Made in India AK-203 will have better ergonomics, accuracy, and density of fire
A FORCE report
Indian forces are particularly in need of small weapons, which can come handy in self-defence. At a time when India-China tensions were high and the soldier engaged in hand-to-hand combat, the Indian Army brought to the fore that they required a ‘limited number of close-quarter battle rifles on an immediate basis’.
The army was without a close-quarter battle weapon for years and it was reported that the force had been using regular assault rifles for the purpose, reducing the operational efficiency of the troops. The two types of small weapons—rifles and close quarter carbines—have different uses and serve different purposes. Carbines are used for close quarter battles, whereas rifles, which have long barrels, are generally used for long-range targets due to their ability of giving the user the benefit of distance and accuracy due to the rifle’s ‘spiral groove’ which spins the bullet when fired, for it to reach a further target. On the other hand, carbines are rifles that have compact, short barrels which is less than 20 inches in length and are comparatively light weight.
Small weapons of different varieties are considered personal to soldiers and act as security cover for them in adverse situations. In India, the procurement of small arms has been a long-drawn issue, which has compelled forces to make makeshift arrangements or operate without these arms. For India to satisfy its huge appetite of approximately 3.5 lakh small arms, if the paramilitary and the state police forces are included, it becomes imperative to take up production within the country.
For long, India had been depending upon Fast Track Procedure (FTP), however given the huge demand, FTPs don’t serve the purpose. They only act as a stop-gap arrangement but fail to fulfil the requirements as the cost goes up with each additional piece of the same weapon. While FTPs help make up for lost time, they also prove expensive. This then hinders the arming of the entire force in one go. Ideal for India would be setting up of indigenous plants for production for a continuous supply of small arms, process for which has already started. In 2020 February, the then Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chief of Staff’s Committee (CISC) Vice Admiral R. Hari Kumar (who is now the Chief of Naval Staff), said that self-reliance in small arms manufacturing was fundamentally necessary for India. He said it was essential that the basic weapons were manufactured within India.
The IWI and Punj Lloyd signed a JV under the ‘Make in India’ initiative in 2017 and inaugurated India’s first private sector small arms manufacturing plant at Malanpur in Madhya Pradesh the same year and named it Punj Lloyd Raksha Systems (PLR). The JV planned on producing the X95 carbine and assault rifle, Galil sniper rifle, Tavor assault rifle and Negev Light Machine Gun (LMG). While not much information is available about the goings on at this JV, one of the media reports, published by The Print in July 2020, reported that two new Israeli assault rifles, Arad and Carmel, would now be produced in India at PLR Systems. FORCE tried reaching out to Punj Lloyd to know developments regarding the factory from the time it was set up but got no response.
The Kalyani Group is another Indian entity that is interested in making small arms. At DefExpo 2020 held in Lucknow, Chairman and Director Baba Kalyani of Bharat Forge told the press that the company was looking forward to investing huge resources in making small arms. He said that since they were in the business of forging metals, making of small arms won’t be different for them. At DefExpo, the Kalyani Group signed as MoU with Arsenal, a joint stock company from Bulgaria to manufacture small arms in India.
Kalyani Group is already involved in India’s small arms industry, wherein it has supplied defence related components to the Indian forces. As the company has taken huge efforts to be active in the defence manufacturing, the company has grown in such a way that the small arms profile of the company includes Assault Rifles (7.62x39mm), CQB Carbine (5.56x45mm), LMG (7.62x5mm), Sniper Rifle (7.62x51mm and 8.6mm) and Protective Carbine (5.56x30mm).
In December 2021, India and Russia signed a deal for the manufacture of 6 lakh AK203 assault rifles at a new factory in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi. The Kalashnikovs will replace the INSAS rifles as the standard-issue for Indian troops. Earlier, India bought SIG-716 G2 Patrol rifles, with a 16-inch barrel for the army, struggling with INSAS rifle.
About the Indo-Russian Rifles Pvt Ltd
Joint-Venture production procedure of the AK-203 assault rifle is about to end, Kalashnikov informed. The two sides have ironed out the details and have finalised the terms and condition. The contract is ready for signature. According to sources, the contract is just awaiting signature from the Indian side. “Russian partners are ready to start work on the supply of equipment, training of Indian specialists and commissioning at the factory in Amethi immediately after the conclusion of the contract,” Kalashnikov informed.
In March 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the manufacturing unit of the Indo-Russian Rifles Pvt Ltd, an Indo-Russian joint venture to manufacture AK-203 assault rifle. A partnership between Indian Ordnance Factory Board (now defunct) and Russian Kalashnikov Concern, the JV will manufacture around 7.5 lakh rifles which will go on to replace the INSAS rifle, the current standard-issue to Indian soldiers. These guns are also expected to equip other Indian forces. India Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) owns 50.5 per cent shares. The rest are owned by Kalashnikov Concern and Rosoboronexport.
On August 15, India dismantled OFB into seven new defence manufacturing entities. The corporatisation of OFB is expected not to have any impact on the project. The joint venture, as part of the UP-defence corridor, is expected to give a boost to the corridor and self–reliance in defence. According to the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), Russia will provide technology, manufacturing know-how and special materials. The IGA allows the JV to export the guns to any third country as well. The two sides have aimed at 100 per cent localization within the first two years of the project. Through the JV, two sides are looking at deeper cooperation, beyond just transfer of technology, including material-based co-manufacturing, product-development, and upgrade.
India is expected to import 70,000 rifles from Russia and manufacture the rest in Amethi. One of the main contentions between the two sides was price and royalty. Reportedly, Russia has waived royalty. The price of the guns is expected to be around USD 1,000 each. Coming from the home of the AK-47, AK-203 is an improved version of the AK series, which fires 7.62×39 mm bullets and allows all modern add-ons, including a variety of sight systems, target designators and under barrel grenades. Despite evolving into a modern firearm, the gun has retained all the advantages of the traditional AK classics: reliability, durability and ease of maintenance.
Compared to earlier Kalashnikov rifles, AK-203 has better ergonomics, accuracy, and density of fire. Robust mechanics and simplicity of operation are other strong points. The gun has been tested under the conditions of extreme heat and cold. The obvious technical advantages of AK-203 for India are in its high degree of versatility, adjustability and customizability. The Picatinny rail enables swift instalment of additional equipment depending on the nature of the mission: night and day gunsights, flashlights, handles, laser designators etc. The rifle can be quickly adapted to the use of various components of the armed forces and security agencies. The annual exports of Kalashnikov assault rifles exceed 100,000 units.
The AK-200 series assault rifles were showcased at the Army-2021 International Military-Technical Forum and aroused great interest among potential customers from different regions of the world. Rosoboronexport has already signed contracts for the supply of the latest AK-200 series assault rifles. The AK203 project is historically unique since India will manufacture the Kalashnikov rifles independently, with the use of the spares and materials sourced from local manufacturers. Localization will start from the very early stages, and the Russian stakeholders of the joint venture will be required to ensure 100 per cent technology transfer.