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Wow. Who knew Russian national pride extended to firearms? Seriously, if Defense Secretary Gates appeared on TV and said “The M-16’s got some reliability issues when it comes to running the guns in less-than-optimal field conditions,” I think a lot of people would go “well…he’s got a point.” Others would say he’s a little light in the loafers. But nobody would look at his statement as an insult to the very fibre of the being that is the good ol’ U. S. of A. Not so back in the (former) U.S.S.R. . . .

Apparently, Russia’s Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, opined publically that the Kalashnikov and Dragunov SVDs sniper rifles, are “morally outdated.” To add insult to injury, he intimated that he’s considering replacing the weapons with something else. Let’s just say this didn’t play well in the Russian equivalent of the Borscht Belt. In fact, “firestorm of controversy” would be a pretty accurate depiction of the ensuing fireworks.

Evidently, Russians are a prideful people. And they take a lot of pride in Kalishnikov’s Greatest Hit of 1947. The AK-47 has withstood the test of time, doing exactly what it’s designer set out for it to do – function as a rugged, all-purpose weapon that was cheap to build, easy to use, and would run even if you filled it full of mud. Accuracy was not really high on the list of objectives, but I understand from people that know far more about the AKs than I, that they are far more accurate than most people believe.

The AK-47 is the equivalent of open-source software in the gun world. It seems as if every Soviet satellite country and a number of other third-world nations have made a cottage industry stamping out AK-47s like Pillsbury stamps out cookies. (Okay, technically the design was updated to the “AK-74” but the term AK-47 in this case can be considered a generic for the entire AK family of Kalishnikov-designed/inspired weapons. As Fox News points out:

They’re known around the world for their durability in all conditions, firing reliability, ease of use, low production cost and lethality. Military lore holds that an AK-47 can be buried in the mud, dug up a year later and still be fired.

So for Mother Russia, their very own Defense Minister dissin’ the AK would be like Jeff Cooper bitch-slappin’ the 1911, and throwin’ in a little trash talk against John Moses Browning, to boot. But the times they are a-changin,’ and I’m not so sure Anatolovich doesn’t have a valid pointsky.

The venerable 1911 and AK-47 bear more than a passing comparison. They are both well-established, respected designs. They are both manufactured by multiple armories. And they both have several features that are seen in a modern context as design flaws at worst, and in desperate need of an update, at best.

When you stack an AK-47 against, oh, say an American M-4, many would argue the AK comes up short. After all, sometimes, battles are about who can get the most lead into the other guy’s soldiers while wasting the least number of rounds. And when it comes to that, the AK may be a sentimental fave, but a number of other weapons come out on top of Kalishnikov’s carbine.

But what’s the solution? Mother Russia’s not about to buy Americanski guns, or for that matter, weapons of the Frenchy French, the Germans or (not in a million, zillion years) the Israelis. Nope. I suspect a surge in nationalist pride will drive the Russians to find a young, talented designer in the mold of another Kalishnikov, and set them to the task to building a better rifle, by combining the advantages of an AK with the accuracy of a more modern design.

That’s no small order, for the AK was something of an engineering marvel of it’s time. To build a gun with better accuracy and precision, but retain the famous AK features – inexpensive to manufacture, virtually clog-proof, easy-to-use, and reliable as all get out – would be a feat to rival anything the gun world has seen. But to add to the challenge, Russia’s own gun manufacturing is dying due to low pay for the workers.

Eventually, something’s gotta give. So while our military thrashes about, looking to replace the 9mm handgun cartridge with something that has a little more stopping power, and once again flirts with the .45ACP, it’s nice to know other countries are in the throws of their own firearms fandango, fraught with frisson. (Sorry. Runaway Alliteration.)

Will Russia ditch their national firearm for something a little bit more accurate? Stay tuned…

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  1. To build a gun with better accuracy and precision, but retain the famous AK features – inexpensive to manufacture, virtually clog-proof, easy-to-use, and reliable as all get out – would be a feat to rival anything the gun world has seen.

    Fast, cheap, or quality, pick two.

  2. I remember something a while back (possibly ten years) about a native Russian AK design update with greatly improved accuracy with the continued reliability of the original design.
    Part of the secret to the accuracy was some sort of innovative reciprocating bolt that cut down on recoil, which by extension made maintaining sight picture easier.

  3. I just finished reading “The Gun” by C.J. Chivers. Excellent history of the AK-47. It plays a fascinating part of contemporary history, and is one of the most recognizable shapes on the planet. It is also extraordinary to realize that of the 100million+ AK-47s produced, only a tiny fraction are within the United States.

  4. “they are far more accurate than most people believe.”
    That is a true statement from my experience in shooting AK’s. I’m quite certain I could hit a deer in the shoulder @ 200 yds with the irons.

  5. AK design with greater accuracy? Didn’t the Israeli’s solve that problem already with the Galil? They even fixed the safety-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-receiver problem by putting a thumb safety on it. Also, IIRC Valmet (Finland) makes some pretty nice AK-style rifles that are pretty accurate.

  6. Kalashnikov hated the AK-74 with it’s downsized cartridge. He was a firm believer in the proposition that untrained muzhiks were better off launching lots of big hunks of lead at the enemy and hoping for the best rather than aiming a smaller, more accurate projectile. Since the Russians are no longer sending peasants into the field, perhaps Serdyukov is correct in his assessment of the AK. One thing I know for sure: almost every major weapons program the Russians have undertaken was successful. If the Russian designers are intent on producing the “next AK,” they will.

  7. Isn’t combining the AK’s rugged reliability with the AR’s inherent accuracy the goal of every modern carbine design? I mean isn’t that what the two platforms boil down to and what the “AK vs. AR” threads always devolve into?

  8. I have several AK’s and they are all reliable and accurate. My favorite is the chinese bullpup with the 75 round drum and bayonetta. I have a holographic sight on this puppy and it’s dead on target with no jams.

  9. As C.J. Chivers pointed out, the Kalashnikov is virtually the only successful quintessentially Russian export in the last 120 years. Russian cars, consumer goods, and food have been shit since the dawn of time, and their only other ‘export’, global Communism, was a calamitous and humiliating failure.

    But the AK-pattern rifles are still to be found in their tens of millions, most of them decades-old and still functioning, anywhere in the world that people want to kill their neighbors.

    On a practical note, the Russians have been looking for a successor to the AK series for more than a decade. The AN-94 and other designs use a combination of exotic muzzle devices and counter-weighted operating parts to reduce recoil to zero, even during fully automatic fire.

    As the U.S. military has discovered, the current generation of assault rifles is effective enough that noticeable functional improvements come at unjustifiable expense.

  10. 30+ years ago, while doing compulsory military service, I’ve shot AK47/AMK extensively and from 100 meters in semi-automatic I would _always_ hit the 10 centimeter circular target. Is this inaccurate and how more accurate than this do you need to go ?


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