From Russia with bullets?
The AK-203 eschews the infamous jamming and temperature operability problems plaguing the INSAS rifle, while boasting superior a lighter weight, shorter length, and modern assault rifle ergonomics.
From air defence systems to nuclear submarines, the Soviet Union has enjoyed a longstanding, profitable defence export relationship with India. However, both the USSR and its Russian successor state have historically struggled to break into the Indian small arms market.
After decades of impasse, it appears that the Kremlin has found a solution in the form of Kalashnikov’s new AK-203 rifle.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a new, jointly-administered AK-203 production venture at the Korwa small arms production plant in North Eastern India.
President Putin greeted the occasion with a celebratory telegram, stressing the ways in which Russian defence technology complements India’s national security interests: “The new joint venture will manufacture world-famous Kalashnikov assault rifles of the newest 200 series and eventually will reach full localization of production. Thus, the Indian defence-industrial sector will have the opportunity to fulfil the needs of national security agencies in this category of small arms, resting upon advanced Russian technologies.”
The Kalashnikov venture marks the end of New Delhi’s long, tortured search for a successor to the unreliable INSAS rifle that has served as the mainstay of the Indian armed forces since 1998. The AK-203, a 7.62х39 export variant of Kalashnikov new AK-12, boasts across-the-board performance improvements as compared with its INSAS counterpart.
The AK-203 eschews the infamous jamming and temperature operability problems plaguing the INSAS rifle, while boasting superior a lighter weight, shorter length, and modern assault rifle ergonomics. The latter includes polymer handguards, a picatinny rail, and an adjustable buttstock; while individually negligible, these features add up to an overall improved handling experience.
But the deal, signed for a whopping 750,000 AK-203 rifles with 40,000 to be directly imported, is no less significant from the perspective of the Russian arms export business. Would it have been more profitable in the short term to simply sell India 750,000 AK-203’s? Perhaps, but Rosoboronexport– Russia’s official defence exporting agency– hopes that this deal will give Kalashnikov a foothold in the Indian firearms industry for decades to come.
As Rosobornexport CEO Alexander Mikheev points out, the AK-203 is just the speartip of Kalashnikov’s plans for the Indian market: “The capacity of the plant is sufficient to arm the personnel of all security agencies in India.