India’s plan to indigenously manufacture AK-203 modern assault rifles is hanging fire, and the government has no answer as to when exactly the production of the Kalashnikov-designed weapon will start.
In January 2019, India signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia to co-produce the latest AK-203 rifles under a joint venture, Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL).
India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern, and Rosoboronexport are part of this arrangement. The manufacturing is to take place at the Korwa Ordnance Factory in the Amethi district of Uttar Pradesh.
The plan envisages the production of 6.71 lakh rifles at the factory, with another 1 lakh to be imported from Russia, to meet the requirement of 770,000 AK-203 rifles for the armed forces. After more than two years, there is little clarity on when the production of the much-awaited rifles will commence.
The project went through various hurdles with the Indian Defense Ministry in June last year complaining of “unreasonable and unacceptable” price quoted by the Indo-Russia joint venture.
The ministry, subsequently, constituted a five-member costing committee to fix a reasonable price for the 7.62×39 mm caliber AK-203 rifle.
In an email response to The EurAsian Times on the status of the deal, the Indian Army said the case is at the CFA (Competent Financial Authority) approval stage at present. It refused to comment further on the matter.
The Indian Army Chief, Gen. MM Naravane, on January 14, 2021, told The Economic Times that the issues had been sorted and the final contract was expected soon.
“Negotiations are at an advanced stage. There were some last-minute hitches and hiccups and those have been ironed out now. I hope the final contract will be signed soon,” he told the newspaper.
The newspaper quoted sources in the Defense Ministry as saying, that as per the current discussions, the rifles are expected to cost under Rs 70,000 per piece, which is said to be more economical than the US-made rifles imported by the Indian Army under an emergency order that cost around Rs 89,000 apiece.
OFB, which is slated to receive the technology for manufacturing the rifle, is reportedly getting a lion’s share of the royalty per rifle, with the Russian company pocketing just over Rs 6,000, against the rifle cost of Rs 70,000.
The new price arrangements have apparently taken the negotiation process forward as is evident with the statement of the Indian Army Chief and Kalashnikov’s chief executive Dmitry Tarasov who said the company may start producing the rifle in India this year.
However, the two countries have given no public statement on when the production will take place and whether the price sharing issues have been fully resolved.
“We are hoping to launch production of AK-203 rifles at our joint venture in India this year. I feel it is a long-term trend so other examples will follow soon,” he told news agency Reuters.
However, the inordinate delay in the production of the rifles has irked the military circles amid heightening conflicts with neighboring countries. The Indian Army has been forced to use the unreliable and domestically produced INSAS rifle, developed by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by OFB. INSAS rifles have been in use for the last two decades as standard-issue assault rifles.
The unreliability and inefficiency of INSAS have been affecting the operational capabilities of the army for a long time. The troops in battle do not trust the indigenously-made rifle and occasionally swap them with the more efficient AK-47 when on the frontlines.
The Indian government, since 2018, has fast-tracked the hunt for a replacement of INSAS, with the Defense Ministry finally zeroing in on the Russian-made AK-203.
The AK-203 comes with many ergonomic improvements compared to previous AK versions that are required in modern warfare. The rifle comes with modern design features such as folding and adjustable buttstock, windowed and rifled magazine, and a pistol grip which makes it more ergonomic.
There is a provision for the installation of modern sighting systems and accessories, such as optical and/or optoelectronic scopes, thermal imaging, and collimator sights.
Compared to INSAS, the AK-203 augments combat and tactical capabilities drastically, with far better efficiency and range. Picatinny rails make the AK203 extremely versatile as the operator can install the whole range of tactical equipment.
Most importantly, the rifle weighs just 3.8 kg, while the weight of INSAS is around 4.5 kg, which is another downside of the Indian-made rifle.
The induction of the rifle, designed by Kalashnikov Concern, is expected to add a decisive edge to the Indian armed forces. However, the production and induction have to be fast-tracked to meet the urgent requirements of the forces.