India buys 70,000 AK203 assault rifles off the shelf from Russia

India and Russia recently finalized a deal for immediate “off-the-shelf procurement” of 70,000 new 7.62×39mm AK 203 assault rifles, according to a report by ThePrint, citing sources from the Indian defense industry. These rifles will replace the aging 5.56×45mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) that the army, navy, and air force currently use. The weapons are expected to arrive in India beginning in November.
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Kalashnikov AK-203 in Russian basic configuration that includes a fixed buttstock and Picatinny rail, unlike the forthcoming Indian standard model (Picture source: Kalashnikov)

This off-the-shelf purchase appears to be an emergency decision: on 22 January 2021, Army Recognition reported that India was finalizing a joint Russian-Indian program to produce Kalashnikov AK-203 7.62 mm assault rifles at the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) enterprise in Korwa (Uttar Pradesh). Chief of the Indian Army (IN) Staff Gen M M Naravane told the Economic Times that the negotiations on the in-house manufacturing of the AK-203 had almost been completed. According to the general, the abovementioned negotiations are “at an advanced stage” and the project was being finalized. He also expressed hope that the contract would be signed soon. The enterprise in Korwa is set to produce approximately 700,000 AK-203 assault rifles under license, the newspaper reported.

The AK-203 is a deeply modernized variant of the renowned Kalashnikov AK-103 7.62 m battle rifle. The new firearm is manufactured by the Kalashnikov Group. The weapon fires 7.62×39 cartridges and weighs 3.8 kg without ammo. The assault rifle is accurate at 800 m and is fed by 30-round polymer magazines. Compared to its predecessors, the AK-203 features an upper Picatinny (MIL-1913-STD) rail for optical/red dot/electronic sights and a handguard with a lower Picatinny rail for tactical grips, laser pointers, and flashlights.

The above-mentioned JV will be a profitable enterprise for India, as Russia is planning to transfer almost all technologies for licensed manufacturing of AK-203 to India. The company is also believed to have decent export potential.

The Indian Armed Forces now operate the INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56 mm assault rifle as their primary infantry weapon. However, the country’s troops (especially those deployed in mountain areas and rugged terrains) need a robust, reliable, easy-to-handle, and easy-to-maintain firearm chambered for more powerful cartridges (for instance, 7.62×39 M43 or 7.62×51.308 Winchester). AK-203 and its derivatives fit that niche very well.

The production deal is said to be a joint venture among the Ordnance Factory Board, the Kalashnikov Concern, and Rosoboronexport, the Russian state agency for military exports. This deal was initially announced in 2018. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the production facility at the Korwa Ordnance Factory in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district in March 2019.

Since then, the project has experienced several production delays. The contract was expected to be finalized in 2020, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the country planned that year. However, the visit was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kalashnikov AK200 family

The Kalashnikov AK200 series assault rifles are in line with all current trends in small arms development while retaining the best qualities of the AK-47, the legendary brainchild of the great Russian gunsmith Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose 100th anniversary of the birth was marked in 2019. "The Kalashnikov AK200 series rifles are our strategic product in the export area", commented Vladimir Dmitriev, Director General of Kalashnikov Concern.

It should be mentioned that Russia has dramatically upgraded its small arms portfolio in recent years. Previously, it primarily consisted of Kalashnikov AK-100th family of assault rifles and carbines, Dragunov 7.62 mm sniper rifles (SVD), Kalashnikov PKM and Pecheneg 7.62 mm general-purpose machineguns (GPMG), and Kalashnikov RPK light machineguns (LMG). Now, this portfolio includes both brand new and upgraded weapons. The current spectrum of Russian-made export-oriented firearms comprises of (Kalashnikov AK200th family of firearms (namely, AK200 and AK205 5.45mm assault rifles, AK201 and AK202 5.56mm assault rifles, and AK203 and AK204 7.62mm assault rifles), cutting-edge AK-15 7.62mm assault rifle, the upgraded Dragunov sniper rifle (SVDM), and 6S8 12.7mm anti-material rifle. However, some of those export-oriented weapons fire traditional Russian ammunition, in particular, 5.45×39 (AK200 and AK-12), 7.62×54R (PKM and Pecheneg GPMGs and SVDM sniper rifle), and 12.7×108 (6S8 anti-material rifle).