Indian Defense Minister will hold a special meeting of the Defense Acquisition Council to discuss the Rs 5,124-crore AK-203 Kalashnikov deal with Russia, the Economic Times reported on Tuesday citing sources.
Rajnath Singh is expected to chair the meeting on Tuesday to officially approve the changes that New Delhi and Moscow have worked out in the Inter-Governmental Agreement. The bilateral deal is supposed to be signed during the forthcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India on December 6.
The Economic Times, however, gave no details of the changes to be made to the contract.
The Russian-designed AK-203 will be manufactured at a plant in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The deal will provide for the production of 601,427 assault rifles for the Indian Armed Forces within 10 years. The first 70,000 assault rifles are expected to be delivered to the Indian army 32 months after the beginning of production.
Signing the contract for AK-203 joint manufacturing lays the groundwork for the Indian Army’s full transition to using AK-203 as a basic assault weapon. New Delhi intends to substitute the Indian Small Arms System rifle with AK-203 which is lighter, more reliable, universal and accurate.
The parties plan to begin the production of AK-203 assault rifles in early 2022.
The initial plan to conclude the deal was announced in 2018. In March 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to launch AK-203 joint manufacturing at the Korwa factory located in north-eastern India.
India inked an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia in January 2019 to co-produce AK-203 rifles under a joint venture, Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL).
The plan envisions the production of 6.71 lakh rifles at the facility, with another hundred thousand to be imported from Russia. The project went through numerous obstacles with New Delhi complaining of “unreasonable and unacceptable” figure quoted by IRRPL.
The Indian defense ministry, consequently, established a five-member costing committee to fix a fair price for the AK-203 rifle.
The Indian Army Chief, Gen. MM Naravane, on January 14, 2021, told The Economic Times that the issues had been sorted and the final contract was expected soon.
“Negotiations are at an advanced stage. There were some last-minute hitches and hiccups and those have been ironed out now. I hope the final contract will be signed soon,” he told the newspaper.
ET quoted sources in the Defense Ministry as saying, that as per the current discussions, the Russian-origin rifles are expected to cost under Rs 70,000 per piece, which is said to be cheaper than the US-origin rifles imported by the Indian Army under an emergency order that cost around Rs 89,000 apiece.
OFB, which is slated to receive the technology for manufacturing the rifle, is reportedly getting a lion’s share of the royalty per rifle, with the Russian company pocketing just over Rs 6,000, against the rifle cost of Rs 70,000.
The new price arrangements have apparently taken the negotiation process forward as is evident with the statement of the Indian Army Chief and Kalashnikov’s chief executive Dmitry Tarasov who said the company may start producing the rifle in India this year.
However, the two countries have given no public statement on when the production will take place and whether the price sharing issues have been fully resolved.
“We are hoping to launch production of AK-203 rifles at our joint venture in India this year. I feel it is a long-term trend so other examples will follow soon,” he told news agency Reuters.
However, the inordinate delay in the production of the rifles has irked the military circles amid heightening conflicts with neighboring countries. The Indian Army has been forced to use the unreliable and domestically produced INSAS rifle, developed by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by OFB. INSAS rifles have been in use for the last two decades as standard-issue assault rifles.
The unreliability and inefficiency of INSAS have been affecting the operational capabilities of the army for a long time. The troops in battle do not trust the indigenously-made rifle and occasionally swap them with the more efficient AK-47 when on the frontlines.
The Indian government, since 2018, has fast-tracked the hunt for a replacement of INSAS, with the Defense Ministry finally zeroing in on the Russian-made AK-203.
The AK-203 comes with many ergonomic improvements compared to previous AK versions that are required in modern warfare. The rifle comes with modern design features such as folding and adjustable buttstock, windowed and rifled magazine, and a pistol grip which makes it more ergonomic.
There is a provision for the installation of modern sighting systems and accessories, such as optical and/or optoelectronic scopes, thermal imaging, and collimator sights.
Compared to INSAS, the AK-203 augments combat and tactical capabilities drastically, with far better efficiency and range. Picatinny rails make the AK203 extremely versatile as the operator can install the whole range of tactical equipment.
Most importantly, the rifle weighs just 3.8 kg, while the weight of INSAS is around 4.5 kg, which is another downside of the Indian-made rifle.
The induction of the rifle, designed by Kalashnikov Concern, is expected to add a decisive edge to the Indian armed forces. However, the production and induction have to be fast-tracked to meet the urgent requirements of the forces.
- Via Sputnik News Agency
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