Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles to be at last produced in India

In a tweet posted on March 20, Indian Defense News writes that an Indian ambassador has stated a piece of information that has already been in the air for several months: Kalashnikov assault rifles will be produced in India.
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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)

On January 22, 2021, Army Recognition published that New Delhi was finalizing a joint Russian-Indian program to produce Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles in 7.62mm caliber 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 on January 13, 2021, that the negotiations on the in-house manufacturing of the AK-203 had almost been completed (which appeared to last an additional year before coming true). According to the general, the abovementioned negotiations are “at an advanced stage” and the project is now being finalized. He also expressed hope that the contract would be signed soon. The enterprise in Korwa is set to produce 670,000 AK-203 assault rifles under license, the newspaper reported. India is to become the first country to begin the production of the AK-203 outside Russia.

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 Indian government launched its ‘Make in India’ initiative several years ago. However, the recent pandemic of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has stressed the importance of in-house production. The JV will establish a large number of jobs and increase the capacities of the Indian defense industry.

During the recent World Defense Show 2022 in Saudi Arabia, Army Recognition was told by a representative of Pakistan Ordnance Factories that Indian and Pakistani armies have a different view on the distribution of assault rifles in 5.56mm and 7.62mm calibers in their respective army units: considering the often long distance between units involved in skirmishes, the Pakistani units are armed with more assault rifles in 7.62mm than 5.56mm, while the Indian army chose the opposite, he said. The local production of AK-203 in 7.62mm may invert this trend if confirmed.