A cure appears to finally be in sight for the Indian government’s disturbing, decades long inability to procure even basic firearms for the Indian Army in any consistent substantial strength. With paperwork ready and detailed documents cleared, India and Russia will shortly conclude an agreement that paves the way for 650,000 Kalashnikov AK-103/203 assault rifles to be built in India for the Army’s infantry units. The rifles will progressively replace the Army’s in-service INSAS and AK-47 rifles.
Livefist learns an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) for a 49.5-50.5 joint venture between JSC Kalashnikov Concern and India’s Ordnance Factory Board will be signed in February 2019. Under the terms of the JV, Kalashnikov and India’s OFB will raise a new facility to manufacture the AK-103 in India, first for the Indian Army on priority, then for other possible Indian customers (including the central police forces) and then for export. The JV also leaves scope for joint development and manufacture of new firearms in country.
The facility where the rifles will be built is in Korwa in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district, a constituency considered a bastion of India’s opposition Congress Party’s first family, the Gandhis. Livefist has learnt that a final announcement will be made by the Indian PM Narendra Modi during his re-election campaign.
“Technical and financial details of the deal are being finalized, and it by the end of 2018 it will be ready to be signed,” sources said. The IGA will be followed by specific contracts that pave the way the actual corporate structure, workshare and manufacture.
While the IGA was widely expected to be signed last month during the India-Russia summit in Delhi when President Putin visited Delhi, the signing of the $5.43 billion deal for S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems justifiably overshadowed pretty much all else. As Alexander Mikheev, head of Russia;s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport had said, it was the biggest in the history of military and technical cooperation between the two countries.
The S-400 deal has seen a very swift journey to conclusion, once again establishing India’s signature ability to land most deals of high value/performance equipment quickly, but remain vulnerable to derailment when it comes to basic equipment — in this case the primary firearm for a soldier deployed in counter-insurgency operations and other infantry duties.
Top sources confirmed to Livefist, “The intergovernmental agreement (IGA) on forming JV for producing the latest Russian 7.62 mm AK-103 assault rifles in line with Make in India policy is likely to be signed by the end of 2018. The JV, once active, will become a next in the line of major joint Russian-Indian military and technical cooperation projects after the benchmark BrahMos and Su-30MKI projects.”
Kalashnikov has been looking for a local production partner since at least 2014, though attempts to forge partnerships with the Indian private sector haven’t borne fruit. Earlier this year, a proposal to tie up with India’s Adani Group were rejected by the Indian government in favour of the state-owned OFB as a partner. This may have had much to do with a major political war brewing over India’s Rafale deal, and allegations that favours to private firms were doled out in the offsets pieces. And under attack by the Opposition for allegedly ‘ignoring’ state-owned HAL for Rafale offsets contracts, the government may have been looking to walk down a path of least resistance — not that the OFB is an unusual partner for such a project. A state-owned gun factory is a relic of India’s socialist foundations — and very much in keeping with how Russia’s own military-industrial complex is structured, though ironically, Russian are increasingly keener to establish ties with India’s private sector going forward.
The two major state-level partnerships between the two countries are the HAL-Sukhoi Su-30MKI production line in Nashik and the DRDO-Mashinostroyenia BrahMos missile project spread across facilities in India and Russia.
For the AK-103s, the Indian government is looking to achieve 100% local content — all raw materials and processing know-how — in the shortest possible time. Contracts will likely stipulate a graded time-scale for localisation, with the Army progressively receiving more ‘Indian’ guns, until later batches are fully and truly locally built. Kalashnikov’s dominant know-how in raw material processing will be large part of the technology infusion for the factory that makes the AK-103 in India. The facility will also house equipment to repair, service and overhaul the weapons.
“The first AK-103s can come out of the factory soon after the agreement and the commercial contracts are signed. So, within less than a year, the Indian MoD can meet its immediate urgent requirement for these weapons,” a Russian official told Livefist.
The 650,000 AK-103s are part of a two-pronged procurement drive by Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat to speed up and optimise the crucial requirement for his frontline soldiers. While the AK-103s will go to regular infantry units, 72,000 of a higher performance rifle type will be deployed with frontline troops in counter-terror roles. In September, Army trials threw up the Sig Sauer SIG 716 as lowest bidder in a contest and UAE-based Caracal’s CAR 816 to meet a requirement of 94,000 close quarter battle carbines.
In 2017, despite pressures to replace the INSAS, the Indian Army rejected two in-country development proposals on quality/performance concerns — the state Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO) proposed Excalibur 5.56mm rifle and the OFB’s own new 7.62mm rifle. It is in the wake of the latter failure to take off that the new Kalashnikov-OFB facility enters the picture.
No breaths held yet, but these two weapons have been declared lowest bidders in the Indian Army's quest for 72,000 assault rifles to replace the in-service INSAS and 94,000 close-quarter battle carbines. pic.twitter.com/ckfQOb4sK0
— Livefist (@livefist) October 2, 2018
The Indian Army’s counter-insurgency forces use a mix of weapons, including the AK-103’s mother weapon, the AK-47 and more recently, the Israeli Tavor TAR-21. The Army’s Special Forces have settled comfortably into batches of American-built M4A1 carbines for anti-terror operations.
The AK-100 series have the following design features: an attachment for mounting under-barrel grenade launchers, a folding plastic butt and a standard mounting rail for installation of optical and night sights; a more sturdy breech locking assembly allowing the use of new higher-performance cartridges; lower total weight of simultaneously moving parts and a muzzle brake-compensator, which provide reduced recoil momentum, increased weapon stability upon firing and lower fire dispersion in automatic fire mode.