We have been closely following India’s tentative steps towards modernisation of her Army’s small arms and the replacement of the INSAS rifle. It seemed that with the selection of Kalashnikov Concern’s AK-203 that India had selected a rifle suited to its soldier’s needs but recent reports suggest that the progress toward beginning production of the new rifles may have stalled.
India’s Economic Times recently reported that the factory established to produced the new Indian AK-203’s won’t begin work before the end of 2020. The delay has been attributed not only to delays related to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic but also “over differences in pricing”. The price for the establishing of the factory, tooling up and production of at least 670,000 rifles was forecast to be agreed at the end of May.
Back in February, we took a look at the differences between the Russian AK-203 and the planned Indian AK-203. We noted that the Indian configuration retains the AK-203’s railed top cover, contoured ergonomic pistol grip and its muzzle device. However, the Indian Army has not opted for the Russian 203’s adjustable buttstock, instead opting for the simpler AK-103 folding stock and a handguard with no top rail. The Indian configuration, as it stands, also lacks the Russian 203’s finger tab for easier manipulation without moving the right hand too far off the pistol grip.
With a potential order for 750,000 rifles, the scope of the contract is huge with a potential cost reported in 2018 of $2.5 billion. While the Indian government appeared to announce the agreement over 12 months ago, we have been waiting for further news on the signing of a contract for the production of the new rifles. It has been suggested that the order is now estimated to be worth just under $2 billion – this yet to be officially confirmed as negotiations continue.
A joint venture company, Indo Rifles, has been formed with 50-50 ownership split between India’s state Ordnance Factory Board and Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern/Rosoboronexport. Production is planned at a plant in Amethi. The Amethi factory is projected to create at least 200 new jobs and produce over 70,000 rifles a year.
Also worth noting are the Indian government’s plans to reform India’s state-operated Ordnance Factory Board. With plans to corporatise the OFB announced at the beginning of May by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman more than 40 of India’s ordnance factories are now on the verge of strike action. The OFB is certainly in need of reform, whether corporatisation is the right method to achieve this is unclear.
The Indian government’s planned corporatisation of the OFB would, in theory, improve accountability, efficiency and autonomy while also allowing increased foreign investment. Unions and workers, however, are concerned that the move would inevitably see factory closures and job losses as the private sector struggles to make India’s massive defense industry profitable – while also maintaining capacity in the event of a war. The OFB factories employ over 80,000 workers and the three main unions have agreed to on strike action in July, although it has been confirmed that any strikes will be deferred if tensions between China and India continue to rise.