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India to import 70,000 AK-203 assault rifles for army

India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has decided to import 70,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles from Russia as part of an emergency purchase to meet urgent operational requirements of the Indian Army (IA).

Military sources told Janes on 23 August that the deal for the AK-203 7.62 mm rifles was signed on 19 August between the MoD and Indo-Russian Private Limited (IRPL), the latter of which is a joint venture formed in early 2019 to licence-build about 700,000 units of this rifle for the Indian military.

They said delivery of the 70,000 rifles is scheduled to begin later this year and be completed by mid-2022. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

According to an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) between Moscow and New Delhi, India was initially expected to directly import only about 40,000 AK-203s ahead of IRPL locally licence-building another 710,000-odd rifles at a state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) facility in north India.

However, delays in agreeing on the joint production due to price differences and technology transfer issues has resulted in New Delhi deciding to increase the number of imported AK-203s to 70,000 rifles.

The AK-203s will replace the indigenously developed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56 mm assault rifles that entered IA service in the mid-1990s, but were declared ‘operationally inadequate‘ by the service in 2010.

The AK-203s, which will be issued to frontline IA units deployed on counter-insurgency operations and along India's disputed borders with China and Pakistan, will also supplement about 72,400 SIG716 7.62 mm assault rifles supplied to India by US small arms manufacturer SIG Sauer under a February 2019 contract for INR6.68 billion (USD86 million).

In late 2020 the Indian MoD also approved the procurement of an equal number of SIG716 rifles for INR7.8 billion.

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