Kalashnikov AK-103 Assault Rifle

The deal will see the AK-series rifles being produced at ordnance factory. The proposal was discussed during Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's visit to Moscow. A high-level MoD delegation will visit Russia towards the month end to assess the offer

by Sandeep Unnithan

A government to government deal between India and Russia will see the AK-series rifles being produced at a state-owned ordnance factory in India.

Government sources told India Today that the proposal was discussed during Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's visit to Moscow between April 3-5. A high-level MoD delegation is visiting Russia towards the month end to assess the offer.

The general managers of OFB Trichy and Rifle Factory Ichapore, the two state-owned plants manufacturing assault rifles, are to visit Russia on April 24 a few days before the visit of DG (Acquisition) Apurva Chandra to Moscow. Sources say the G-to-G deal could be concluded before the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia this October.

The Kalashnikov concern is offering the AK-103, a modernised version of the AK-47/AKM rifle, numerous quantities of which are in use by the Indian Army, police and paramiltary forces. The AK-103 which is chambered for the 7.62x39 round, the same as the AK-47, uses polymer parts to reduce the weight of the rifle and has a distinctive flash-hider on its barrel. The rifle is used in limited quantities by the Indian Navy's Marine Commando Force.

The AK rifle first entered Indian Army service during the IPKF's deployment in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1991. Since then, vast quantities of AK rifles have been purchased or recovered from terrorists.

Russia's gripe has been that India has only purchased the rifle but from former Warsaw Pact countries which obtained AK-making know-how from the former Soviet Union. These former Warsaw Pact countries shut Russian firms out from the Indian market by selling their weapons at prices the Russian firms could not match. Bulgaria's Arsenal JSC has been the largest exporter of AK-type rifles, supplying hundreds of thousands of rifles to Indian police and paramilitary forces at prices as low as Rs 35,000 per piece. The only threat the Bulgarian firm has had in recent years is from the OFB's Trichy Assault Rifle (TAR) a copy of the Bulgarian AK.

In 2014, the Kalashnikov Concern, the Russian concern, which manufactures the iconic assault rifle, proposed licensed production of the AK-103 as a way to break into the lucrative Indian market. The proposal from the company was forwarded to the Ordnance Factory Board. It was shot down by the Ministry of Defence's Directorate of Defence Production on procedural grounds. The DoDP felt the proposal not only bypassed Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms trading firm which India does business with, but also fair competition norms. The Kalashnikov Concern's recent attempts to tie up with the private sector to build a factory in Gujarat too came a cropper until it was taken up at the highest levels of government.

The Russian proposal is a win-win for both India and Russia. This was the first year that the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board did not get an order from either the army, police or paramilitary for the indigenous INSAS-rifle. The Indian Army, the largest customer for the INSAS, has decided to phase the rifle out of service and replace it with a new battle rifle for which RFPs were recently floated. Other weapons like the TAR, the Ghatak (another AK clone) and the INSAS-1C have attracted a handful of orders, but not enough to keep production at peak capacity of over 30,000 rifles per year. OFB officials said that the stamped-metal receiver body can easily be manufactured at the OFB-T or RFI with no additional investments in plant and machinery.