As the Indian army seeks to gradually distance itself from its failed INSAS service rifle experiment, the country’s frontline troops will soon find themselves moving back towards wielding Russian weapons — albeit ones that are built in India.
Thanks to an expansive partnership between three main entities, the Indian Ordnance Factory Board, and Russian companies Rosonboronexport and Kalashnikov Concern will jointly produce a version of Kalashnikov’s AK-200 series, the AK-203 — the rifle India has seemingly hedged a hefty portion of its small arms aspirations on during a gigantic long-term military overhaul.
Together, the partnership will take the form of “Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited,” based in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The outgoing 1B1 INSAS rifle as well as the aged AKM, both of which serve as the standard rifles of the Indian army’s conventional forces, will find themselves superseded by the AK-203 in the coming years.
Basically a derivative of the AK-74M — the current standard service rifle of the Russian Federation — the AK-203 is a select fire rifle chambered for the intermediate 7.62x39 mm cartridge with modernized furniture that’ll allow end users to customize the gun’s combat loadout with flashlights, lasers, etc.
Unlike AKs of the past, the AK-203 comes with a folding buffer tube-style adjustable stock, as well as a full-length upper Picatinny rail, which allows end-users to add on a considerable variety of sights and scopes without the need for a special AK optics mount.
Overall, India expects to produce over 750,000 units of the AK-203, which some have declared the most advanced spawn of the AK rifle platform to date.
While the AK-203 seems to be the gun the Indian military will likely make its primary service rifle, the Indian Ministry of Defence has already committed itself to buying and building a considerable number of other guns to fulfill similar roles, leading to an incredibly ambitious and diverse long-term small arms procurement plan.
Just earlier this year, the Indian military inked contracts with SIG Sauer and UAE-based Caracal for tens of thousands of new rifles in a buy worth a combined $503 million. SIG will deliver the Indian Army 72,400 SIG 716 battle rifles chambered for 7.62 NATO, while Caracal will deliver 94,000 units of its CAR816 assault rifle chambered for 5.56 NATO.
In addition to fielding the AK-203, the SIG 716, and the CAR816, India is also in the process of developing a next-generation home-grown rifle known as the Multi-Caliber Individual Weapon System, or F-INSAS.
Essentially a mixture of an AR-15, the FN FNC, and the AK platform, the F-INSAS is a short-stroke piston operated gun that can be quickly reconfigured to fire 3 distinct cartridges — 5.56x45 mm NATO, 6.8 mm Remington SPC, and 7.62x39 mm.
However, it’s still unclear whether this rifle will be an eventual follow-on/replacement to the AK-203, or will serve alongside it.