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The original AK-47 was one of the first true "assault rifles" to be manufactured, after the original Sturmgewehr 44. Even after six decades the model and its variants remain the most widely used and popular assault rifles in the world because of their durability, low production cost, and ease of use. It has been manufactured in many countries and has seen service with armed forces as well as irregular forces worldwide. The AK-47 was the basis for developing many other types of individual and crew-served firearms. More AK-type rifles have been produced than all other assault rifles combined.
Firing the 7.62x39mm cartridge, the AK-47 produces significant wounding effects if the projectile tumbles and fragments in tissue; but it produces relatively minor wounds when the projectile exits the body before beginning to yaw or does not yaw or fragment.
During World War II, the Germans first pioneered the assault concept, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen at close range, within approximately 300 meters. The power and range of contemporary rifle cartridges was excessive for most small arms firefights. As a result, armies sought a cartridge and rifle combining submachine gun features (large-capacity magazine, selective-fire) with an intermediate-power cartridge effective to 300 meters. To reduce recoil and manufacturing costs, the 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge case was shortened, the result of which was the lighter 7.92x39mm Kurz.
The resultant rifle was the Sturmgewehr (StG44). An earlier firearm, the Italian Cei-Rigotti combined similar features but suffered from poor reliability and ejection mechanism, as well as inferior magazine capacity. Towards the end of the war, the Germans fielded the StG44 against the Russians; the experience deeply influenced Russian military doctrine in the post-war years.
Mikhail Kalasnikov began his career as a weapon designer while in a hospital after he was shot in the shoulder during the Battle of Bryansk After tinkering with a submachine gun 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 front line. Kalashnikov designed a carbine, strongly influenced by the American M1 Garand, that lost out to the Simonov design (scaled down PTRS-41), that later became the SKS semi-automatic carbine. 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, but trials found it 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 a breech-block mechanism similar to his 1944 carbine, and a curved 30-round magazine.
Kalashnikov's rifles (codenamed AK-1 and −2) proved to be reliable and the weapon was accepted to second round of competition along with designs by A.A Demetev and F. Bulkin. In late 1946, as the rifles 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. Eventually, however, Zaytsev managed to persuade Kalashnikov. The new rifle was produced for a second round of firing tests and field trials. There, Kalashnikov assault rifle model 1947 proved to be simple and 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)".
The AK-47 is best described as a hybrid of previous rifle technology innovations: the trigger, double locking lugs and unlocking raceway of the M1 Garand/M1 Carbine, the safety mechanism of the John Browning designed Remington Model 8 rifle, and the gas system and layout of the Sturmgewehr 44.. Kalashnikov's team had access to all of these weapons and had no need to "reinvent the wheel", though he denied that his design was based on the German Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle. Kalashnikov himself observed: "A lot of Russian Army soldiers ask me how one can become a constructor, and how new weaponry is designed. These are very difficult questions. Each designer seems to have his own paths, his own successes and failures. But one thing is clear: before attempting to create something new, it is vital to have a good appreciation of everything that already exists in this field. I myself have had many experiences confirming this to be so."
Receiver developmentEditAKMS on a Type 4B receiver (top), with a Type 2A Type 2 AK-47, the first machined receiver variationThere were many difficulties during the initial phase of production. The first production models had stamped sheet metal receiver. 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 Russians 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 roughly one-third lighter than the previous model. 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 three receiver types. In most former Eastern Bloc countries, the weapon is known simply as the "Kalashnikov" or "AK". 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, Russia 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 underfolding 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.|
FeaturesEditThe main advantages of the Kalashnikov rifle are its simple design, fairly compact size and adaptation to mass production. It is 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.
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 (-П-) places the round within +/-33 cm from the point of aim out to 350 m (380 yd). This "point-blank range" setting allows the shooter to fire the gun at any close target without adjusting the sights. The field adjustment procedure for AK-47, AKM and AK-74 family requires 4 rounds to be placed in a 15 cm group at a distance of 100 meters. 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, is not tied to the safety, and has to be manually closed. Russian army handbooks for AKM and AK-74 do not cover target engagement using the semi-automatic setting, and advise the use of short and long bursts (but still recommend short ones).
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 (and virtually all ammunition produced by the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations) during the 20th century contained potassium chloride in the primer. On firing, this was converted to corrosive and hygroscopic potassium cholrider which mandated frequent and thorough cleaning in order to prevent damage. Chrome plating of critical parts is now common on many modern military weapons.
The construction of the AK magazine is very robust with reinforced feed lips that contribute to the reliable functioning for which the design is noted. Most Yugoslavian and some East German AK magazines were made with cartridge followers that hold the bolt open when empty; however, most AK magazine followers allow the bolt to close when the magazine is empty.
Operating cycleEditTo fire, the operator inserts a loaded magazine, pulls back and releases the charging handle, aims, and then pulls the trigger. In this setting, the firearm fires only once (semi-automatic), requiring the trigger to be released and depressed again for the next shot. With the selector in the middle position (full-automatic), the rifle continues to fire, automatically cycling fresh rounds into the chamber, until the magazine is exhausted or pressure is released from the trigger. As each bullet travels through the barrel, a portion of the gases expanding behind it is diverted into the gas tube above the barrel, where it impacts the gas piston. The piston, in turn, is driven backward, pushing the bolt carrier, which causes the bolt to move backwards, ejecting the spent round, and chambering a new round when the recoil spring pushes it forward.
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 is a large lever located on the right side of the rifle, it acts as a dust-cover and prevents the charging handle from being pulled fully to the rear. It is operated by the shooter's right fore-finger and it has three settings: up = safe, center = full-auto, down = semi-auto. The reason for this is, under stress a soldier will push the selector lever down with considerable force bypassing the full-auto stage and setting the rifle to semi-auto. To set the AK-47 to full-auto requires the deliberate action of centering the selector lever. Some AK-type rifles also have a small vertical selector lever on the left side of the receiver just above the pistol grip.
Dismantling the rifle involves the operator depressing the magazine catch and removing the magazine. The charging handle is pulled to the rear and the operator inspects the chamber to verify the weapon is unloaded. The operator presses forward on the retainer button at the rear of the receiver cover while simultaneously lifting up on the rear of the cover to remove it. The operator then pushes the spring assembly forward and lifts it from its raceway, withdrawing it out of the bolt carrier and to the rear. The operator must then pull the carrier assembly all the way to the rear, lift it, and then pull it away. The operator removes the bolt by pushing it to the rear of the bolt carrier; rotating the bolt so the camming lug clears the raceway on the underside of the bolt carrier and then pulls it forward and free. When cleaning, the operator should pay special attention to the barrel, bolt face, and gas piston, then oil lightly and reassemble.
Main article: 7.62x39mm
The standard AK-47 or AKM fires the 7.62x39mm cartridge with a muzzle velocity of 715 m/s. Projectile weight is normally 8 g (123 grain). The AK-47 and AKM, with the 7.62×39mm cartridge, have a maximum effective range of around 400 metres (1,300 ft).
Additional firepowerEditAll current model AK-47 rifles can mount under-barrel 40mm grenade launchers such as the GP-25 Grenade Launcher, GP-30, and GP-34, which can fire up to 20 rounds per minute and have an effective range of up to 400m.
The Zastava M70 also has a grenade-launching sight and gas cut-off on the gas block, and are capable of launching rifle grenades. To launch then a 22mm grenade launching adapter is screwed on in place of the slant brake or other muzzle devices. Other AK-47 variants tuned for launching grenades are the Polish Kbkg wz. 1960 and the Hungarian AMP-69.
The AK-47 can also mount a (rarely used) cup-type trenade launcher that fires standard RGD-5 Soviet hand grenades. The soup-can shaped launcher is screwed on to the AK-47's muzzle. To fire, first insert a standard RGD-5 hand-grenade into the launcher and then remove the safety pin. Second, insert a special blank cartridge into the rifle's chamber. Third, place the butt-stock of the rifle on the ground and fire from this position. The maximum effective range is approximately 150m. The RGD-5 hand-grenade has a lethality radius of 25m.
Illicit tradeEditCambodian AK-47's with black furniture throughout the world, the AK and its variants are among the most commonly smuggled small arms sold to governments, rebels, criminals, and civilians alike, with little international oversight. In some countries, prices for AKs are very low; in Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Congo and Tanzania prices are between $30 and $125 per weapon, and prices have fallen in the last few decades due to mass counterfeiting. Moises Naim observed that in a small town in Kenya in 1986, an AK-47 cost fifteen cows but that in 2005, the price was down to four cows indicating that supply was "immense". The weapon has appeared in a number of conflicts including clashes in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
After the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan, the Soviet Army left quantities of weapons including AKs which were subsequently used in the civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance and were also exported to Pakistan. The gun is now also made in Pakistan's semi-autonomous areas. It is widely used by factions in Africa like the Hamer, amongst others.
Estimated numbers of AK-type weapons vary. The Small Arms Survey suggest that "between 70 and 100 million of these weapons have been produced since 1947." The World Bank estimates that out of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide, 100 million are of the Kalashnikov family, and 75 million are AK-47s. Only about 5 million of these were manufactured in the former USSR. Because AK-type weapons have been made in other countries, often illicitly, it is impossible to know how many really exist. Mikhail Kalashnikov addressed the United Nations in 2006 at a conference aimed at solving the problem of illicit weapons, saying that he appreciated the AK-47's role in state-sponsored defense but that counterfeit weapons carrying his name in the hands of "terrorists and thugs" caused him regret.
Cultural influenceEdit"Basically, it's the anti-Western cache of it ... And you know, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so we all sort of think, oh boy, we've got a little bit of Che Guevara in us. And this accounts for the popularity of the (AK 47) weapon. Plus I think that in the United States it's considered counterculture, which is always something that citizens in this country kind of like ... It's kind of sticking a finger in the eye of the man, if you will."
— Larry Kahaner, author of AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of WarRussia/Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, as well as Western countries (especially the United States) supplied arms and technical knowledge to numerous countries and rebel forces in a global struggle between the Warsaw Pact nations and their allies against NATO and their allies called the Cold War. While the NATO countries used rifles such as the relatively expensive M14, FN FAL, and H&K G3 battle rifle and M16 assault rifle during this time, the low production and materials costs of the AK-47 meant that the Russia /USSR could produce and supply its allies at a very low cost. Because of its low cost, it was also duplicated or used as the basis for many other rifles, such as the Israeli Galil, Chinese Type 56, and Swiss SIG SG 550. As a result, the Cold War saw the mass export of AK-47s by the Soviet Union and the PRC to their allies, such as the Nicaraguan, Sandistas, and VietCong as well as Middle Eastern, Asian, and African revolutionaries. The United States also purchased the Type 56 from the PRC to give to the mujahideen guerrillas during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The proliferation of this weapon is reflected by more than just numbers. The AK-47 is included in the flag of Mozambique and its coat of arms, an acknowledgment that the country's leaders 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.
In parts of the Western world, the AK-47 is associated with their enemies; both Cold War era and present-day. During the 1980s, Russia became the principal arms dealer to countries embargoed by Western nations, including Middle Eastern nations such as Syria, Libya, and Iran, who welcomed Soviet Union backing against Israel. 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 more recently they have been seen in the hands of violent Islamic terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq, and FARC, Ejercito de Liberaction guerrillas in Colombia. Western movies often portray criminals, gang members and terrorists using AK-47s. For these reasons, in the U.S. and Western Europe the AK-47 is stereotypically regarded as the weapon of choice of insurgents, gangsters and terrorists. Conversely, throughout the developing world, the AK-47 can be positively attributed with revolutionaries or "freedom fighters" against foreign occupation, imperialism, or colonialism.
In Mexico, the AK-47 is known as "Cuerno de Chivo" (literally "Ram's Horn") and is one of the weapons of choice of Mexican drug cartels. It is sometimes mentioned in Mexican folk music lyrics.
In 2006, Columbian musician and peace activist Cesar Lopez 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 UN's Conference on Disarmament.
The Kalashnikov Museum (also called the AK-47 museum) opened on November 4, 2004, in Izhevek, a city in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The museum chronicles the biography of General Kalashnikov, as well as documents the invention of the AK-47. The museum complex of small arms of M. T. Kalashnikov, a series of halls and multimedia exhibitions is devoted to the evolution of the AK-47 assault rifle and attracts 10,000 monthly visitors. The museum serves as Russia's monument to this world-renowned infantry weapon.
Nadezhda Vechtomova, the museum director stated in an interview that the purpose of the museum is to honor the ingenuity of the inventor and the hard work of the employees and to "separate the weapon as a weapon of murder from the people who are producing it and to tell its history in our country."