I’m in the market for a carbine. Don’t need it. I’ve got a perfectly serviceable Remington 870 Wingmaster shotgun in .12 gauge that handles the home defense chores just fine, thank you. I’m the proud owner of a 1911 semi-auto .45 ACP that shoots just dandy. I’ve got access to my dad’s .38 special wheel-gun, should the mood strike me. And yet I’d like to own a carbine. Maybe do some plinking. Target practice. Whatever. When I set my sights on something, I do my homework. I want to know the pros and cons of a given model. In my initial research, two weapons have jumped to the fore: the AR-15 and the AK-47. Once I narrowed my choice down to these two models, my research veered sharply into the realm of the kind of religious zealotry normally reserved for discussing Macs versus PCs. Or Jesus vs. Allah.
For [both of] the uninitiated, Don Gammill Jr.’s series on the AR-15 is coming down the pike. Suffice it to say, the AR-15 is the civilian version of the military’s M-16. Most commonly chambered in .223, the AR-15’s available in a variety of calibers, all the way down to the .22 LR. The AR-15 is to rifles what the Jeep is to SUVs, the 1911 is to handguns: a jack of all trades you can customize any way you like.
The AK-47 was originally designed by Mikhail Kalishnikov back in ’47 (Automatik Kalishnikov 1947) and quickly became the workhorse of the Soviet military, and all their satellite states. Since replaced with first the AKM and then the AK-74, the AK-47, chambered in 7.62mm, is something akin to the Creative Commons licensed version of a rifle. It’s used all of the world, because it’s cheap to manufacture and requires very basic maintenance. There are millions and millions of them in active service around the globe.
The AR was designed to emphasize versatility. Originally created as a replacement for the the AR-10, both of which were originally designed by Eugene Stoner for ArmaLite (the “A” in AR-15). Early AR-15s/M-16s (the fully-auto version of the AR-15) had a bad rap in Vietnam, where they were first deployed. Early units acquired a reputation for jamming, fouling and malfunctioning at the most inopportune of times (i.e. “when your life depended on it.”)
Design modifications fixed those problems. But the design is still perceived to be more likely to foul and less likely to run under adverse conditions than the AK-47. On the other hand, a clean and fully-functional AR-15 is a highly accurate weapon. And fans report that it’s as reliable as any other rifle.
By contrast, the AK-47 was designed to be dragged through the muck and mire and still retain it’s ability to shoot. By reducing their design tolerances—a polite way of saying choosing cheap and fast over good)— Kalishnikov was able to render a weapon that was more reliable under adverse conditions. Accuracy was sacrificed—the principle rap against the AK.
As far as the battle for the customizing market, the AR wins, hands down. You can purchase laser sights, ring sights, lights, foregrips, folding stocks, uppers in a variety of calibers—everything but a coffeemaker for the AR-15. (And I’m not convinced that some enterprising aftermarket manufacturer hasn’t begun work on one.) While you can get a variety of add-ons for the AK, the choice of AR mods makes Mustangs look like Bugattis.
The AR-15 features a receiver made from machined aluminum. The AK is made from pressed metal. Most AKs you can buy are used or NOS (new, old stock – i.e.: surplus). Most AR-15s are new. You’ll pay a little more (on average) for the typical AR-15 than you will for most AK-47s, by maybe $400 to $500. Both are currently in fairly robust supply, following a shortage of ARs after the last Presidential election.
I’m leaning toward the AR-15, but I’m not ready to make that leap. A little range time should sort that right out. Of course, any help from TTAG’s armed intelligentsia would be most appreciated.