Russia has just signed a deal with the Indian Government to jointly produce over 750,000 new AK-203 rifles. The Indians have long struggled with their notoriously unreliable INSAS rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO. The Indians domestically designed and manufactured hundreds of thousands of INSAS rifles, beginning with its adoption in 1998. The INSAS rifle is based on the AK design, and features a long stroke piston and bolt very similar to that found on the AK-74, Russia’s current service rifle.
The new AK-203 is based on the new AK-100 family of Kalashnikov rifles. Like the AK-74, it features a square gas block. A new muzzle device is said to greatly reduce recoil and help control the rifle better while in full-automatic. The AK-203 still utilizes an identical bolt and piston to other AK rifles, but is built with modularity in mind. New features include a collapsible stock and rails for mounting accessories and optics.
The adoption of the AK-203 represents a complete change of small arms direction for the Indian state. While India has purchased vast quantities of Russian tanks, artillery, and aircraft, their small arms have historically been more in line with those in NATO. The two service cartridges of the Indian Army are currently the 5.56x45mm NATO and the venerable 7.62x51mm NATO. The adoption of the 7.62x39mm Soviet cartridge is very out of place considering the history of Indian small arms procurement.
A recent article from The National Interest had this to say:
Kalashnikov’s previous efforts to expand into the Indian market stalled, among other reasons, due to the Indian preference for assault rifles chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. Why, then, did New Delhi settle for the AK-203 in 7.62х39? There are few military reasons to opt for the smaller 7.62x39 casing, as 7.62x51 rounds will generally travel faster and farther under similar circumstances.
Rather, India’s change of heart likely comes from the logistical and financial benefits of the joint production arrangement between Kalashnikov and India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) production organization. In specific, OFB will hold a 50.5 percent stake in the joint venture. A majority share gives the Indian government access to Kalashnikov’s considerable supply chain and technical expertise, while still retaining long-term political decision-making power over the course of the project.
The joint venture nonetheless marks an early milestone for Russia’s AK200 series, cleared for export in early February just prior to IDEX 2019. It also illustrates what Kalashnikov is sure to take as a positive affirmation of their expansive small arms export strategy, offering their flagship rifle in two different sizes and three distinct chambers so as to appeal to as wide a range of importers as possible. –The National Interest
It will be interesting to see how India’s new AK rifles stack up to the old INSAS. I’d be willing to bet they will be far more reliable, though the 7.62x39mm round is becoming long in the tooth. While other militaries are adopting faster and more powerful cartridges, India seems to have taken 2-3 steps backward.
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