A while back we ran a story here on AP about the Indian Army working a deal with the Russians to domestically produce the AK-203, an AKM with a handful of upgrades in order to replace the 5.56 INSAS rifle, which is commonly viewed as a failure in combat. Its not really a shock, considering the reputation of the INSAS as unreliable as well as being heavy for what it is. The AK on the other hand, even in its most basic form, is fairly lightweight and I doubt anyone who’s been on the receiving end of one doubts its capabilities in combat.
But with that said, the AK is considered by many to be a dated platform. I don’t share that point of view, but its a data point nonetheless. As reliable as it is, the venerable Kalash was designed for the parameters of the era- and when implementing modern add-ons such as lights and IR lasers, most rail interfaces come up being compromises at best when compared to other purpose built designs that have come along since. So why in the world would an Army adopt it, in a retro intermediate caliber such as 7.62×39?
Because it works well in its intended environment. The Rashtriya Rifles, a counterinsurgency unit that works to combat the Maoist Naxals and Tamils in the country’s dense jungle environments, strongly revere the AK for its capabilities in their operating environment. From former troops commenting on Quora:
Indian forces started adopting AKs since the IPKF times in Sri Lanka where captured AKs were used by Indian forces who at that time used SLR rifles who due to their semi-auto fire and bulky nature were found less-desirable by Indian forces. SLR also did not fare good enough in CQB operations and jungle warfare. This was the time when Indian forces started adopting AKs in active service. However AKs were never bought directly from Russia but were sourced from different nations like Bulgaria , Romania , and East Germany who produced AK-Clones under their own designation.
It goes on:
In 1990s , models like Pm MD.90 , MD.63 , Mpi KMS-72 were ordered to be used by Indian forces. They found the most use in the place which is usually called the paradise of earth : Kashmir. This was not only due to its reliability but also the punch it packed in form of a 7.62x39mm round which produces a hydrostatic shock when hit thus making it much more effective than the 5.56x45mm calibre INSAS rifles. SLRs were also chambered for a heavier 7.62x51mm and out-ranged the AKs , but their less round magazine , high recoil , lesser ammo carrying capability for a soldier affected their on field performance and they were later replaced by INSAS rifles which had a less lethal 5.56x45mm round.
AKs outperform every other rifle in this arena. It has an average effective range up to 300-400 metres and also has better damage and penetration capabilities. Since most of the firefights occur in 500 metres range , these AKs well serve their purpose for a force like Rashtriya Rifles ( it has two crossed AK-47s as its unit insignia ) who have to undertake risky and high-end ops to battle militants. AKs are the perfect “spray and pray” weapon and their effectiveness in the valley are beyond doubt.
Lt Gen Hasnain adds: “The captured AK series, worn and grimy from LTTE (Tamil guerrillas) over use, carried a romantic aura about it. The greatest thing was that it could fire in automatic mode. Why is that important? In the jungle or urban terrain, response at close quarters is a recurring phenomenon. Automatic high rate of fire from a weapon with an enhanced capacity magazine has far greater chances of success, especially in the crucial two minutes of the first contact.”
Trouble-free operation and low maintenance aside, the Kalashnikov not only serves Indian forces but militants also. They use the Pakistani made – Type 56 ( also called AK-56 ) or locally assembled AKs while engaging Indian forces as for them they are durable and cheap to made.
Optimized for close range combat, light, easily-concealed, its tremendous firepower of over 100 rounds a minute practically , AK 47 leveled the playing field for terrorists.
Indian Defense News comments further:
The introduction of the AK-203 will help our troops who are deployed in counter-insurgency role, in defending the border, particularly on the Line of Control (LC) and above all the Infantry whose basic weapon is the rifle. Understanding why this should be so, we need to look beyond just capabilities of the weapon, examine its evolution and need, its ability to enhance the fighting potential of the Infantry soldier and indeed all those who are required to fight in close proximity of the enemy.
…The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) used an assortment of weapons including the American M-16 rifle firing a 5.56mm bullet but the mainstay of their armoury was the AK-47 rifle. As we faced the AK-47 we realised its efficacy in the sort of fighting that the IPKF was engaged in. It was lighter, fired a 7.62mm bullet, could be fired in the automatic burst mode and was able to produce a greater volume of fire at the point of contact. The heavy firing pin that the rifle had ensured that it had far fewer stoppages. This was all important in the sort of sharp, brief engagements the LTTE preferred, as their aim was to cause damage and disappear. We did not realise it immediately but the LTTE treated the interregnum of fighting the IPKF as a prelude to the showdown with the Sri Lankan army, they saw as being inevitable. (That this duly occurred after the IPKF left, is another matter.) What this experience taught the Indian Army was that the AK-47 was the preferred weapon of insurgents around the world and we needed a weapon of this type if we had to fight similar wars – just to keep up with such an adversary! In practice, a captured AK-47 was much sought after and the jawan or officer who captured it, would establish right over it and use it instead of the issue 7.62mm rifle. It reflected poorly on our ability to visualise requirements of the future for the Infantry.
Quite a bit of praise for such a dated weapon platform and caliber among the armchair crowd. No doubt part of the issue with the INSAS is the weight of the weapon itself and the 55 grain ammo the Indian Army is still running, as well as the poor magazine design. As we learned in Vietnam with the M16, an otherwise good weapon can have its reputation tarnished by a few flaws that are corrected over time. It seems however the Indian Army would rather start from scratch with a weapon already well respected among the troops from decades of internal combat lessons.
But the facts are what they are- the caliber and weapon works where its employed. And while it won’t win any speed contests, it remains an incredibly viable platform for the potential guerrilla leader who’s got limited time and funds to raise and train a group. Dense woodlands and thick cutovers are where the AK earned its reputation and still where it works best. Apparently the Indian Army understands this at the small unit level, even recognizing this fact in their Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School’s motto, “Fight the Guerrilla like the Guerrilla”.