The world's most popular rifle, with 100 million units in circulation, is not without its drawbacks.
The AK platform is popular worldwide for its reliability and ease of production. Today, there are roughly 100 million Kalashnikovs in 55 countries around the globe. And that's only those officially registered, ignoring all the reverse-engineered copies. The weapon is often seen in the hands of guerrillas and freedom fighters in developing countries.
It is also popular with criminal gangs. For example, Latin American drug cartels have even nicknamed it cuerno de chivo ("goat's horn") in reference to its curved magazine.
However, even such a sought-after weapon has its drawbacks, which we discuss below.
Against its main competitors (namely the US AR-15 and German H&K 416), first of all, the Russian weapon loses out due to its far greater recoil.
"The recoil of the AR-15 platform is much lower than the AK. The impact hits right in the shoulder, which means the rifle jumps about far less in the hands when shooting. Basically, the rifle remains in the shooting position at all times, making it possible to fire in bursts at one target," Russia Beyond was informed by a serving law enforcement officer, who wished to remain anonymous.
In his view, this is a crucial shortcoming of the AK in comparison with competitors.
Joe Cereghino (CC BY 2.0)
The "foreigners" score better here as well, according to the operative.
"It's always good to tune your weapon before an assignment. However, the AK is less customizable than the AR, since the choice of buttstocks, handles, sights, and everything else for foreign rifles is far greater than for ours. So we have to adapt to what we have," he added.
According to our source, an especially important customization detail is the trigger. "The trigger mechanism is like the clutch in a car - the more sensitive it is to your actions, the more efficient you become in battle," he explained.
The "foreigners" also win in terms of accuracy.
"Eugene Stoner (the American designer and creator of the M16 rifle) extended the barrel of his rifle to make it more accurate at long range. He also opted for a smaller-caliber cartridge (5.56 mm versus the AK-47's 7.62 mm) to further improve the accuracy. The Russians later followed suit, but only in the 1970s with the AK-74," Vadim Kozyulin, professor at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, told Russia Beyond.
He described how the lightweight M16 cartridge flies out at a speed of 900 m/s, losing none of its kinetic energy or ballistic force.
The special forces operative concurs. In his view, when it comes to long-range firefights (600-700 m), the American platform gets the nod every time.
These three major drawbacks aside, the Russian AK's many advantages have earned it worldwide fame and respect. To find out what they are, click here.