Will India still make Russian AK-203 Assault Rifles? Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last month, India has been the only major U.S. partner to not condemn Russia. India also abstained from the UN Security Council and General Assembly votes on the Russian invasion, arguing that sanctions are not a solution to the crisis. Instead, New Delhi called for the two warring sides to return to the diplomatic table.
India’s reaction wasn’t unexpected.
After developing strong relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, India continued its special relationship with Moscow even as it moved closer to the West. Russia continues to be a major supplier of small arms to India, and that has included combat aircraft, tanks, and even the S-400 “Triumf” air-defense system – for which the United States even threatened to impose sanctions against India.
As part of the Indian efforts to produce more military hardware domestically, Moscow and New Delhi had inked a deal last July, where India would manufacture the AK-203 assault rifle as part of a joint venture, the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited. Now due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – described as an “ongoing crisis” by India media – implementation of the deal has been delayed by at least several months.
India would become the first country to begin the production of the AK-203, outside of Russia.
The gas-operated, magazine-fed, select-fire assault rifle is chambered in the 7.62x39mm cartridge – the same round used in the ubiquitous AK-47 and AKM assault rifles that were reportedly developed by Mikhail Kalashnikov during the early stages of the Cold War. The AK-203 is the latest iteration of the AK series of assault rifles, and is an improved version of the AK-103, which was designed by Kalashnikov in 1994.
As with the AK-103, the AK-203 can be fitted with a variety of sights, including night vision and telescopic sights, as well as a knife-bayonet or a grenade launcher including the GP-34. It is fitted with a Picatinny rail, which also allows for the mounting of additional accessories. The AK-103/203 is also noted for utilizing plastic components where possible instead of wood or metal to reduce weight.
Moving Forward Despite “Ukraine Crisis”
In December, Alexander Mikheev, director-general of Rosoboronexport – the sole state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports/imports of defense-related and dual-use products, technologies, and services – told The Hindu news outlet that manufacturing of the AK-203 rifles at the plant in Uttar Pradesh was likely to begin early this year and reach full-scale production within two to three years.
A modern production line has already been established, while a small arms range has been set up where both factory and acceptance tests of assault rifles will be carried out. The first 70,000 AK-203 rifles will be produced in India with a phased increase in the extent of “localization” of components, gradually increasing from five to 70 percent. An additional 600,000 rifles will be produced with 100 percent localization, meeting the demands of New Delhi’s Make in India and Self-Reliant India campaigns.
“We hope that the AK-203 will begin to be manufactured in the near future. At the moment, purely technical final touches are being put to the contract,” Russia’s ambassador in New Delhi, Denis Alipov, told Russian media last week.
Despite the fact that India will most likely move forward with the deal to domestically produce the AK-203 rifles for its military, it has been seen to be hedging its bets. In February 2019, the Indian Defence Ministry also signed a deal with U.S.-based Sig Sauer to procure 72,400 SIG-716 assault rifles through Fast Track Procurement (FTP). The order was then doubled in 2020, and weapons have been delivered to the Indian Army and have been provided to frontline troops involved in counter-insurgency operations. The rifles have reportedly been modified to suit “local needs.”
Both the SIG-716 and AK-203 rifles are to replace the existing Indian Small Arms System (Insas) 5.556x45mm rifles that were manufactured locally by the Ordnance Factories board.
India has the second-largest standing army in the world, with more than 1.2 million active troops, and it has been undergoing a comprehensive firearms procurement process that was developed to advance the capabilities of its infantrymen.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.