New Delhi: India and Russia Thursday signed a deal for the immediate off-the-shelf procurement of 70,000 latest AK series of assault rifles, ThePrint has learnt.
The development comes even as both countries work on a bigger project to jointly manufacture 6 lakh AK-203 rifles in India, a deal which has been pending since 2018.
According to sources in the defence and security establishment, while the initial plan was to directly import 20,000 of the 7.62×39mm AK 203 rifle and jointly manufacture 6.5 lakh of them in India, the delay in joint production meant that more of them had to be bought off the shelf.
The off-the-shelf equipment could include multiple variants of the AK series since the basic difference is the accessories that are fitted to the rifle.
Defence sources said that the procurement is being done through an emergency contract by one of the three services.
The contract was signed between the Ministry of Defence and Russian representatives, in the presence of officials from Indo-Russia Rifles Pvt Ltd — a rifle-manufacturing firm that will lead the indigenous production of AKs in India, sources told ThePrint. These rifles are expected to begin arriving in the country from November this year.
Eventually, the AK 203 will replace the 5.56×45mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles that are currently in use with the Army, Navy and the Air Force besides other security forces and will become the mainstay of the armed forces for years to come.
The Indian armed forces also use the American SIG716 rifles, which are chambered for the 7.62×51 mm round and were procured by the Army under a fast-tracked process.
The frontline infantry soldiers will be equipped with the SIG while the rest will use the AK-203.
Next target joint production
Sources noted that work is also underway to begin the indigenous production of 6 lakh AK-203 rifles in India by the Indo-Russia Rifles Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the Kalashnikov Concern (manufacturer of the AK rifles) and Rosoboronexport — the Russian state agency for military exports.
Under the proposed deal, the joint venture has to achieve 100 per cent localised sourcing of materials for the rifle within one-and-half years of beginning the production line.
The deal was first announced in 2018 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had even inaugurated the production facility at the Korwa Ordnance Factory in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district in March 2019.
However, the entire project hit a roadblock over price negotiations as the OFB was quoting a higher price than the Russian product actually cost in import.
The higher price was because of the extra hours it will take to manufacture the rifle in India and other issues including Transfer of Technology and the 100 per cent localisation of sources for the product.
The defence ministry had to set up a committee to look into this issue and a resolution was arrived at.
In August last year, sources had said that the deal was finalised and the contract is undergoing legal vetting.
The final contract was expected to be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India in late 2020. However, the visit did not take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The formal contract for the joint production is expected to be inked soon.