Centre clears plan to make AK-203 assault rifles with Russia

ByRezaul H Laskar and Rahul Singh
Dec 05, 2021 01:46 AM IST

Several agreements to deepen cooperation in defence, trade, space, technology, energy and culture are expected to be inked during the summit

New Delhi India and Russia are putting the finishing touches to agreements in defence, trade, space, technology and energy that are expected to be signed during the annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin on December 6.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold their annual summit on December 6. (AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold their annual summit on December 6. (AP)

Ahead of Putin’s day-long visit, the Indian government cleared a plan for the joint production of more than 500,000 AK-203 assault rifles with Russia to boost self-reliance in defence manufacturing, officials familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

The annual summit – which has been held since 2000 – will be preceded by meetings between defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu and external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, and the inaugural 2+2 dialogue of the defence and foreign ministers.

The two sides are looking forward to intense engagement on issues ranging from ways to deepen bilateral cooperation in trade, connectivity and energy to regional security concerns, such as the situation in Afghanistan, people familiar with planning for the summit said on condition of anonymity.

Several agreements to deepen cooperation in defence, trade, space, technology, energy and culture are expected to be inked during the summit, the people said. The two sides are expected to renew their military-technical cooperation arrangement for 2021-31. A key pact that could be signed is the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS), which will allow militaries of the two nations to access logistics and support facilities at each other’s bases.

The joint statement to be issued after the summit is expected to reflect India’s concerns over cross-border terror and the fallout of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the people said. Modi and Putin had decided in August to have close consultations on Afghanistan and the two sides are coordinating on common concerns, the people added.

Days before the summit, the government approved the plan to manufacture AK-203 rifles at a factory at Amethi in Uttar Pradesh under a joint venture called Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited that was formed by Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited and Munitions India Limited and Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Kalashnikov.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Wednesday took up the 5,100-crore project. The AK-203 rifles will replace INSAS rifles inducted more than three decades ago.

“The approval reflects the paradigm shift in defence acquisition from buy (global) to Make in India. The endeavour also reflects the deepening partnership between the two countries,” said an official.

“The project will provide business opportunities to various MSMEs and other defence firms for supply of raw material and components, which will lead to a generation of new employment opportunities,” he said.

Last month, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) – India’s apex military procurement body – granted key approvals to accelerate the acquisition of AK-203 rifles to be made in India with transfer of Russian technology.

Putin’s visit will have a major defence and security overhang. The delivery of the first squadron of S-400 air defence systems – part of a $5.4-billion contract with Russia for five systems – is coinciding with the visit. Russian officials have said that the delivery of components for the air defence systems has already begun.

Against the backdrop of US threats to impose secondary sanctions on the S-400 deal under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the people cited above said India follows a policy of strategic autonomy when it comes to defence procurements and national security interests.

The people said Russia was a “natural fit” for a 2+2 dialogue as the two countries work closely on defence and political issues. India currently has such mechanisms only with Australia, Japan and the US, but the people said the new 2+2 dialogue with Russia wasn’t an afterthought or a balancing act.

At least 15 groups focused on economic cooperation between India and Russia have met virtually over the past two years amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the two sides have increased the target for two-way investments to $50 billion by 2025 as the earlier target of $30 billion had been achieved in 2018.

India is also focusing on trade and investment opportunities in Russia’s Far East, including in coal and diamonds and meeting manpower needs. As part of these efforts, 11 governors from the Far East have been invited to the Vibrant Gujarat meet of 2022.

Modi and Putin are expected to have restricted one-on-one talks during the summit, which will begin at 5.30pm, and the Russian leader will emplane from Delhi at 9.30pm. Their talks are expected to provide guidance for strengthening the bilateral strategic partnership.

This will only be Putin’s second foreign visit since the Covid-19 outbreak – he travelled to Geneva in June for his first meeting with US President Joe Biden. Putin’s decision to travel to New Delhi reflects the importance attached by Russia to its special and privileged strategic partnership with India.

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