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- National Public Radio – The AK-47: ‘The Gun’ That Changed The Battlefield
- ThoughtCo. – Cold War AK-47 Assault Rifle
- Russiapedia – AK-47 combat rifle
AK-47, also called Kalashnikov Model 1947, Soviet assault rifle, possibly the most widely used shoulder weapon in the world. The initials AK represent Avtomat Kalashnikova, Russian for “automatic Kalashnikov,” for its designer, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, who designed the accepted version of the weapon in 1947.
Almost from the moment of its official adoption by the Soviet military in 1949, the AK-47 was recognized as being simple to operate, rugged, reliable under trying conditions, and amenable to mass production. Built around a 7.62-mm round with a muzzle velocity of some 700 metres per second, it had a cyclic firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and was capable of both semiautomatic and automatic fire. A long curved box magazine held 30 rounds, and a separate gas-return tube above the barrel held a piston that was forced back upon firing to activate the mechanisms that ejected the spent cartridge and cocked the hammer for the next round. The AK-47 was manufactured in two basic designs, one with a wooden stock and the other, designated the AKS, with a folding metal stock. Beginning in 1959, the AK-47 was replaced in first-line Soviet service by the AKM, a modernized version fitted with longer-range sights and cheaper mass-produced parts, including a stamped sheet-metal receiver and a plywood buttstock and forward grip.
Despite their obvious advantages, the AK-47 and the AKM were considered by the Soviet military to have problems with accuracy, mainly because of recoil forces generated by the powerful 7.62-mm round and other forces known as blowback that were generated by the weapons’ heavy internal mechanisms. Those problems were partly addressed during the 1970s, when the AKM was replaced by the AK-74, which adapted the basic Kalashnikov design to a smaller 5.45-mm round with a higher muzzle velocity of 900 metres per second. A later version of the AK-74, the AK-74M, was the main infantry weapon of the Russian army into the 21st century.
After the 1970s, research continued into possible successors to the AK-47/74 series, most of them involving some means of reducing the effects of recoil and blowback. One candidate, the AN-94, allowed two rounds to be fired in rapid succession before recoil forces were generated. Other candidates, the AK-107 and AEK-971, introduced mechanical parts whose movements balanced those of the blowback-generating mechanisms. None of these weapons was accepted for standard issue to the Russian army, however. In 2018 the Russian military began introducing a pair of new rifles from the AK family—the AK-12 and the AK-15—as eventual replacements for the AK-74M. The AK-12 retained the 5.45-mm calibre that had been introduced with the AK-74, but the AK-15 reverted to the Soviet-era 7.62-mm round. Both weapons featured a modernized chassis that allowed for the mounting of scopes, forward grips, and other tactical accessories.
Kalashnikov assault rifles remain the basic shoulder weapons of many armies that once had political and military ties to the Soviet Union, and they have long been the favoured weapon for many guerrilla and nationalist movements throughout the world. The symbolic value of the AK-47 to such movements is demonstrated by its presence on the coats of arms of numerous countries as well as on the flag of Mozambique. It has been estimated that some 100 million AKs have been produced—fully half of them outside Russia, and many of those under expired Soviet-era licenses or no license at all. A full range of weapons that can trace their design history back to the AK-47 are produced by the Izhmash armaments company in Izhevsk, Russia.
AK-47, Soviet assault rifle, possibly the most widely used shoulder weapon in the world. The initials AK represent Avtomat Kalashnikova, Russian for ‘automatic Kalashnikov,’ for its designer, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, who designed the accepted version of the weapon in 1947.
Everything you want to know about the legendary AK-47
The AK-47 is perhaps the most widespread firearm in the world. Carried by American enemies and allies alike since 1947, it is the standard infantry weapon for 106 countries. There are an estimated 100 million AK-47s of a number of variations round the world.
It’s a popular weapon among firearms enthusiasts, professional soldiers and terrorists alike. In the United States, it has a reputation as the “bad guy” weapon, given its history and usage among so many former enemies.
So it’s natural that readers have a lot of questions about it.
1. What is ‘AK-47’ short for?
Its Russian name is Avtomat Kalashnikova — also known simply as the Kalashnikov. It was named for its inventor, Senior Sergeant Mikhail Kalashnikov. He was supposedly a wounded T-34 tank commander in the Red Army during World War II. According to legend, he admired the weapons made by the Nazis.
After five years of engineering, the former agricultural engineer made his famous weapon. It was based on a number of other designs floating around at the time, mostly Germany’s Sturmgewehr-44. Called StG-44 for short, the Sturmgewehr was the first real mid-range infantry rifle. It didn’t shoot a heavy round but could still lay down heavy fire. The AK-47 was designed to do the same.
But the true brilliance of Kalashnikov’s invention was in its simplicity. It was designed for all-around ease of use: easy to repair, easy to unjam (if it ever does), easy to maintain. If a round is chambered in an AK-47, chances are good that weapon is going to fire.
His creation was so simple and dependable that the Soviet Union began exporting the weapon en masse. The country made so much money from exporting the weapon that Kalashnikov received special treatment in the USSR and later Russia for the rest of his life.
2. Are AK-47 guns illegal?
The legality of the AK-47 depends on what country you’re reading this in. In many countries, it’s not only legal to own an AK model firearm, it’s necessary and/or celebrated.
AK-47 model weapons are also dirt cheap in many places around the world — but the further away you are from the production centers, the more expensive it can be.
According to a study on transnational crime in the developing world, the cost of a black market AK-47 can run as little as $150 in Pakistan to $3,600 on the Dark Web for shipment to the United States.
The price of an AK family firearm in Africa is an exception to that general rule. It’s usually much cheaper in many African countries because the demand is so high that markets are usually flooded.
3. How many bullets can an AK-47 fire in a minute?
The AK-47 can fire 600 rounds per minute in a fully automatic setting.
4. Can I legally buy an AK-47 in the United States?
As for American wannabe AK owners, it also depends on what state you live in. In general, however, a true AK-47 has a fully automatic setting, which is illegal in the United States. Models with semi-automatic settings are available and legal in the US. Manufacturers cannot make or import fully automatic weapons for the civilian market.
But you can still legally buy a fully automatic AK-47. Because this is America.
Any automatic weapon fully registered before May 1986, with the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, can be purchased or sold. This means there is a market of an estimated 175,000 legal automatic weapons in the United States. The limited legal supply also means that one of these rifles can be wildly expensive — not to mention the stiff Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives oversight and a $200 excise tax.
But if you can afford $10,000 for a legally automatic AK-47, $200 is likely not going to bother you.
5. How deadly is the AK-47?
The AK-47 is the deadliest weapon ever built, on the whole. Its kill count even tops nuclear weapons in sheer numbers. But the first AK-47s were very heavy and weren’t really built for aiming. Kalashnikov wanted to develop a compact weapon that still delivered firepower within 300 meters that could bring a blaze of bullets (with ammunition light enough that soldiers could carry a lot of it).
A real 1947 Kalashnikov is surprisingly difficult to fire for a standard infantry weapon, but it was still very easily produced and easily used. Today’s AKs are actually AKMs (modernized) and variations on the AKM. Everyone will still refer to it as an AK-47 or simply “AK” — because it sounds cool.
The weapon uses a 7.62 mm, high-velocity round that can “destroy whole areas of a body,” according to New York City trauma surgeons. They shatter bones, tear through organs and liquefy other materials as the round tumbles through the body — often in ways that cannot be repaired.
6. Does the US military use AK-47s?
When the M16 rifle was first introduced in the Vietnam War, it had a number of issues. There were so many problems that American troops were killed in combat simply because they couldn’t shoot back.
Even after the kinks were worked out, a dirty M16 was (and is) much less likely to operate than a dirty AK-47. So US troops were known to pick up AKs from their fallen enemies and keep them handy . just in case.
When the AK-47 was first introduced, it was such a great weapon that the Red Army actually hid it from the world. The US didn’t really know about its existence until the mid-1950s. Not that the American military would buy its standard-issue rifle from its main geopolitical foe and potential World War III adversary anyway.
These days, the US does not field AK-47s, but some members of its military are trained to use them. Special operations forces from all branches might have to pick up an enemy AK-47 at some point because of the nature of their work — sometimes help isn’t coming.
7. Why do terrorists use AK-47s?
The rifle was designed to be carried, maintained and fired by anyone in the area who happened to need its services. And if you need a weapon like the AK-47, you need to be able to use it fast, whether you’re a professional soldier or a poorly trained conscript.
The worldwide availability and durability of the AK-47 also makes it an attractive weapon for terrorists, militias and other illegal paramilitary organizations. Whether they’re trying to take over a military base in frozen tundra or overthrowing a government in Sub-Saharan Africa, the AK-47 works really well in every environment, is always available (usually at a steep discount) and will still work even if it falls into water, mud, sand or some other muck.
The average lifespan of a terrorist in a gunfight isn’t very long, so that rifle is likely going to hit the ground, and someone is going to need it to work when they pick it up. The terrorist group is definitely going to need a cheap replacement.
There are an estimated 100 million AK-47s of many variations in use around the world by gun enthusiasts, professional soldiers, and terrorists alike.