India is set to undertake the domestic production of the Russian AK-203, which will replace the INSAS rifle as the standard issue rifle for troops

The last hurdles have been removed for the production of the Russian AK-203 assault rifle in India, which are set to replace the misfiring and much-criticised INSAS rifle as the standard issue for Indian troops. The deal for the AK-203, which carries the iconic stamp of the Kalashnikov family of weapons, aims at the full localisation of the materials and resources for its production, thus coming as a shot in the arm for the Make-In India endeavour. Here’s what you need to know.

What Had Held Up Production of AK-203s In India?

The proposal for the production of the advanced AK-203 rifles was first announced in 2018 but the deal was hanging fire over the issue of pricing and transfer of technology for the weapons. However, after Russia agreed to waive the royalty payment for sharing the technical knowhow, reports said that decks have now been cleared for the factory at Korwa in UP’s Amethi district to commence production.

The deal for the production of over 6 lakh Ak-203 rifles is set to be worth over Rs 5,000 crore and is expected to be inked later this year with production to begin next year, reports said. Amid delays in getting the deal finalised, India had earlier this year moved to buy 70,000 AK-203 rifles off the shelf from Russia with the purchase of a tranche of the US-made SIG Sauer 716 assault rifles, too, having been authorised under emergency provisions.

The pricing issue revolved around the requirements of achieving full indigenisation vis-a-vis the manufacture of the weapon in India, including the transfer of technology. Reports said that the cost of producing it domestically was working out to be higher than what it would take to import the rifles. But with Russia agreeing to drop a royalty fee on each rifle to be produced in India, the pricing issue has been sorted, reports said.

Why Is India Eyeing New Rifles?

The AK-203s will be replacing the standard issue INSAS, short for Indian Small Arms System, rifles that were designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and began to be inducted in the 1990s. Several issues have been reported with the INSAS rifle down the years and, in 2017, the Centre decided it was time to find a better replacement.

Among the several reported drawbacks of the INSAS rifle were a tendency to jam, or its transparent magazine cracking during in freezing temperatures. Troops in combat areas and those conducting counter-terrorism or anti-Naxal operations are said to routinely swap out their INSAS rifles for the AK-47 or other imported rifles.

Further, the INSAS rifle, with its smaller 5.56×45mm calibre bullets, was regarded as built more to injure and incapacitate targets rather than neutralise them. All that changes, however, with the decision to induct the AK-203, which comes with the pedigree of belonging to the legendary Russian Automatic Kalshnikov stable.

According to Russian defence export agency Rosobornexport, the AK-203 iteration of the AK platform comes improves “fire accuracy and barrel lifespan considerably" while “modern design features such as folding and adjustable buttstock, windowed and rifled magazine, and a pistol grip made this assault rifle more ergonomic".

How Does The AK-203 Compare With The INSAS Rifle?

The AK-203 is lighter, shorter and deadlier than the INSAS rifle.

Even without the magazine and the bayonet, the INSAS rifle weighs 4.15kg while the AK-203’s empty weight is 3.8kg. The length of the INSAS rifle is 960mm without the bayonet while the AK-203 has a length of 705mm with the stock folded.

Against the 5.56×45mm bullets used by INSAS, the AK-203 uses 7.62x39mm bullets, which makes it more lethal. INSAS has an effective range of 400m while AK-403 is said to have a sighting range of 800m. The AK-203 magazine carries 30 bullets against the 20 round capacity of the INSAS rifle.

Reports say that while the INSAS can fire single shots and in three-round bursts, the AK-203 rifle can be used in automatic and semi-automatic mode. Also, while the INSAS rifle has a better fire rate of 650 bullets per minute, the AK-203 with its 600 bullets per minute rate is, however, seen as providing greater accuracy.

How Will The AK-203 Deal Help With Make In India?

The production of the AK-203 will be undertaken in India by the Indo-Russia Rifles Pvt Ltd (IRRPL), which was created as a joint venture between the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) and the Russian entities Rosoboronexport and Concern Kalashnikov. OFB holds 50.5 per cent stake in the concern with the Russian entities accounting for the remaining 49.5 per cent share.

The JV was formed as a result of an inter-governmental agreement signed between India and Russia in February 2019. A Defence Ministry statement in 2019 had said that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had stressed on 100 per cent indigenisation of production of the AK-203s while officials had noted that the JV “when fully operational is expected to source a number of components and services from MSMEs".

This is expected to bring in investment and employment in the region with IRRPL officials noting “the potential of the project to act as catalyst for UP Defence Corridor", bringing in investment and employment in the region.

Further, it is reported that IRRPL will also be taking up exports of the weapon to other countries after the commencement of production at the Korwa factory.