by Sandeep Unnithan

The defence ministry recently nixed a proposal for a joint venture between Russia's Kalashnikov Concern-which makes the iconic assault rifle-and the Adani group. The MoD, instead, wants the rifle to be made by one of the state-owned ordnance factories for which it is holding talks with the Russian government.

The proposal to build the AK-103, a more modern version of the AK-47, at one of the ordnance factories was discussed during defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman's visit to Russia in April. A formal intergovernmental agreement to licence- produce the rifles is likely to be inked when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russian president Vladimir Putin at the India-Russia annual bilateral summit to be held in India later this year.

Last week, the army announced its intent to place one of the largest rifle orders in the world-650,000 rifles to replace the older INSAS and legacy AK-47 type rifles. The army's Request for Information (RFI) specifies a new assault rifle chambered for the 7.62 mm x 39 mm bullet, the same used by the AK-47 and its newer variant, the AK-103.

Russia's Kalashnikov Concern, meanwhile, has unsuccessfully tried to set up a gun assembly plant in Gujarat with the private sector since 2014. It wanted the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to provide components for these rifles, to be assembled by a private partner.

The proposal was forwarded to the OFB in 2015. It was shot down by the MoD's Directorate of Defence Production (DoDP) on procedural grounds. The DoDP felt the proposal not only bypassed Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms trading firm that India deals with, but also fair competition norms.

The MoD now wants the AK-103 to be produced in one of the three rifle factories at Ishapore, Kanpur or Tiruchirappalli. Production lines at these factories can make 30,000 rifles each year, but are currently idle for the first time in nearly two decades as production of the indigenous INSAS has stopped.

OFB officials say the stamped-metal receiver body can easily be manufactured at their factory with no additional investments in plant and machinery. India is one of the world's largest users of AK-type rifles for its military, police and paramilitary forces, but few of them are made at the Kalashnikov Concern. Indian agencies have opted for cheaper AK-type rifles from former Warsaw Pact countries-an estimated 400,000 rifles have been purchased from a Bulgarian firm over the past decade.