From the Other Side: Analyzing the Kalashnikov Rifles

Recently, I’ve looked at the FN FAL, G3 and M14 – the three classic NATO battle rifles – as possible alternatives to the AR platform. They’re all good weapons with a lot to offer but, as some of the comments on those articles point out, they aren’t for everyone. The main thing I hear about this class of weapon (most often about the L1A1) is that they’re long and, yes, they are. Compact models of all of them exist, but the standard weapons can be within a few inches of four feet long and plenty of people are looking for something shorter. It’s never bothered me particularly; I did my first urban combat training with an L1A1 and, while it certainly isn’t the handiest of weapons in a confined space, I can live with that extra few inches of barrel. The advantage it gives in open terrain is more than enough compensation.

Still, that’s just my opinion and a lot of people don’t share it. So, what do you do if you’re looking for a heavier caliber than .223 but don’t want a rife you can pole-vault with? Well, there’s always what the other side was using during the Cold War.

Mikhail Kalashnikov grew up hunting to put food on the table, then, as a teenager, got a job repairing tractors. Combining the two skills, he started thinking about weapon design, especially when he was drafted into the Soviet Army in 1938. Soviet conscripts didn’t get a lot of free time, however, so he didn’t achieve much at first. Then, in October 1941, his tank was knocked out and he spent six months in the hospital. A lot of his fellow patients were infantrymen and they had a lot to say about the standard infantry rifle, the Mosin-Nagant M1891/30. Not much of it was positive; the old-fashioned weapon just couldn’t generate enough firepower to slow down the invading Germans. Inspired, Kalashnikov used his enforced bed rest to design a new submachinegun to even things up. The design was rejected, but Kalashnikov’s talent caught the eye of the general staff and, when he got out of hospital, he was transferred to the Red Army’s rifle development unit. There, he invented a new semiautomatic carbine firing the new 7.62x39mm short cartridge. That was rejected too. Still, as they say, third time lucky.

AKKalashnikov designed his third weapon in 1946, as the Soviet Army looked frantically for a completely new type of rifle. The Nazis had started mass-producing the first assault weapon, the Sturmgewehr 44, late in the war and the Red Army had borne the brunt of the firepower revolution. The StG44 didn’t have enough of an impact to change the course of the war – although if another couple of million had been made it might have – but the Soviets learned painfully that an infantry unit equipped with the ugly but functional weapon could lay down a terrifying volume of fire out to about 300 yards. Now, they wanted something similar themselves and Kalashnikov was one of three designers who produced a candidate. His won. It was approved by the Red Army the next year and became the Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947, or AK-47 for short. In 1949, the first rifles were issued to troops.

The AK-47 didn’t last long. At almost eight pounds empty, it was too heavy and its milled receiver cost too much to produce. Ten years after it was introduced, the cheaper AKM, with a stamped and welded receiver, began replacing it. The new version was a pound lighter and had some other improvements, including a better muzzle compensator and a new bayonet. It went on to become the most-manufactured rifle in history, with more than 10 million made in the USSR alone.

The AKM has itself been replaced in Russia by the AK-74 series, which is basically the same rifle rechambered for 5.45x39mm, but if you’re after something bigger than .223 you definitely don’t want one of these. Clones of the AKM are still being manufactured though, mostly in China, and a lot of semiauto versions are available in the USA.

The short 7.62mm round the AK fires doesn’t have the punch of 7.62mm NATO, but it’s still hard-hitting and effective out to around 400 yards. Its weight means it can punch through light cover, and it’s reasonably wind-resistant too. The AK design is never going to be the most accurate of weapons, because there’s a lot of mass moving around and tolerances are often quite loose, but it’s famously reliable and will keep working no matter what you throw at it.

There’s now a huge choice of aftermarket parts available for the AK, so setting one up with new stocks, rails or better sights is simple. The weapon itself can be picked up quite cheaply, so if you’re looking for a dependable rifle on a budget – or just fancy having some fun with a military icon – you can do it without breaking the bank.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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