ISLAMABAD — Trials are underway to select a new firearm for the Pakistan army to replace its G3 battle rifle and Chinese Type-56 AK-47 clones, which will also include upgrading facilities at the state-owned Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF).
Modernization efforts of the POF facilities are aimed at enhancing export success in what is a core export defense industry for Pakistan.
The news came during a Tuesday visit to a POF facility at Wah by head of the Army Gen. Raheel Sharif, who according to a press release by the military’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) media branch, was making his second trip “to see the progress of envisaged modernization and capacity enhancement of POF.”
During the visit, Sharif inaugurated a new ammunition production plant, which is part of an expansion plan. POF chief Lt. Gen. Omar Mahmood Hayat briefed Sharif, who thanked the factory's support in providing arms and ammunition for the ongoing counter terrorist operations.
Sharif also “emphasized the need for further technological upgradation to optimize the output” to ensure self reliance in arms-and-ammunition needs for the civilian and military security services.
He pushed for more efforts to secure new markets for POF products.
However, the presence of a series of foreign rifles at POF seen during the Sharif's visit drew attention to a little publicized competition to find a new standard rifle for the military.
From the images available, it appears Pakistan is trialing the following rifles: Beretta ARX-200, CZ-806 BREN 2, FN SCAR, Kalashnikov AK-103, and Zastava M21.
There has been a longstanding requirement for a new service rifle and approximately 10 years ago the army expressed requirement for a 5.56 caliber rifle.
POF attempted to meet the requirement with its PK-8, which was a development of the German HK33K. However, the cost of having to replace so many rifles appears to have killed the project at that time.
Instead, the military acquired large numbers of the Chinese Type-56 clone of the AK-47. It also modified the G3 to produce the G3S, which was a carbine/para variant of the battle rifle, and the G3M, which has a series of rail attachments to fit a range of grips, sighting devices, and under-barrel grenade launcher.
When asked about the new rifles, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence Production confirmed trials were underway for a new service rifle.
“Pakistan army wants to induct new rifles. Trials are going on for the rifles. But nothing has been finalized yet.”
The spokesperson also highlighted that the new ammunition plant was aimed at enhancing existing production capacity, and that “Up-gradation remaining within [POF’s] core area may be carried [out] depending upon technological development in future.”
POF was also open to entering into joint ventures with foreign companies.
Brian Cloughley, former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, said there is nothing inherently wrong with the current weapons being used, but that newer ones are more effective.
“The G-3 and AK-47/Type 56 rifles have been popular in the army, but later weapons are certainly more effective, especially in the weight-to-kill power-ratio,” he said. “The AK-103, for example, is a very long way ahead of the AK-47 and has the attraction of using 7.62x39mm ammunition which has excellent stopping power and is readily available.”
Therefore, Cloughley said, Pakistan’s military “wants to move with the times and is most serious about procuring a new rifle, which is why the trials of five systems are now taking place.”
A deal will likely eventually lead to the military procuring some 500,000 rifles or more, therefore it is a lucrative deal, but one which Pakistan will insist involves licensed production, and the results of this could be known later in the year.
“In the selection process, the most important aspect is plain effectiveness in battle," said Cloughley. "But a main factor will be a deal to manufacture it at POF. There is no possibility of a contract involving total import. The trials should be over by mid-year, and no doubt there will be concurrent negotiations about production.”
Cloughley said it will undoubtedly include upgrading POF facilities, though not necessarily in conjunction with the winning design.
“POF is a success story, but some of the plant and machinery is getting old and needs replacement, which is expensive. Much will depend on negotiations with suppliers, and it is likely that the Chinese will be the most prepared to offer attractive deals,” he said.
Cloughley added: “Raheel has always placed emphasis on domestic production of arms and ammunition, and what he said during his recent visit to Wah was consistent with overall government policy.”
Though this may be achieved reasonably well however, true success will likely be measured elsewhere.
“What POF really needs is an overseas market, but that is extremely difficult to break into,” Cloughley said.