New Delhi: The long-pending AK 203 rifles deal with Russia, under Make in India, has been finalised and a final contract is being legally vetted by both sides before the signing process, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the production of the over 6 lakh rifles would begin by the end of this year, and that they have export potential as well.
Under the deal, the first 20,000 AK 203 rifles, which will be the mainstay of the armed forces for years to come, will be imported from Russia at a cost of about $1,100 (or Rs 80,000) a piece depending on the conversion rate.
The rest of the guns are to be manufactured in India as part of a joint venture — Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited — established between the Indian Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Kalashnikov Concern, and Rosoboronexport, the Russian state agency for military exports. While OFB has a 50.5 per cent stake in the joint venture, Kalashnikov has 42 per cent and Rosoboronexport 7.5 per cent.
The cost of these Make in India rifles would be a “little less” than what the imported ones will cost, the sources said, refusing to get into specifics.
The deal was first announced in 2018 amid tremendous excitement, but hit a roadblock over price negotiations, with the OFB quoting a higher price than the Russian product because of the extra man hours it would take and other issues.
The defence ministry had even constituted a committee to break this logjam.
The delay had forced the Army to order SiG 716 rifles from the US under a fast-tracked process to arm its frontline troops. With 72,000 SiG rifles already delivered, the Army is now pursuing emergency procurement of another 72,000.
“The contract for AK 203 is undergoing legal vetting and would be inked very soon,” a source said.
ThePrint had reported on 13 August that the AK 203 production has become a top priority for the Narendra Modi government and every effort is being made to get it going fast.
A modern assault rifle
The AK-203 is one of the most modern assault rifles from the stable of Kalashnikov Concern, which churns out the famous AK-series rifles, including AK-47.
The rifle is chambered to fire 7.62×39 mm ammunition (same as the AK-47).
The new rifles will replace the 5.56×45 mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System), which have been in use for over two decades.
Compared to the AK-103, which was originally meant for joint production, the AK-203 comes with collapsible stock that can be adjusted according to the shooter’s height.
There is a different safety mechanism for the rifle, because of which the soldier does not have to lose contact with the grip when changing firing modes during an operation.
There is also a new flash hider that comes handy when the assault rifle is used with night vision, as flash from the firing of a bullet can hamper visibility.
The rifle comes with a new barrel and also an interchangeable magazine with the standard 30 and 50 rounds.
The AK 47 magazine can be used with the AK 203.
Interestingly, the government had appointed Major General Sanjeev Sengar as the CEO of the Amethi factory where the rifles would be manufactured.
The decision to appoint a serving Major General as the Amethi factory’s CEO is a first in decades for the Army.
The Army has been concerned over low quality and delivery problems when it comes to ordnance factories’ products, so if this new model for the AK-203 factory is successful, it might just pave the way for a new set-up to oversee such facilities.