Monday, March 13, 2017

Does the AK suck? I'm glad you asked

By Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) - Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) through the Digital Museum (, Public Domain,

Since someone recently posed the question "Why does the AK suck", and I am a dyed in the wool AK guy, I thought I would take it upon myself to answer the question "Does the AK suck?"  I don't think so.  A lot of the grumblings I hear about the AK platform revolve around western shooters familiar with the AR platform comparing the AK to the AR/M16/Stoner designs.  I think in order to appreciate the AK, it's important to take a look at it through the lens of it's history, original design, and manual of arms at the time it was envisioned.

The AK platform was designed in 1946, loosely based on Kalashnikov's earlier 1944 design for a machine pistol suitably beefed up and redesigned for the new (at the time) 7.62x39 russian cartridge.  Contrary to popular belief, the rifle is far from a copy of the WW2 German STG44, though it's influences can be seen.  The Russians (and to a degree all military services of the day) small arms development radically shifted course from full power battle rifles to select fire, magazine fed rifles in intermediate cartridges following WW2 due in no small part to the STG44 and it's success.  While the STG44 was a very complicated and labor intensive firearm to produce using a tilting bolt design, Kalashnikov sought to design a rifle that had similar capabilities yet was far simpler and cheaper to build.

What Mikhail Kalashnikov settled on was a gas operated, long stroke piston rifle using a two lug rotating bolt....actually very similar in operation to the American M1 Garand.  Where it cribbed unabashedly from the STG44 was the use of an intermediate cartridge (based in this case off the Russian 7.62x54R rather than the German 8mm Mauser), a high capacity magazine (vs. the internal box magazines of their previous battle rifle, the 1891 design Mosin-Nagant), and fully automatic fire capability.  So, while I would happily allow that the Russians looked to the STG44 for inspiration, looking at it's method of operation it is substantially different.

Also worth pointing out is that Kalashnikov's original design was to use a stamped sheet metal receiver.  This, unlike the more complex machined receiver of the STG44 (and yet not particularly robust), would have drastically simplified and sped up production of the Russian rifle.  Limitations of heat treating technology in the Soviet Union at that time forced a change to the milled receiver characteristic of the first AK-47's that went into service.  The later AKM introduced in 1959 made use of the stamped receiver and several other small changes.  The AKM is the variant I personally use and tend to favor.

All that said, yes, the bolt handle is on the wrong side.  A conscript army used to decades of bolt action rifles made that a natural decision, as common mode of reloading at that time involved taking your right hand off the grip of the rifle, and charging from a handle on the right side of the grip. The safety requires you to break your firing grip, so did the Mosin.  It's heavy, it's made of steel and wood (later polymer), not aluminum and plastic.  The cartridge is big and slow (smaller and lighter in the AK74's 5.45x39 introduced in the 70's).  So, why doesn't it suck?

Because, as the saying goes, the Kalashnikov rifle has killed more people on this Earth than cancer.  It has fought in nearly every war zone in the world since it's inception, it has survived deserts and jungles, and has soldiered on as a rifle design for over half a century.  It is no less prolific a rifle than our own much beloved AR/M-16.  No, it's isn't infallible, and it's users must accept and adapt to it's peculiarities, but it is no less an effective rifle and a worthy addition to the home defense plan of any home owner.  It is an extremely reliable, rugged, "accurate enough" rifle built to fulfill the original mission it was pressed into.  It was never meant, nor designed, to make nice tight groups at hundreds of meters (we can do a comparison of this rifle and the Dragunov sniper rifle to illustrate that point.)  It was meant to provide the average foot soldier with a minimal amount of training a volume of firepower that would be the envy of his previous generation....and that is exactly what it did.

And if you disagree, IT'S OFF TO THE GULAG WITH YOU!!!  Seriously, leave a comment and let's talk about it. - Phil Rabalais

My personal AK

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