India and Russia reaffirmed their defence ties this week with the two countries inking a deal that will see India produce more than 600,000 AK-203 Kalashnikov assault rifles at a manufacturing facility in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. The agreement was signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s day-long visit to India.

In an exclusive interview to News18, Kalashnikov group’s Chief of Communications Maria Vorobieva explained how the AK-203 rifle ranks over the legendary AK-47s and how the agreement paves the way for more collaboration under the Narendra Modi government’s Make in India initiative.

Edited Excerpts:

AK-47 is a popular assault rifle in India and elsewhere. But how is AK-203 superior to AK-47?

AK-203 is a modern assault rifle, absolutely at par with the other modern assault rifles produced globally. The only thing that links it to AK-47 is the legendary unfailing performance Kalashnikov is renowned for. Otherwise, it is a modern technologically wise rifle. The 7.62mm Kalashnikov AK-203 is an individual weapon designed to engage enemy manpower and fire weapons. Its action is based on the use of energy of powder gases diverted from the barrel and brought to the gas chamber.

The assault rifles are provided with Picatinny rails to mount optical, night, day/night, collimator, thermal-imaging rifle scopes, laser target designators, tactical flashlights, additional grips and other compatible accessories for observation and shooting.

The stock can be adjusted for length to suit the individual characteristics of the shooter and folds to the left of the rifle during transportation. The stock length is adjustable within 60 mm in four 20 mm increments.

During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India, both countries signed an agreement for AK-203. When can we expect the delivery to start?

Starting 2019, Russian and Indian specialists have completed a huge amount of preparatory work to optimise the price and tech parameters of the contract. Today, the long-awaited contract for production of more than 600,000 assault rifles in India has been signed. We are ready to start producing the AK-203 assault rifles in India in the upcoming months.

With defence ties strong between the two countries, the partnership under Make in India seems to be taking huge strides. Can we expect Amethi to be the manufacturing hub of assault rifles?

Yes, indeed. The production volumes are huge, more than 600,000 modern assault rifles. The inter-governmental agreement signed in 2019 also foresees that production numbers can be expanded per the requirement of the Indian defence ministry. And one should not forget exports to third countries that is always an option. So, yes, let us hope we are witnessing the birth of a new hub for assault rifles in Amethi under Make in India.

Does Kalashnikov also have plans to invest and Make in India with other weapons and start-ups?

India is a huge lucrative market. Kalashnikov group is not only the legendary producer of assault rifles, but we are also into commercial small arms, high-precision missiles, speed-boats and commercial and military UAVs. There is a huge potential untapped, but let us see.

How was the issue of price negotiated? Now that there is a breakthrough on all issues related to price, how soon will manufacturing start?

India will get its own modern assault rifle at a very competitive price. We assure you, you won’t find a better and cheaper rifle than AK-203, let alone the fact that there is 100% Transfer of Technology (ToT), which is unique in the defence business.

What is the number of AK-203s to be manufactured in Amethi and how many will be bought off-the-shelf from Russia?

More than 600,000 will be manufactured in India, of which 70,000 will be partly manufactured in Russia and partly in India, with localisation level increasing from 15 to 100%.