's, the army officials say they are more dependable than their own INSAS.
The other problem is a cost, INSAS was designed as cheap assault rifle, but it appears the unit price is higher than expected, about 360 USD each, when Romanian imported AK were bought in 1995 for... 93 USD each, about 25% the cost of the INSAS rifle!
Besides development problems the introduction of the weapon into service was delayed by the failure to establish local 5.56mm ammunition production - INSAS isn't fed by normal 5.56mm NATO (SS109) round but the "upgraded" copy (optimized to the longer distance fire and with greater piercing capacity). But finally they bought over 50 000 000 5.56mm rounds in Israel.
And after the purchase, Indian Army Special Forces, which forced in mid-80 to replace old 7.62mm 1A1 (1A SL) battle rifles by new design... ordered in Israel 5.56mm Tavor's, suggested that the Israeli rifle better meet their requirements that their own INSAS rifle. So, they ordered ca.3100 Tavors TAR-21 with 40mm under-barrel grenade launchers, and also some sources said that IMI talks with the Indians to transfer technology and build Tavors in India.
Also Indian Army is soon expected to issue a RFP for an initial ca.55-60 000 5.56 mm carbines. And it probably be beginning of the end of the INSAS assault rifle history...