The AK-47 (contraction of Russian: Автомат Калашникова образца 1947 года; Avtomat Kalashnikova obraztsa 1947 goda; "Kalashnikov's automatic rifle model of year 1947") is a 7.62 mm assault rifle developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov in two versions: the fixed stock AK-47 and the AKS-47 (S—So skladnym prikladom) variant equipped with an underfolding metal shoulder stock. Design work on the AK began in 1944. In 1946 the rifle was presented for official military trials, a year later the fixed stock version was introduced into service with select units of the Red Army (the folding stock model was developed later). The AK-47 was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces in 1949. It is also used by the majority of the member states of the former Warsaw Pact. The AK-47 was also used as a basis for the development of many other types of individual and crew-served firearms. It was one of the first true assault rifles and, due to its durability and ease of use, remains the most widely used assault rifle in the world. More AK-type rifles have been produced than any other assault rifle.
The resultant rifle, the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was not the first with these features; its predecessors were the Italian Cei-Rigotti and the Russian Fedorov Avtomat design rifles. The Germans, however, were the first to produce and field sufficient numbers of this assault rifle to properly evaluate its combat utility. Towards the end of the war, they fielded the weapon against the Soviets; the experience deeply influenced Soviet military doctrine in the post-war years .
Mikhail Kalashnikov began his career as a weapon designer while in a hospital after being wounded during the Battle of Bryansk. After tinkering with a submachinegun design, he entered a competition for a new weapon that would chamber the 7.62x41mm cartridge developed by Elisarov and Semin in 1943 (the 7.62x41mm cartridge predated the current 7.62x39mm M1943). A particular requirement of the competition was the reliability of the firearm in the muddy, wet, and frozen conditions of the Soviet frontline. Kalashnikov designed a carbine, strongly influenced by the American M1 Garand, that lost out to the Simonov design that would later become the SKS battle rifle. At the same time, the Soviet Army was interested in developing a true assault rifle employing a shortened M1943 round. The first such weapon was presented by Sudayev in 1944; however in trials it was found to be too heavy. A new design competition was held two years later where Kalashnikov and his design team submitted an entry. It was a gas-operated rifle which had breech-block mechanism similar to his 1944 carbine and curved 30-round magazine.
Kalashnikov's rifles (codenamed AK-1 and -2) proved to be reliable and the gun was accepted to second round of competition along with designs by A.A Demetev and F. Bulkin. In late 1946, as the guns were being tested, one of Kalashnikov's assistants, Aleksandr Zaytsev, suggested a major redesign of AK-1, particularly to improve reliability. At first, Kalashnikov was reluctant given that their rifle had already fared better than its competitors; however eventually Zaytsev managed to persuade Kalashnikov and the new rifle was produced for second round of firing tests and field trials. There, Kalashnikov assault rifle model 1947 proved to be simple, reliable under a wide range of conditions with convenient handling characteristics. In 1949 it was therefore adopted by the Soviet Army as '7.62mm Kalashnikov assault rifle (AK)'.
There were many difficulties during the initial phase of production. The first production models had stamped sheet metal receivers. Difficulties were encountered in welding the guide and ejector rails, causing high rejection rates. Instead of halting production, a heavy machined receiver was substituted for the sheet metal receiver. This was a more costly process, but the use of machined receivers accelerated production as tooling and labor for the earlier Mosin-Nagant rifle's machined receiver were easily adapted. Partly because of these problems, the Soviets were not able to distribute large numbers of the new rifle to soldiers until 1956. During this time, production of the interim SKS rifle continued.
Once manufacturing difficulties had been overcome, a redesigned version designated the AKM (M for "modernized" or "upgraded" — in Russian: Автомат Калашникова Модернизированный Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy) was introduced in 1959. This new model used a stamped sheet metal receiver and featured a slanted muzzle brake on the end of the barrel to compensate for muzzle rise under recoil. In addition, a hammer retarder was added to prevent the weapon from firing out of battery (without the bolt being fully closed), during rapid or automatic fire. This is also sometimes referred to as a "cyclic rate reducer", or simply "rate reducer", as it also has the effect of reducing the number of rounds fired per minute during automatic fire. It was also lighter than the previous model, at roughly one-third lighter. Both licensed and unlicensed production of the Kalashnikov weapons abroad were almost exclusively of the AKM variant, partially due to the much easier production of the stamped receiver. This model is the most commonly encountered, having been produced in much greater quantities. All rifles based on the Kalashnikov design are frequently referred to as AK-47s in the West, although this is only correct when applied to rifles based on the original 3 receiver types. In most former Eastern Bloc countries, the weapon is known simply as the "Kalashnikov". The photo above at right illustrates the differences between the Type 2 milled receiver and the Type 4 stamped, including the use of rivets rather than welds on the stamped receiver, as well as the placement of a small dimple above the magazine well for stabilization of the magazine.
In 1978, the Soviet Union began replacing their AK-47 and AKM rifles with a newer design, the AK-74. This new rifle and cartridge had only started being exported to eastern European nations when the Soviet Union collapsed, drastically slowing production of this and other weapons of the former Soviet bloc.
|Type 1A/B||Original stamped receiver for AK-47. -1B modified for folding stock. A large hole is present on each side to accommodate the hardware for the underfolding stock. (this naming convention continues with all types)|
|Type 2A/B||Milled from steel forging.|
|Type 3A/B||"Final" version of the milled receiver, from steel bar stock. The most ubiquitous example of the milled-receiver AK-47.|
|Type 4A/B||Stamped AKM receiver. Overall, the most-used design in the construction of the AK-series rifles.|
The AK is simple, inexpensive to manufacture, and easy to clean and maintain. Its ruggedness and reliability are legendary. The AK-47 was initially designed for ease of operation and repair by glove-wearing Soviet soldiers in Arctic conditions. The large gas piston, generous clearances between moving parts, and tapered cartridge case design allow the gun to endure large amounts of foreign matter and fouling without failing to cycle. This reliability comes at the cost of accuracy, as the looser tolerances do not allow for precision and consistency. Reflecting Soviet infantry doctrine of its time, the rifle is meant to be part of massed infantry fire, not long range engagements. The average service life of an AK-47 is 20 to 40 years depending on the conditions to which it has been exposed. (pdf)
The notched rear tangent iron sight is adjustable, and is calibrated in hundreds of meters. The front sight is a post adjustable for elevation in the field. Windage adjustment is done by the armory before issue. The battle setting places the round within a few centimeters above or below the point of aim out to about 250 meters (275 yd). This "point-blank range" setting allows the shooter to fire the gun at any close target without adjusting the sights. Longer settings are intended for area suppression. These settings mirror the Mosin-Nagant and SKS rifles which the AK-47 replaced. This eased transition and simplified training.
The prototype of the AK-47, the AK-46, had a separate fire selector and safety. These were later combined in the production version to simplify the design. The fire selector acts as a dust cover for the charging handle raceway when placed on safe. This prevents intrusion of dust and other debris into the internal parts. The dust cover on the M16 rifle, in contrast, requires manual closure.
The bore and chamber, as well as the gas piston and the interior of the gas cylinder, are generally chromium-plated. This plating dramatically increases the life of these parts by resisting corrosion and wear. This is particularly important, as most military-production ammunition during the 20th century contained corrosive mercuric salts in the primers, which mandated frequent and thorough cleaning in order to prevent damage. Chrome plating of critical parts is now common on many modern military weapons.
Kalashnikov variants include:
|Tip C (Type C) Sniper Rifle|
|Bulgaria||AKK (Type 3 AK-47), AKKS (Type 3 with side-folding buttstock)|
|AKKMS (AKMS) AKKN-47 (fittings for NPSU night sights)|
|AK-47M1 (Type 3 with black polymer furniture)|
|AK-47MA1/AR-M1 (same as -M1, but in 5.56 mm NATO)|
|AKS-47M1 (AKMS in 5.56x45mm NATO), AKS-47MA1 (same as AKS-47M1, but semi-automatic only)|
|AKS-47S (AK-47M1, short version, with East German folding stock, laser aiming device)|
|AKS-47UF (short version of -M1, Russian folding stock), AR-SF (same as -47UF, but 5.56 mm NATO)|
|AKS-93SM6 (similar to -47M1, cannot use grenade launcher)|
|RKKS, AKT-47 (.22 rimfire training rifle)|
|German Democratic Republic||MPi-K (AK-47), MPi-KS (AKS), MPi-KM (AKM), MPi-KMS-72 (AKMS), KK-MPi Mod.69 (.22-Lr select-fire trainer);|
|Egypt||AK-47, MISR 7.62 (AKM), Maadi|
|Hungary||AK-63D/E (AMM/AMMSz), AKM-63, AMD-65, AMD-65M, AMP, NGM 5.56|
|Iraq||Tabuk Sniper Rifle, Tabuk Assault Rifle (AKM/AKMS), Tabuk Short Assault Rifle|
|Iran||KLS (AK-47), KLF (AKS), KLT (AKMS)|
|Finland||RK 62, RK 95 TP|
|North Korea||Type 58A (Type 3 AK-47), Type 58B (stamped steel folding stock), Type 68A (AKM-47) Type 68B (AKMS)|
|Pakistan||Reverse engineered by hand and machine in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas|
|Poland||pmK/kbk AK (name has changed from pmK - "pistolet maszynowy Kałasznikowa" to the kbk AK - "karabinek AK" in mid 1960s) (AK-47), pmK/kbk AK, kbkg wz. 1960, kbk AKM (AKM), kbk AKMS (AKMS), kbk wz. 1988 Tantal based on the 7.62 mm kbk AKMS wz. 81), kbs wz. 1996 Beryl|
|Romania||PM md. 63 (AKM), PM md. 65 (AKMS), PA md. 86 (AK-74), PM md. 90 (AKMS), collectively exported under the umbrella name AIM|
|Yugoslavia and Serbia||M64 (AK-47 with longer barrel), M64A (grenade launcher) M64B (M64 w/ folding stock), M66, M70, M70A, M70B1, M70AB2, Zastava M76,M77, M92, M21|
|Venezuela||License granted, factory under construction|
Certainly more have been produced elsewhere; but the above list represents known producers and is limited to only military variants. An updated AKM design is still produced in Russia.
The basic design of the AK-47 has been used as the basis for other successful rifle designs such as the Finnish Valmet 62/76 and Sako RK 95 TP, the Israeli Galil, the Indian INSAS and the Yugoslav Zastava M76 and M77/82 (not to be confused with the Barrett M82) rifles. Several bullpup designs have surfaced such as the Chinese Norinco Type 86S, although none have been produced in quantity. Bullpup conversions are also available commercially. For a complete list, see the List of weapons influenced by the Kalashnikov design.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, Communist China and the United States supplied arms and technical knowledge to numerous client-state countries and rebel forces. While the United States used the relatively expensive M-14 battle rifle and M16 assault rifle during this time, it generally supplied older surplus weapons to its allies. The low production and materials costs of the AK-47 meant that the USSR could produce and supply client states with this rifle instead of sending surplus munitions. As a result, the Cold War saw the mass export, sometimes free of charge, of AK-47s by the Soviet Union and Communist China to pro-communist countries and groups such as the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and Vietcong. The AK design was spread to over 55 national armies and dozens of paramilitary groups.
The proliferation of this weapon is reflected by more than just numbers. The AK is included in the flag of Mozambique and its coat of arms, an acknowledgement that the country's rulers gained power in large part through the effective use of their AK-47s. It is also found in the coat of arms of Zimbabwe and East Timor, the revolution era coat of arms of Burkina Faso, the flag of Hezbollah, and the logo of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. "Kalash", a shortened form of "Kalashnikov", is used as a name for boys in some African countries.
Western cultures, especially the United States, have seen the AK-47 most often in the hands of nations and groups the United States condemns; first the Soviet Army, then its Communist allies during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During the '80s, the Soviet Union became the principal arms dealer to countries embargoed by the United States, including many Middle Eastern nations such as Syria, Libya and Iran, who were willing to ally with the USSR against U.S. interests. After the fall of the Soviet Union, AK-47s were sold both openly and on the black market to any group with cash, including drug cartels and dictatorial states, and most recently they have been seen in the hands of terrorist factions such as the Taliban and Al-Quaida in Afghanistan and Iraq. The AK-47 has thus garnered a reputation in Western nations as a symbol of anti-Americanism, and has gained a stereotypical role as the weapon of the enemy. In the United States, movie makers often arm criminals, gang members and terrorist characters with AKs.
In 2006, Colombian musician and peace activist César López devised the escopetarra, an AK converted into a guitar. One sold for US$17,000 in a fundraiser held to benefit the victims of anti-personnel mines, while another was exhibited at the United Nations' Conference on Disarmament.
The Kalashnikov Museum (also called the AK-47 Museum) opened on November 4, 2004 in Izhevsk, a city in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The museum has focused backward in time. It chronicles the official biography of General Kalashnikov, from his childhood to proletarian hero. The Museum Complex of Small Arms of M. T. Kalashnikov, a series of halls and multimedia exhibitions devoted to the AK-47 assault rifle and its offspring. The museum complex has been drawing on average 10,000 visitors a month. The museum serves as Russia's monument to an infantry weapon and to the workers who have made it for almost 60 years.
It presents the guns and their history with civic pride and a revived sense of national confidence. Think of Izhesvk as the Detroit of Slavic small arms. The exhibitions, ranging from static displays of weapons to plasma-screen video presentations showing the guns' use in recent decades, reflect a laborer's affection for what has long flowed from nearby foundries and assembly lines. Much of the material is also viewed through the life of Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the man credited with designing the weapon in secret trials in 1947, and who still lives a few blocks away. Were you to substitute automobiles for firearms and add a bit of military décor, this might be a museum celebrating Henry Ford.
“We emphasize the peaceful side of this story,” said Nadezhda Vechtomova, the museum director. “We are trying to separate the weapon as a weapon of murder from the people who are producing it and to tell its history in our country.”