ARAK. That’s AR as in AR-15, plus AK as in AK-47. From Faxon Firearms, the ARAK-21 is a long-stroke gas piston upper receiver with a self-contained recoil system that fits on any standard AR lower receiver.
As you’d expect, it shoots the AK-47’s 7.62×39 caliber, but also switches in about three minutes to 5.56 or 300 Blackout. And best of all, it works.
Faxon sells the ARAK as a complete rifle (the ARAK-21 XRS) as well, but for those of us (all of us?) who already own various AR-15 lowers there are obvious advantages to simply mail ordering an upper for delivery right to your door. In my case I borrowed an ambidextrous ejection ARAK-21 upper with 16-inch 7.62×39 barrel, 16-inch 5.56 barrel and 12.5-inch 5.56 barrel and went to town.
The monolithic upper receiver sports a quad rail forend, though the side rails and bottom rail are easily removable. As the upper isn’t exactly a featherweight — 5.5 lbs with a 16-inch medium-profile barrel — I appreciated the ability to ditch extra rail estate that wasn’t being used. Especially on the left side, the naked forend was also more comfortable to grip.
Flipped upside down to view the 6:00 side, not only is that section of Pic rail removable but so, too, is the entire bottom of the forend. Using the included hex wrench, simply loosen those six, captive bolts to lift the baseplate off.
With that accomplished, slide the barrel about an inch forward and it’s yours, lifting cleanly out of the ARAK. Install a different barrel, insert the bolt carrier so it locks into battery, then tighten everything back down. In about three minutes the end user can swap barrel lengths, profiles, and even calibers.
The bolt carrier and its attached piston ride on a hardened steel rail system bolted into the receiver. A sleek recoil spring nestles down into the hollow tube behind the solid steel piston, and is contained within the upper. As no traditional AR-15 recoil system (receiver extension, buffer, spring) is needed and the bolt carrier doesn’t cycle outside of the receiver, the sky’s the limit for stock choices. Including folding stocks, wire/skeleton stocks, etc.
Different bolts are required for 5.56/300 BLK and 7.62×39, and are easily swapped without tools. There’s a firing pin spring for the NATO-based rounds, which isn’t used for the commie stuff.
Eight-lug bolts have dual ejectors for all calibers. With an extractor located at 3:00, a simple 180° turn of the bolt switches ejection from right- to left-side.
Ambidextrous ejection is an option — a no-cost one — on the ARAK-21. The receiver can also be ordered with a solid left wall for right-hand-only ejection.
Up front is an adjustable gas block with four settings: high, medium, low, and off. High is for dirty or adverse conditions to provide some extra oomph to the carrier, medium is for normal use, low for suppressed shooting, and off for single-shot operation (extra quiet when suppressed, too). The tip of a cartridge can be used for additional leverage, if needed, when clicking between gas port settings.
Continuing the ambidextrous theme, the ARAK’s spring-loaded, forward charging handle can be switched from left to right side without tools. It’s non-reciprocating, meaning it stays in place while shooting and won’t shear off any of your digits. That’s a plus.
On the downside, since the charging handle only works to push the bolt carrier rearwards it can’t be used as a forward assist, a feature — debated in utility as it is — that the ARAK-21 goes without.
I appreciate the location of the charging handle, as it allows for locking back the bolt one-handed. Pull the charging handle to the rear with your index and middle fingers, then use your thumb to depress the bottom of the bolt catch before releasing the handle. Strong hand remains on the pistol grip the whole time.
On the range, I was initially frustrated with light primer strikes on Wolf brand 7.62×39. Obviously surplus and steel-cased, Russian AK food is known for having particularly hard primers and, having simply been handed this upper without a primer (of the knowledge kind; rhymes with “trimmer”), I missed all of Faxon’s clear statements about hammer spring strength.
Both the website and the owner’s manual make it known that a full- or even high-power hammer spring needs to be used on an AR-15 trigger in order to achieve reliable ignition of this type of 7.62×39 ammo. Faxon particularly recommends either a Wolff high-power hammer spring or a HiperFire trigger in their stiffest spring configuration.
Swapping over to a random polymer lower receiver with a standard Mil-spec (“parts kit”) trigger in it, the light strikes disappeared and I ran through 220 rounds of Wolf without a hitch.
About 60 of those rounds were fired suppressed with my Dead Air Sandman Ti gracing the muzzle. Normally it’s a terrible idea to throw your suppressor on a random AK-47, as they’re notorious for not having concentric threads or even a centered bore, but this isn’t a random AK. It may be firing the same cartridge, but Faxon’s reputation and business ride primarily on their excellent rifle barrels and the nitrided 4150 (or 416-R stainless) barrels in the ARAK are no exception.
But good lord was there a lot of gas jetting out the left-side ejection port! Though I had the ARAK ejecting empties to the right and the gas port turned down to low, every shot blasted my face with hot gas and debris.
Faxon is addressing this with an ejection port cover, which is easily installed in place of the left-side case deflector. While I received a 3D-printed prototype version rather than the final product, it was a lifesaver. Complete night-and-day difference with no perceptible gas in my face whatsoever.
Over to the accuracy department and I was shooting about 3.5 MOA with the 122 grain, steel-cased Wolf ammo. Which is acceptable for a short-range battle rifle but not particularly good, though to be fair it’s the rare gun indeed that could shoot this ammo (which is good for about a 40 fps standard deviation in velocity) any better.
Unfortunately — a glaring failure, I know — this is the only 7.62×39 I had available. With better ammo I don’t see any reason not to expect results more in-line with the 5.56 results below, considering the company involved and the identical barrel construction and firearm.
With the 16″ 5.56 barrel the ARAK shot groups from 1 MOA to 1.45 MOA, effectively in-line with how much the ammo cost. Inexpensive CapArms 55 grain reloads shot the widest groups while Federal Gold Medal 69 grain and IWI RazorCore 77 grain shot the tightest.
Considering this is far from a free-floated barrel, with a trunion 12″ down the pipe that’s clamped into the handguard and also supporting the gas block responsible for kicking the piston and carrier rearwards, I’m happy with one minute accuracy. Presumably if I slowed down the shot cadence these groups would tighten up, as nearly all of them exhibited vertical stringing due, most likely, to the barrel heating up from a cool state.
If you’re looking for a survival, bug-out, TEOTWAWKI, or battle rifle, the ARAK-21 would be a solid choice. We found it to be flawlessly reliable (with a full-power hammer spring), stoutly built, and highly adjustable. The ability to swap between calibers within about three minutes is awesome, while easy gas system adjustment and ambidextrous charging and ejection are icing on the cake.
Specifications: Faxon Firearms ARAK-21 Upper Receiver
Caliber: Interchangeable between 5.56×45, 7.62×39, and/or 300 Blackout
Action: long stroke gas piston, adjustable
Barrel Length: 12.5″, 16″, and 20″ barrels of various profiles are available
Twist Rate: 1:8 in all calibers
Weight: 5.5 lbs with 16″, medium profile barrel.
MSRP: $1,199 in black with one 4150 barrel. Add $200+ for additional barrels and $100 for an additional bolt and firing pin, if needed.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Reliability * * * * *
The ARAK runs very strongly. It cycles, ejects, feeds, and locks into battery with smooth authority. Short of torture testing the thing, it’s a clearly reliable system. And there’s always the high gas setting to power through built-up crud.
Accuracy * * * *
1 MOA from a battle rifle is better than average. 1.4 MOA from inexpensive reloads is better than average. 3.5 MOA with Wolf 7.62×39 is likely better than average, too.
Ergonomics * * * *
Ambidextrous design and a forward charging handle is five stars all the way, as is the self-contained recoil system allowing for folding stocks and other non-typical-for-an-AR stock choices. However, the weight and it’s associated front-heavy balance knocks it down to four stars.
Design * * * * *
An adjustable long stroke gas piston, caliber-swapping, ejection side-swapping, self-contained recoil system AR-15 upper receiver? Awesome.
Overall * * * *
Yes, I realize that complete and perfectly functional AR-15s and AK-47s can be had for hundreds of dollars less than the ARAK-21 upper receiver’s starting price of $1,199. But do they have the features mentioned in the other ratings categories here? Can they quickly and easily switch calibers? No and no way. The ARAK-21 is a heck of a piece of kit.