Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday laid the foundation stone for a manufacturing unit of the AK-203/103 assault rifle at the Korwa ordnance factory in the Amethi district of Uttar Pradesh. The AK-203 is the latest and most advanced version of the legendary AK-47 rifle, the most abundant firearm the world has ever known.
New Delhi and Moscow signed an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) in the third week of February to build the AK-203 in India. A formal contract is yet to be signed, but the first of an estimated 7,50,000 AK-203 rifles are expected to roll off the production line later this year.
In a message read out by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at Sunday’s ceremony, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said: “The new joint venture will manufacture the world famous Kalashnikov assault rifles of the newest 200 series, and eventually will reach full localisation of production.
“Thus, the Indian defence-industrial sector will have the opportunity to fulfil the needs of national security agencies in this category of small arms, resting upon advanced Russian technologies.”
India and Russia had reached an agreement on producing the Kalashnikov rifles in India during the visit of President Putin to India in October 2018.
The new rifle
The AK-203’s magazine can hold 30 bullets. The rifle has an effective range of 400 metres and is considered to be 100% accurate. It will be lighter and shorter than an INSAS rifle. It can host an underbarrel grenade launcher or a bayonet, and all versions can be equipped with quick-detachable tactical sound suppressors.
The 7.62 mm ammunition in the AK-203 rifle is NATO grade and, therefore, more powerful. The rifle, which can fire 600 bullets in one minute — or 10 bullets in a second — can be used in both automatic and semi-automatic modes.
The most important quality of the AK-series rifles is that they never get jammed. The Kalashnikovs can work under extreme climatic conditions and are effective even in sand, soil and water.
The original one
The AK-47 was first produced by engineers of Stalin’s USSR, working in secret at the Machine, Engineering, and Motor Plant Complex in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia republic in the Ural mountains, about 1,200 km east of Moscow.
The rifle, the celebrated war correspondent and weapons expert C J Chivers wrote in ‘The Gun’, his magisterial 2010 biography of the AK-47, was unusual-looking at the time: “a blend of design choices no existing Western army was willing yet to make,… midsized in important measures — shorter than the infantry rifles it would displace but longer than the submachine guns that had been in service for thirty years”.
The rifle’s medium-powered cartridge was “not powerful enough for long-range sniping duty, but (had) adequate energy to strike lethally and cause terrible wounds within the ranges at which almost all combat occurs”. It was, Chivers wrote, “a breakthrough arm” of the kind that “none of the Soviet Union’s Cold War opponents had managed to conceive of, much less produce”.
It had tremendous firepower at a compact size, its design was awe-inspiringly simple, it could be, as the Soviets were to subsequently learn, “disassembled and reassembled by Slavic schoolboys in 30 seconds flat”, and it was “so reliable, even when soaked in bog water and coated with sand, that its Soviet testers had trouble making it jam”.
The Soviet Army called the new weapon AK-47.
The name was an acronym for Avtomat Kalashnikova, Russian for ‘the automatic by Kalashnikov’, “a nod”, Chivers wrote, “to Senior Sergeant Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, a 29-year-old former tank commander to whom the Army and the Communist Party formally attributed the weapon’s design”.
The number 47 in the name stood for 1947, “the year a technical bureau in Kovrov, a city east of Moscow with its own hidden arms plants, had finished the prototypes”.
Thereafter, factories in Izhevsk took over to mass produce the weapon. Within 25 years, there were more AK-47s in use, in more theatres of conflict around the world, than any other weapon in history.
“The Kalashnikov Era had arrived,” Chivers wrote. “We are living in it still.”