For years we at TFB have closely followed India’s struggles to select a new service rifle to replace the 5.56x45mm INSAS which has gained a questionable reputation over the years. Numerous home-grown rifles such as the Indian Ordnance Factories Board-designed Excalibur and the Multi Calibre Individual Weapon System have both proven to be failures. A glimmer of hope arrived when the Indian government made a concerted effort to procure new small arms launching a flurry of requests for information seeking a range of rifles in 7.62x39mm, 5.56x45mm and 7.62x51mm. At the same time, India have also procured .50 calibre anti-materiel rifles and .338 LM precision rifles in significant numbers.
It has since emerged that Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern and the Indian government have been engaged in negotiations for licensed manufacture of a version of Kalashnikov’s modernised AK-203 to be produced in Indian factories – as a part of the country’s Made In India defence procurement initiative. With a potential order for 750,000 rifles, the scope of the contract is huge with a potential cost reported in 2018 of $2.5 billion. While the Indian government appeared to announce the agreement 12 months ago we have been waiting patiently for further news on the signing of a contract for production of the new rifles.
Despite uncertainty around when a contract might be finalised we now have our first look at what the Indian soldier might eventually be issued and it is not a stock AK-203 as has widely been assumed. In fact, the rifle has been adapted to Indian requests and has a number of significant and somewhat surprising differences. These photos were taken at the Indo-Russia Rifles booth at the recent DEFEXPO 2020 in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India. Indo Rifles is a joint concern with 50-50 ownership split between India’s state Ordnance Factory Board and Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern/Rosoboronexport.
At a glance, you may not notice that the Indian AK-203 is a combination of features taken from the AK-203 and less refined and cheaper AK-103. Let’s compare the three rifles and see which features the Indian AK-203 has combined.
Check out Kalashnikov Concerns video demonstrating their stock AK-203, here.
From the photos of the AK-103 and AK-203 above we can see that the Indian rifle has retained the 203’s railed top cover, contoured ergonomic pistol grip and its muzzle device. However, it has not opted for the Russian 203’s adjustable but stock, instead opting for the simpler AK-103 folding stock and handguard (with no top rail).
The primary, non-ergonomic, upgrades of Kalashnikov Concern’s AK-203 include an improved barrel with tighter tolerances and a top cover which is held more firmly in place by a locking lever – allowing simpler and more stable optics mounting (without the need for a side mount). If we compare the three rifles again and look at their right sides we see that the Indian 203 has retained this system. The rifle’s receiver also remains AK-203 marked.
Below we can see that the Indian rifle has opted to retain the railed top cover and locking lever system but has the AK-103’s more traditional style of selector lever, which lacks the Russian 203’s finger tab for easier manipulation without moving the right hand too far off the pistol grip.
The reasons for these design specification changes are unclear, perhaps for manufacturing simplicity, or cost saving or perhaps the changes are driven by doctrine or manual of arms driven choices. Regardless of the changes made to the rifle, the AK-203 represents a step up, from the current INSAS, which Indian soldiers will welcome enthusiastically. This incarnation of India’s AK may not be the one which enters production, we will have to wait a little longer for confirmation of this spec and the contract for 750,000 rifles.