|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On March 3, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the AK-203 rifle manufacturing unit in Amethi; Indo-Russia Rifles Limited plant at Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) Korwa in Amethi. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier read out a note from Russian President Vladimir Putin, which said, "The new joint venture will manufacture 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 fulfill the needs of national security agencies in this category of small arms, resting upon advanced Russian technologies." Prime Minister Modi in turn said, "One of the most advanced rifles in world AK-203 will be made in Amethi. It will be made by a joint-venture of India and Russia. I express my gratitude to my friend President Vladimir Putin. This venture was made possible in such a short time by his support." In his note, Putin had also said, "I am convinced that commissioning of the new enterprise will contribute to stronger defence potential of India, to further advance of the scientific and industrial basis of the national economy, will be instrumental in terms of creating new jobs for qualified work force, and will provide an impetus to professional education and personnel training. The plant itself will become another symbol of friendship and constructive cooperation between our two countries".
The facility is to manufacture 75,000 units of AK-203 assault rifles for the Armed Forces. These rifles with folding butts can be fitted with 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher or a bayonet. It also has a mounting rail for optical, collimator or night sights, while the muzzle brake provides for cyclic fire accuracy and further reduces muzzle climb and burst recoil. After the rifles are supplied to the defence forces, the government, in the next phase, is to provide them to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and state police forces; possibly achieving this over 15-20 years. Initiation of the process to indigenously develop state-of-the-art assault rifle is a welcome step, which will meet the long-standing demand of the Armed Forces, particularly the Army involved in counter-insurgency on a daily basis. It is well known that Kalashnikov was keen to undertake the AK-203 project with the Adani Group but the government was apprehensive because the Rafale controversy had erupted. Adani Group anyway may not have been agreeable to establish the joint venture with Kalashnikov in UP. So, the excuse found was that this being a government-to-government venture, Kalashnikov could only tie up with a government-owned entity.
Addressing his first rally in Amethi since 2014, Modi said, the rifles will be known as "Made in Amethi" (MIA) and will help security forces in militant encounters. This takes defence production in India to a new level of politicisation – a trend that is likely to be continued. But all said and done, there are a number of issues that merit attention.