November 21, 2017
A licensing agreement allowing Saudi Arabia to produce AK-103 rifles was signed during King Salman of Saudi Arabia's October visit to Moscow. The Gulf Kingdom currently fields Russian-built 7.62x39mm AK-103 rifles, along with a hodge-podge of other designs. The agreement between Russian State Arms Exporter Rosoboronexport and Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) will facilitate licensed manufacture of Concern Kalashnikov's 7.62x39mm AK-103 series of assault rifles as well as ammunition.
Russia's Rosoboronexport is the sole state intermediary agency for the export/import of defense related and dual use products, technologies and services. They claim to be the second largest arms exporter in the world supplying some 116 countries. Russia's small arms industry, including Concern Kalashnikov (formerly IZHMASH), has been undergoing very rough times due to a lack of sales. Located in the city of Izhevsk in the Republic of Udmurtia, Concern Kalashnikov is the home of the famous AK47 Avtomat. Currently US sanctions prohibit them from selling commercial firearms, such as their popular Saiga line of hunting rifles and shotguns, in the United States. The sanctions cut them off from a lucrative market, hurting the company financially. Today, any sales are important to Concern Kalashnikov, and this agreement will certainly help the cash strapped Russian small arms manufacturer.
So what is the AK-103 rifle? In an effort to decrease costs and ease manufacturing the Russians developed a unified family of rifles called the AK-100 series. Based upon the 5.45x39mm AK-74M, the AK-100 series was developed to facilitate building rifles in different calibers on one basic platform. The AK-101 (assault rifle) and AK-102 (short barrel carbine) are chambered in 5.56x45mm while the AK-103 (assault rifle) and AK-104 (short barrel carbine) are chambered for the old classic 7.62x39mm. In profile, other than the magazine, the AK-103 rifle mimics the Russian Army's current issue 5.45x39mm AK-74M. A rugged selective-fire rifle, the AK-103 features a 16.3 inch hammer forged chrome-lined barrel, muzzle brake, side-folding stock and optics rail. Operation is traditional Kalashnikov with gas tapped from the barrel used to operate a long-stroke gas piston and a carrier-controlled rotating bolt.
Concern Kalashnikov is currently putting together a team of engineers who will be tasked with setting up the new factory and training its workers. According to my sources, rifles will be initially produced using Russian supplied parts. It remains to be seen how large of a team the Russians will send and how long it will take for the new Saudi factory to begin producing rifles. Another Russian team, from one of their ammunition manufacturers yet to be named, will be sent to set up ammunition production.
The agreement to build AK-103 rifles and ammunition was just one of many signed during King Salman's visit to Moscow. Also announced was a preliminary deal to allow the Gulf Kingdom to purchase Russia's highly regarded S-400 Air Defense System. SAMI stated, "The Russian contracts are expected to play a pivotal role in the growth and development of the military and military systems industry in Saudi Arabia.
This is a very interesting development and my only question is why didn't the Russians also sell the Saudi's a license to produce the 7.62x54mmR SVD Dragunov sniper rifle? It seems like a missed opportunity. What does this all mean for the American shooter and collector? With the importation of Russian manufactured rifles currently banned, there is the possibility we might see commercial models produced by the Saudis. While this would obviously be down the road a ways, it is a distinct possibility Firearms News will keep its eye on.