Olivia Kroth: Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern expands its market in the defence industry

Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern expands its market in the defence industry

by Olivia Kroth

Together with the ZALA Aero Company, the Kalashnikov Concern will soon begin producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The global UAV market is growing fast, according to a study of development for 2014 to 2020. In 2014, worldwide sales of UAV amounted to 6.7 US dollars. Primarily India and China are buyers of UAV. Now Russia wants to build up its share of the global UAV market (RUSSIA & INDIA REPORT, 01.03.2015). “The Russian defence equipment manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern has acquired 51 percent stakes in ZALA Aero and the Euroyachting Rybinsk Shipyard, as the company looks to increase the diversity of its current portfolio” (Kalashnikov Concern, Press News 87).

Russia’s ZALA Aero Company, founded in 2005, develops unmanned aircraft and helicopters. The range of tactical UAVs is for use in military roles, as well as for monitoring power lines and infrastructure. Main clients are the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Federal Security Service (FSB). The Euroyachting Rybinsk Shipyard is based north of Moscow. It manufactures a range of motor launches, inflatable boats and speed craft. These vessels are used for military as well as civil operations. Military applications include amphibious assault and support, search-and-rescue, anti-piracy.

The Kalashnikov Concern is part of the Russian State Corporation Rostec. 51 percent of its shares belong to Rostec, while 49 percent have been purchased by private investors. The Kalashnikov Concern’s products are sold in 27 countries. “The Kalashnikov Concern produces three brands: Kalashnikov firearms, Baikal hunting and civilian rifles, Izhmash sporting rifles” (Kalashnikov Concern, Press News 84).

In 2013, the firms IZHMASH and IZHMEKH merged to be formally renamed as Kalashnikov Concern. The Izhevsk Machine Building Plant (IZHMASH), a weapons manufacturer in the city of Izhevsk (Mordovia), was founded by Tsar Alexander I., in 1807. Besides automobiles and motorcycles it produced firearms, especially the famous serious of Kalashnikov rifles, used by the Russian military but also exported worldwide. The Izhevsk Mechanical Plant (IZHMEKH) was founded in 1942. The firm was also located in Izhevsk (Mordovia), where it produced small arms, Makarov and Yarugin pistols as well as Baikal shotguns. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), the firm delivered Mosin-Nagant rifles to the Soviet troops.

Izhevsk, the Udmurt Republic’s capital with 650.000 inhabitants, has become well-known due to the famous name of “Kalashnikov”. The city is located on the Izh River in the Western Urals. Today, it is a major centre of commerce and industry, mainly defence and metallurgy industries. Due to its history of defence production, Izhevsk proudly carries the titles “Armory Capital of Russia” and “City of Labour Glory”. The place was settled by Udmurts, in the 5th century. In 1800, Tsar Paul I planned to install an arms factory in the Urals. Alexander I started to build the Izhevsk arms factory, in 1807. The population grew quickly and comprised 6.000 inhabitants, in 1808. Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Saint Michael Cathedral are Izhevsk’s most beautiful landmark until today.

Saint Michael Cathedral in Izhevsk:

Nearly 20.000 people lived in Izhevsk, in 1850. The steel works were founded, in 1872. In 1884, the arms factory and the steels works passed to the state. During the Russian Revolution of 1917, workers formed a soviet. The Bolsheviks took control of Izhevsk’s factories. During the Soviet period, the city grew significantly in size and importance. When the Great Patrotic War began, in 1941, several Soviet defense-related plants were evacuated to Izhevsk. During the war (1941-1945), all of the Izhevsk factories together produced about 12.5 million small arms.

After the war, military industry remained at the core of Izhevsk’s economy. The city was closed to foreigners.  In 1948, the Izhmash factory began to manufacture AK-47 automatic rifles and continued to produce modern variants of the design until its merger with Izhmesh, in 2013. The famous rifles’ designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, lived in Izhevsk until his death, in 2013.

Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (1919-2013) was born in Kurya, Altai Governate. Early in his life, he already felt attracted by machinery and started inventing things, while working as a mechanic at a tractor station in Kurya. In 1938, he joined the Red Army, first as tank mechanic, later he was promoted to tank commander. During his military service, he decided to develop a new rifle. After several predecessor models he designed the AK-47, in 1947, which became the standard assault rifle of the Soviet Army. From 1949, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived and worked in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, where he developed a whole “weapons family” for IZMASH, mainly the AKM and the PK machine gun.

Russian as well as western media lauded Mikhail Kalashnikov’s lifetime achievements: “He exposes the Soviet worship of trud – a notion of labour and productivity that won him the Hero of Socialist Labour medal in 1976 for his inventions, and fuelled his ideas. For him, it was just his job, as a tiny cog in the greater Soviet enterprise” (GUARDIAN, 10.10.2003). “His weapons became both Soviet and revolutionary symbols. The weapon, he said, was designed to protect his motherland as a weapon of defence. To the end he was loyal to what he called Socialist ideals and the leaders who gave them shape. General Kalashnikov spoke of his great respect for Lenin and Stalin alike. ‘I never knew him personally, and I regret this’, he said of Stalin” (NEW YORK TIMES, 23.12.2013).

Vladimir Putin with Mikhail Kalashnikov:

“More than 100 million Kalashnikov assault rifles have been manufactured over the 60 years it has been in production”, the website of the Kalashnikov Concern informed  (Kalashnikov Concern, Press News 41). All of the Kalashnikov rifles are upgraded regularly, for example the AKM and AK-74. In the 1990s, the fourth generation AK-74 M was produced and adopted for service by the Russian Army. “In the next round of upgrades, IZMASH began to develop 100-series of AK rifles which expanded the market for the assault rifles many times over”. Since June 2011, there is a new assault carbine called AK-12, designed by firearms designer Vladimir V. Zlobin. It has improved ergonomics, smoother automatic action, better-quality barrel, modern sights.

Due to western sanctions, the Kalashnikov Concern is shifting its focus to the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and Latin America. Middle Eastern countries and Iran have signed new contracts. “We had more sales of military weapons in new markets in the Middle East and Africa,” CEO Aleksey Krivoruchko said at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi (REUTERS, 22.02.2015). In Asia, the countries of India, Malaysia and Thailand are strong clients. In Africa, Egypt ordered products of the famous Russian arms manufacturer (TASS, 27.01.2015). In Latin America, Venezuela has been bying Kalashnikov rifles since the times of the late President Hugo Chavez.  He bought 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, as well as manufacturing and servicing facilities from Russia. There is also a Kalashnikov rifle (type 103) factory in Venezuela, along with an additional facility to produce ammunition.

Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow. Her blog:



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