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The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan

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An AK for Every Market
by James Dunnigan
April 23, 2003

There are still tens of millions of AK-47 assault rifles in use. Which is not surprising, as over fifty million have been made in the last 55 years. No one is exactly sure how many were manufactured, because so many dictatorships, like China, produced them and saw no reason to release any statistics. But the nation that pioneered the AK-47 considers it an obsolete weapon, and has not used it for over two decades. In the 1970s, Russia began making the AKS-74. Actually, this was an AK-47 chambered for a small, fast bullet (5.45mm) like that used in the American M-16. In the 1990s, the Russians developed a third generation "AK;" the AN-94. That has been followed by a new series of AKs, the "Century Series." These include the AK-101, AK-103, AK-107, AK-108. The differences between these weapons are mostly weight and bullet performance. All share the same basic simplicity and reliability of the original AK-47.

The AK-47 was heavy, weighing 9.5 pounds empty, then you insert a 20 ounce magazine holding 30 7.62mm bullets. These were "short" rifle rounds, leaving the barrel at 2,300 feet per second and not being very accurate after a few hundred meters. The AK-47 was meant for troops with little training, who could put their weapons on full auto and empty a few magazines at the enemy. This had worked during World War II, when the Russians used large numbers of troops armed with 9mm machine pistols. But professional soldiers wanted something with a little more hitting power, and accuracy. That brought forth the AKS-74. This one weighed seven pounds empty, and 7.7 pounds with a 30 round magazine. The 5.45mm bullet left the barrel at 3,000 feet per second, doing more damage at close range and being more accurate when firing single rounds. While not as accurate as the M-16, it was an improvement over the AK-47. In the 1990s, a news design was introduced. The AN-94 was more accurate, but heavier at 7.8 pounds empty, 8.5 pounds with a 30 round magazine. A clever bit of engineering allows more accurate full automatic fire. With a little practice, this can be come a very effective battlefield tactic. The AN-94 is also more expensive, and the Russian army has not been able to buy many of them. You usually find them only with airborne or commando units.

In the last few years, yet another generation of AKs have appeared, aimed mainly at the export market. All of them weigh 7.5 pounds empty. The AK-101 uses the NATO 5.56mm round and is basically an improved AKS-74. The AK-103 uses the AK-47 ammo (the short 7.62mm round.) The other two models have a better firing mechanism (similar to the AN-94) and come in two versions. The AK-107 uses the Russian 5.45mm round while the AK-108 uses the NATO 5.56mm. With these four weapons, Russia can sell to nations that have U.S. or Russian rifles, but need some new weapons. The Russian weapons 5.56mm weapons are cheaper than M-16s (or their many clones) and the AK-103 is a step up in performance for armies using the AK-47 (and perhaps have a lot of AK-47 ammo on hand.)

Russia has always serviced the low end of the small arms market. Their weapons are rugged, reliable and not the most accurate. Especially in the hands of poorly trained troops. But if you want to arm a lot of people cheaply, Russia has an AK for you at an attractive price. Plus some pricier and more effective weapons for your personal bodyguard.





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