The government has firmed up plans with Russia to manufacture the famous Kalashnikov rifles in India for the Army, which now has changed specifications that allow AK-103 rifles to fit the bill.
ET has reliably learnt that a high level team headed by the Director General (Acquisitions) in the defence ministry and two representatives from the Ordnance Factory Board will be in Russia later this month to visit and assess the Kalashnikov facility.
The decision to send a team this month was taken following detailed discussions during defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman just-concluded visit to Russia.
India expressed urgency in taking this project forward, asking Russia to fast-track processes so that production can begin in India at the earliest. While Russia had extended the proposal last year, India could not take it forward because it did not fulfil the Army’s requirements.
The Army, however, recently put out new specifications for a 7.62 calibre for its assault rifle of which a small number of a ‘hi-tech rifles’ will be imported for its frontline troops. The remaining, which would be in large numbers, is planned to be manufactured in India.
The AK-103 is meant for the second category, which would make it a mainstay of forces in the hinterland and counter-insurgency operations. Those familiar with the details told ET that the same rifle may be considered for paramilitary forces in the long run. The orders are expected to run into lakhs of units.
According to the arrangement with Russia, a Kalashnikov factory will be set up in India in collaboration with the OFB to cater primarily to its military needs, though there would be no bar on export.
The project will be a major image-makeover Kalashnikov rifles in India, which is better known for its deadly and efficient AK-47 variant. This rifle has been made famous by Pakistan-trained terrorists, mostly in the 1990s when they wreaked havoc on Kashmir and other parts of India, forcing upgrades within the Indian Army.
Also, the preferred calibre for counter-insurgency operations has been 5.56 mm as one of the measures to reduce fatalities from among casualties.
But with the AK-103, the default rifle option will be far more deadly. The rifle has a 500-metre range, which is exactly what the Army had specified and weighs about 3.5 kg without magazine as compared to the indigenous 5.56-mm Insas rifle which weighs a little over 4 kg. The rifle can be fitted with different sights and night-vision devices.