India and Russia on Monday concluded a much-awaited ₹5,100-crore deal to jointly produce more than 600,000 AK-203 assault rifles at a facility in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district to advance self-reliance in defence manufacturing, officials said.
The deal was finalised at the 20th meeting of India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military & Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-M&MTC) led by defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu.
The two countries also renewed their military-technical cooperation arrangement for 2021-31, the officials said, requesting anonymity. The IRIGC-M&MTC meeting took place ahead of the annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
The government had on Saturday announced that it had cleared the plan to manufacture AK-203 rifles in Uttar Pradesh in a joint venture called Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) that was formed by Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited and Munitions India Limited, and Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Kalashnikov. The Indian and the Russian entities hold a share capital of 50.5% and 49.5%, respectively.
Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited and Munitions India Limited are two of the seven defence firms carved out of the erstwhile Ordnance Factory Board in October.
Singh described Russia as India’s long-standing special and privileged strategic partner, adding the relations between the two countries were time-tested and based on shared interests in multilateralism and global peace and prosperity. He said the close cooperation with Russia was not targeted against another country. “We hope that our cooperation will bring peace, prosperity and stability to the entire region,” the defence minister said.
The AK-203 rifles will replace INSAS rifles inducted more than three decades ago.
“The contract ends the long quest of Indian Army to replace the aging INSAS rifles with a modern weapon. The AK-203 assault rifle with proven technology will enhance the combat potential of soldiers to adequately meet present and future operational challenges,” said a senior government official. The 7.62mm X 39mm caliber AK-203 rifle has an effective range of 300 metre.
AK-203 is a reliable weapon with reduced flash and recoil, better ergonomics and other modern features, and it will boost the morale of soldiers, he added.
The agreement envisages the production of 601,247 rifles, of which the first 70,000 will be made with transfer of technology from Kalashnikov to IRRPL. The remaining 531,000 rifles will be fully indigenous, the officials said.
The entire lot of 601,247 rifles will be produced in 10 years, they added. India and Russia signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the AK-203 project in February 2018.
“The Kalashnikov series weapons are the simplest to operate, they are tested weapons and the metallurgy is one of the best. It will enhance the existing small arms capability of the army,” said former Northern Army commander Lt General BS Jaswal (retd).
The two countries also signed protocols on amending a 2019 agreement between India and Russia on cooperation in the field of manufacturing Kalashnikov series small arms in the country, and on military and military technical cooperation to discuss and implement agreed agenda for defence cooperation, the officials said.
There was no official word from the government on the delivery of the first squadron of S-400 air defence systems – part of a $5.4-billion contract with Russia for five systems – but it is expected to be completed anytime. Russian officials have said the delivery of components for the air defence systems has begun.
Against the backdrop of US threats to impose secondary sanctions on the S-400 deal under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the officials said India follows a policy of strategic autonomy when it comes to defence procurements and national security interests.