The Army is likely to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in a month for the procurement of over 7.5 lakh AK-203 assault rifles, which are to be manufactured locally by an India-Russia joint venture (JV), a Defence source said.
“About 1 lakh rifles will come directly from Russia and the remaining will be manufactured by the JV in India. The MoU should be signed in a month,” a Defence official said.
The rifles will be manufactured by the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh. The facility is being set up between the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) from the Indian side, and Rosoboron Exports and Kalashnikov on the Russian side. The OFB owns 50.5% equity and Russian side holds the remaining 49.5%. The JV was formed following the Inter-governmental Agreement between India and Russia in February 2019.
To have oversight over the process and ensure timely deliveries, the Army has appointed Major General Sanjeev Senger as the Chief Executive Officer of IRRPL. Officials said the JV has obtained all the requisite licences for production and export. The Ministry of Defence has already floated a Request For Proposal (RFP) to the JV for the supply of 6.71 lakh rifles.
Reviewing the operationalisation of the project few months back, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had stressed on the need “for 100% indigenisation of the rifle as per the project understanding, and focusing on the export of the rifles from IRRPL to other friendly countries”.
Other Small Arms
In addition to the AK-203, the Army recently began inducting the first batch of 10,000 SIG-716 assault rifles. Troops engaged in counter insurgency operations in the Army’s Northern Command have started receiving these rifles, sources said. The rifles are being procured under a contract signed in February 2019 with Sig Sauer of the U.S. for 72,400 SIG-716 assault rifles worth over ₹700 crore.
The initial idea was to equip the entire Army with the SIG-716, one officer said. He added that given the huge cost, it was decided that the rifles would be provided to frontline troops, while the remaining forces can be equipped with AK-203 rifles. “It was decided based on the requirement,” he stated.
The Army has been looking to replace the indigenous INSAS (Indian National Small Arms System) rifles in use with a modern rifle. The MoD had approved the procurement in January 2018 through the Fast Track Procurement route. Of the 72,400 rifles, 66,400 are for the Army, 2,000 for the Navy and 4,000 for the Air Force. The entire quantity is expected to be delivered within 12 months from the date of signing the contract.