Defence cooperation is an important pillar of the India-Russia strategic partnership. Discussions on “additional” production of Russian military equipment in India have been going on between the two countries for quite some time. “We have confirmed our determination towards the development of military-technical cooperation,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in April this year.
This idea of joint defence production also fits in well with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship make-in-India programme. Many defence collaborations are being crafted on the lines of this very idea. One such collaboration with Russia – regarding the production of AK 203 rifles and Ka-226T helicopters in Indian factories – has been in news for quite sometime due to delays in beginning the project.
‘Off the shelf’ procurement of 70,000 AK rifles from Russia
Now, India has finally signed a deal with Russia for the procurement of 70,000 AK-203 assault rifles to be bought off the shelf. Army is also trying to buy a limited number of Kamov-226 helicopters off the shelf to meet immediate shortage of light utility helicopters.
The development happens in spite of the joint venture of both the countries to manufacture 7.5 lakh AK-203 rifles in India. Reportedly, the deliveries would begin within three months and be completed in six months.
*Procurement of 200 Ka-226T helicopters*
An agreement to procure 200 Ka-226T twin-engine utility helicopters estimated to cost over $1 billion, was inked by India and Russia in 2015. It was established that 60 helicopters will directly be imported by India and the rest 140 will be manufactured by A Joint venture ‘India Russia Helicopters Limited’ formed between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russian Helicopters.
However, the deal has been hanging over the percentage of indigenous content which as per the RFP should reach 70% in phases.
Putting a stop to the long delay, Army has approached Defence Ministry, seeking its nod to procure a limited number of helicopters immediately as it is in urgent need of replacing the ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters.
Why AK 203 assault rifles?
AK-203 assault rifle is considered to be the latest and most advanced version of the AK-47 rifle. It is a 7.62×39mm variant from the AK-100 rifle family (one that offers the AK-74M system, in multiple cartridges and lengths).
This variant is expected to replace the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56×45 mm assault rifle, that are presently being used by Army, Navy and the Air Force besides other security forces. According to officials, INSAS rifles are not suitable for use at high altitude. Several other issues with these rifles include gun jamming, oil leakage etc.
*AK 203: Strengths & Advantages*
Popular because of robust mechanics and simplicity of operation, these rifles have been tested under the conditions of extreme heat and cold. This variant is an advanced version of AK-47 and its magazine can hold 30 bullets.
Unlike the INSAS rifles, these rifles never get jammed as these belong to AK series. These rifles are a type of Kalashnikov rifles, which can work under extreme climatic conditions and are effective even in sand, soil and water.
These rifles also offer high degree of versatility, adjustability and customizability The 7.62 mm ammunition in AK-203 gun is NATO grade and therefore more powerful. The rifle, which can fire 600 bullets in one minute, means 10 bullets in a second, can be used in automatic and semi-automatic mode.
Having an effective range of 400 metre, these guns are considered 100% accurate and provide better ergonomics and density of fire as compared to earlier Kalashnikov rifles.
Manufacturing of 7.5 lakh AK-203 rifles in Uttar Pradesh
India and Russia had signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) in February 2019 for production of AK 203 assault rifles. For this, a Joint venture was formed between Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) on the Indian side, and Rosonboron Exports and Concern Kalashnikov on the Russian side.
This led to the establishment of a rifle-manufacturing factory ‘Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL)’ in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. The factory (IRRPL) owns license to produce these very 7.5 lakh AK-203 rifles, 70,000 of which are now being bought off the shelf by India.
Other India-Russia bilateral projects currently underway include indigenous production of T-90 tanks and Su-30-MKI aircraft, supply of MiG-29-K aircraft and Kamov-31 and Mi-17 helicopters, upgrade of MiG-29 aircraft and supply of Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher Smerch. Both the countries have also collaborated to develop and produce supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles in India.