In November of 2011, the Indian army numbered about 1.2 million infantrymen. It was the second largest army in the world. The army had changed its combat rifles only twice since Independence on August 15th, 1947. The first change was after the 1962 China war. The second change was in 1998, just before the 1999 Kargil war when the domestically designed and produced 5.56mm Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) rifle was adopted. After the adoption of the INSAS weapon system in 1998, there were multiple reports of reliability problems that resulted in many deaths among foreign users and Indian soldiers engaged in skirmishes with Pakistan. In addition to the deaths in combat from malfunctions, there were documented problems with magazines cracking and oil being blown into soldier’s eyes during training events, amongst other issues.
The Indian army had developed a routine of using the INSAS rifle and AK-47 rifles concurrently. The INSAS was used primarily in non-combat areas or conventional combat operations. The AK-47’s were primarily used in counter-insurgency operations due to the AK-47’s being seen as more reliable than the INSAS. Additionally, the AK-47’s could use captured ammunition which eased some of the logistics burden during operations in remote areas. These experiences resulted in the army wanting a new 5.56mm rifle that could be used in conventional operations but still use 7.62x39mm ammunition during counter-insurgency operations. However, the army wanted a 7.62x39mm weapon system that was more accurate than the AK-47.
As a result of all of the problems with the INSAS rifle and the unofficial operating procedures with the INSAS/AK-47, the India Ministry of Defense solicited a request for proposal to 40 nations for the purchase of 65,678 Multi-Caliber Assault Rifle (MCAR) rifles worth an estimated $250 million dollars that would replace both the INSAS and the AK-47’s in inventory at that time in 382 infantry battalions. The Initial program technical specification requirements were:
a. Weight not to exceed 8.1 lbs. (3.66kg)
b. Convertible from 5.56mm to 7.62x39mm
c. Fitted with picatinny rail mounted reflex sights
d. Provision for mounting an under-barrel grenade launcher
e. Able to fire domestically manufactured ammunition.
India was seeking a transfer of technology as part of the solicitation so that the adopted weapon system could be manufactured in India after the initial order of 65,678 rifles was delivered. They were initially forecasting a requirement of two million rifles that were to equip the state police, paramilitary forces and the Army. The estimated program cost was $2-3 billion dollars.
One thing that plagued the India INSAS replacement program was constantly changing requirements. After the initial request for proposal was published in November, 2011 the program specifications were modified. In late 2012 the specifications were revised/expanded to now include:
- Primary rifle would be 5.56mm
- Modular construction with sub-assemblies that did not require special tools.
- Interchangeable barrel group, breech block and magazine in 5.56mm, 7.62x39mm, 7.62x51mm, 6.8x43mm and 6.5 Grendal. A manufacturers proposal could use a combination of some or all calibers.
- Multiple picatinny rails for accessories and foregrip
- Provision for mounting an under-barrel grenade launcher
- Foldable buttstock with adjustable length
- Advanced day & night sight systems
- Able to fire domestically manufactured ammunition
- Weight not to exceed 8.1 lbs. (3.66kg)
Testing was initially scheduled to begin in December of 2012 using test rifles from five foreign firms. The five weapons that were short listed for MCAR program testing were:
- Italy- Beretta ARX-160
- United States- Colt Combat Rifle
- Czech Republic- CZ 805 Bren
- Israel- Israel Weapons Idustry (IWI) ACE. Of note with the IWI proposal is that it is no known if the test weapon was going to be the ACE 21/22/23 (the variants differ by barrel length) or the ACE N with a polymer receiver.
- United States- SIG 551
Around the same time as the MCAR program was being defined and developed, there was a separate evaluation being conducted for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) carbines. The CQB carbine candidates were Beretta, Colt, SIG and IWI. One challenge with completing research regarding India small arms development is the lack of information released to the public. At this time of reference in my research, December 2012, press releases and available articles pretty much stop.
During the India Defense Expo in 2014 (6-9 February 2014), it was announced that testing of the MCAR candidates would begin. However, the five competitors previously identified had been reduced to four and now consisted of:
- Italy- Beretta ARX-160
- United States- Colt Combat Rifle
- Czech Republic- CZ 807A Bren (change from the CZ 805 Brent)
- Israel Weapons Industry (IWI) ACE
The weapon trials were going to take place in the western Rajasthan desert, the Himalaya mountains and an unidentified area with high humidity.
Multi-Caliber Assault Rifle (MCAR) Testing
There isn’t much information available about the actual weapon testing. I am exceptionally fortunate that I had two people who had been involved in the program reach out to me and provide me with some information. What I learned was that there was a two week testing phase that took place in Jabalpur with the Indian Army and Engineers. Colt had ten test weapons at this location. There were extreme cold weather, extreme hot weather, mud and water tests completed. The hot and cold tests were conducted by engineers from the Indian government in conjunction with personnel from the firearms manufacturers using climate-controlled rooms and ovens to replicate environmental temperatures. These test rooms were locked and tamper resistant seals were put on the doors by military officers and Indian engineers. The quality control steps were validated by signatures from all witnesses. Rooms were opened each day by Indian military guards with all witnesses from the previous day present.
The weapons were subjected to specified temperatures with the exposures lasting overnight. The weapons, magazines and ammunition were exposed to the same extremes. When the exposure period was completed, the magazines (already loaded) were inserted in the weapons and fired immediately. The water test was accomplished by submerging the weapons, ammunition and magazines in water for 30 minutes. At the end of the submersion period, the charging handle was cycled to load a round and the weapons were fired. At this location there were some sand exposure testing and drop testing done as well.
Interchangeability tests of the additional upper receiver assemblies was conducted in Jabalpur as well. The weapons were fired for accuracy and reliability. Indian engineers completely disassembled all weapons, intermixed parts, reassembled the weapons and then immediately fired them again to verify accuracy and reliability.
There was some testing done by Colt and the Indian Army at military bases near the towns of Jammu, Leh and Ladakh but I am not clear about what was completed there.
The weapons spent a couple of weeks in the mountains near Pakistan going through high altitude and endurance testing. Some of the 7.62x39mm upper receivers that Colt made available to the civilian market were in pretty rough shape. The speculation is that these were the upper receivers used in the mountain phase endurance testing.
By October of 2014 the competition had been reduced to the IWI ACE and Beretta ARX-160. In June of 2015 India formally notified the four competing firms that it was cancelling its MCAR competition. It is reported that none of the competing rifles met the requirements primarily due to the unrealistic General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR). The Multi-Caliber Assault Rifle (MCAR) program was replaced by the Multi-Caliber Individual Weapon System (MCIWS) program, which is indigenous, in 2015. The MCIWS was declared ready for production by the India Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) in September 2018.
Colt’s Multi-Caliber Assault Rifle Proposal
As specified by the MCAR program requirements, Colt’s proposal was based on a 5.56mm rifle. The rifle design used for the base rifle was the Colt model R0923 Advanced Colt Carbine Monolithic (ACC-M) receiver system. The ACC-M design provided a true free-float barrel for increased weapon accuracy. The 7.62x39mm requirement was met by having a 7.62x39mm upper receiver assembly that could be installed onto the lower receiver of the 5.56mm base rifle. Colt manufactured a 7.62x39mm barrel that was compatible with the R0923 monolithic upper receiver. Both barrels were manufactured to United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) barrel specifications. The 7.62x39mm SOCOM barrels that were used in the MCAR program are the only 7.62x39mm SOCOM barrels made by Colt. Both upper receiver configurations were able to mount an under-barrel grenade launcher.
Technical Specifications of the model # R0923 base rifle:
- Caliber: 5.56 x 45 NATO
- Weight: 6.6 lbs. (2.99 kg)
- Barrel Length: 16.1”
- Fire Control: Safe-Semi-Full Auto
- Rifling: 1/7 RH
- Effective Range: 600m
Modifications made to the R0923 base rifle to create the model R0923I MCAR proposal:
- Barrel configuration was changed from standard M4 specification to M4A1 SOCOM specification with a 16” length instead of 14.5” length.
- Standard front sight post was replaced with a front sight from XS Sight Systems. The XS Sight Systems AR-2W White Stripe Front AR Mil-Spec replacement sight was used. http://www.xssights.com/Detail.aspx?PROD=993125&CAT=8275
- Ambidextrous magazine release was installed
- Ambidextrous selector was installed
- H buffer was replaced with an H2 buffer
- Standard receiver end plate was replaced with a program specific receiver end plate that has ambidextrous sling connection points.
- Standard collapsible carbine stock was replaced with a special design stock which was adjustable for length of pull and had a folding buttplate.
- Matech factory rear sight was replaced with a Troy Industries Folding Battlesight which was product #SSIG-FBS-ROBT-00. https://troyind.com/products/rear-folding-sight-blk
The 7.62×39 upper receiver configuration was designated model R0923I762. It was configured similarly to the R0923I upper receiver but had the following differences:
- 7.62x39mm 16” SOCOM barrel / bolt assembly with 1/12 RH rifling.
- Flash suppressor is the same as that used on the Colt 9mm carbines (AR6951, R0991 and R0992).
Additional Colt MCAR evaluation weapon features:
- International Technologies Lasers Ltd. (ITL) Multi-Purpose Aiming Reflex Sight (MARS) red dot/visible laser optic. Made in Israel
- CAA Battery Storage Grip (BVG) Made in Israel
- Troy 6.2” Battle Rail Covers (SCOV-BRC-36-BT-00)
- US military specification 5.56mm 30-round magazines
- ASC 7.62×39 30-round magazines (30-76239-SS-BM-B-ASC)
ITL MARS Reflex Sight
CAA Battery Storage Grip
Troy BattleRail Covers
U.S. Military Specification 5.56x45mm 30-Round Magazine
ASC 7.62x39mm 30-Round Magazine
India has had a long history of purchasing various small arms and weapon accessories from Israel. They have used various weapon sights from ITL and accessories from CAA (doing business as https://www.israeldefensestore.com/caa in Israel) over the years. As a result of that relationship, the Colt MCAR evaluation rifles were outfitted with the ITL reflex sight and CAA storage grip listed above. Both items are products of Israel.
When the India evaluations were finished in 2014, the Colt MCAR evaluation weapon sets were shipped back to Colts Manufacturing in West Hartford, CT and placed into storage. In 2018, Colt began divesting excess inventory in their facilities so items like the Colt India MCAR proposal weapon components were made available to retailers to sell. The Class 3 (capable of burst or automatic fire) lower receivers were separated from the upper receiver assemblies. The upper receiver assemblies (to include charging handle and complete bolt/bolt carrier), both 5.56mm and 7.62x39mm, were then shipped to Arms Unlimited of Las Vegas, NV who placed them on their website for sale 3 MAY 2018. The price was $750.00 for the 5.56mm upper receiver assemblies and $999.00 for the 7.62x39mm upper receiver assemblies.
It is believed that twenty-five of each upper receiver assembly were produced for the India MCAR evaluations. Through input from other purchasers/collectors and website data, roughly sixteen are confirmed to have been bought on the public retail market. It is known that Colt employees had the opportunity to buy the upper receiver assemblies as well before public release.
The upper receivers came in Colt blue and white boxes. The only identifying marks on the 5.56mm upper receiver boxes was “5.56 India”. The 5.56mm upper receivers did not have any unique markings. The 7.62x39mm upper receiver boxes had “7.62×39 India” and a COA number. The 7.62×39 upper receivers had a unique “COA- number” taped to the left side of the receiver just below the rear sight. As an example, the box for the 7.62×39 upper receiver that I received has “COA-1” written on it. My upper receiver has a label on it that says COA-1 with India script. Through discussion on AR15.com at this link https://www.ar15.com/forums/Industry/-ARCHIVED-THREAD-Colt-LE6940-762×39-Uppers-LIMITED/29-288176/?page=1 it seems almost all of the boxes and upper receiver numbers were mismatched. I think there is only myself and one or two other buyers who have matching COA receiver and box numbers.
There were fourteen 7.62×39 upper receivers advertised for release to the public by a different vendor in June of 2017.
Some people in the collecting community thought that the ad indicated that there were more 7.62×39 MCAR upper receiver assemblies available. However, resources used for this article stated that the advertising vendor did not take delivery of the upper receivers.
One of the requirements for the MCAR program was for the rifle to be able to mount an under-barrel grenade launcher. So, I configured the 5.56mm MCAR rifle with my Colt M203. It is not known if the rifles were ever tested in this configuration.
If you made it this far I appreciate your interest in the information. If you have any additional information about this project, I am always open to updating the article. Thank you for visiting.