Ahead of the India-Russia Annual Summit on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed several key agreements, contracts and protocols to continue the bilateral relationship on the military cooperation front. One of the most important among these was the signing of the deal to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles in India. India and Russia have also renewed their military-technical cooperation arrangement for the next 10 years till 2031.
According to a government source, “In an endeavour to provide a big boost to self-reliance in defense manufacturing in India, the government has approved the plan for production of over five lakh AK-203 assault rifles at Korwa, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.”
With the ratification of the deal worth Rs 5,100 crores, the joint production of over 5,00,000 AK-203 assault rifles in an Amethi facility has been approved. The deal was finalised during the bilateral meet of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu. The deal was passed as a joint venture called the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL), which will be implemented by Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited, Munitions India Limited, and Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Kalashnikov.
Noting that the talk with his Russian counterpart was “productive, fruitful and substantial”, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh wrote in a tweet, “India deeply appreciates Russia’s strong support for India. We hope that our cooperation will bring peace, prosperity and stability to the entire region. Glad that a number of agreements/contracts/protocols were signed pertaining to small arms and military cooperation.”
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi wrote on Twitter, “Further reinforcing the unique, enduring and mutually beneficial nature of our strategic partnership. The inaugural #IndiaRussia 2+2 Dialogue gets underway, with political and defence issues of mutual interest on the agenda.” He added that it was a “milestone in the India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.
The AK-203 assault rifles from Russia will replace the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) rifles used for over three decades. It was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) last week. There had been several virtual discussions between 15 groups eyeing economic collaborations between the two countries for the past two years, during which, the two sides have increased the target for two-way investment to $50 billion by 2025 from $30 billion achieved in 2018.
In February 2019, the two countries had signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for AK-203 rifles and had set up the joint venture IRRPL. The project has been delayed due to high cost, and issues related to Transfer of Technology and indigenous content. The Defence Ministry also had to acquire the rifles off the shelf earlier for immediate requirement of the Indian Army.
AK-203 Assault Rifles
A derivative of AK-47, the AK-203 assault rifles have 7.62×39 mm caliber with an effective range of 300 metres. The rifles are also light-weighted, robust and easy to use. Used globally by several national militaries, the rifles are also a preferred weapon of terrorist groups. However, the modern and technologically advanced rifles are expected to cater to the Indian Armed Forces’ ease to deal with the operational challenges, especially in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations. Furthermore, the project is also envisaged to boost several local Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and concerned defence related industries providing the raw materials, thereby, creating self-reliance.
Putin’s Visit To India
Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting India on December 6 and 7 as part of the annual summit, his first foreign trip in nearly six months and second trip abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic began. During the summit, agreements in trade, space, technology and energy are also expected to be signed. Dialogues on intense engagement on issues like bilateral cooperation in trade, connectivity, energy and regional security concerns like the geo-political tension due to the Taliban overtaking Afghanistan, will also be taken up.
In a statement released last month, the Ministry of External Affairs mentioned, “The leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations and discuss ways to further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.” During a virtual meet in September, PM Modi had said, “The friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time. You have always been a great friend of India.”