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File:LCpl Cheema on the AK-47.JPG
East Germany made MPiKS 72, folding stock variant of AKM in the hands of a US Marine

Template:Firearm The AK-47 (Automatic Kalashnikov rifle 1947 model; Russian: Автомат Калашникова образца 1947 года) is an assault rifle designed in 1947 by Mikhail Kalashnikov, produced by Russian manufacturer IZH, and used in many Eastern bloc nations during the Cold War. Compared to the rifles used in World War II, the AK-47 was lighter and more compact, with a shorter range, a smaller 7.62 × 39 mm cartridge, and was capable of selective fire, thus making it one of the first assault rifles. It was also produced in greater numbers than any other assault rifle in the 20th century.


The AK-47 was not the first assault rifle but was preceded by earlier Italian, Russian, and German MP 44 assault rifle designs. Mikhail Kalashnikov adamantly denies that it is based on the German model, though they share an external aesthetic. The AK-47 resembles the MP 44 in profile and layout; however, the internal mechanisms of the two are totally different. Internally, the AK-47 owes much to the M1 Garand Rifle. The double locking lugs, unlocking raceway, and trigger mechanism are clearly derived from the earlier American design. Where the Kalashnikov rifle differs is in its simplification of those contributing designs and adaptation to mass production by relatively unskilled labor.

According to the story, tank sergeant Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov began imagining his weapon while still in the hospital, after being wounded in the battle of Bryansk. He had been informed that a new weapon was required for the 7.62 × 39 mm cartridge derived by Elisarov and Semin in 1943. Sudayev's PPS43 submachine gun was preferred to Kalashnikov's first attempt, but Kalashnikov redesigned the rifle after examining a German STG 44 in 1946. It has been suggested that Kalashnikov was chosen to lead a team of designers more for propaganda value due to his war-hero status rather than for his expertise. This choice would follow Soviet patterns in other industries.

There were many difficulties during the first phase of production. Initially, the Soviets were not able to use stamped sheet metal construction (as the Germans had). Instead, they machined the components, a slower and more costly process. The use of machined receivers interestingly accelerated production. Tooling for the earlier Mosin-Nagant rifle's machined receiver was readily adapted until tooling and machinery for stamping became available. Although standardized in 1947, the Soviets were not able to distribute the AK-47 to soldiers until 1956. The first stamped sheet metal version appeared in 1959 and is designated the AKM (M for modernized or upgraded).

In the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union began replacing their AK-47 and AKM rifles with a newer design, the AK-74.

Notable features

The AK-47 is simple and inexpensive to manufacture and very easy to clean and maintain. Its ruggedness and reliability is legendary. The oversized gas piston, generous clearances between moving parts, and tapered cartridge case design allow the gun to endure large amounts of foreign matter and fouling without failing to cycle.

Originally, the AK-47 had a cyclic rate of 600 rounds per minute. Newer variants incorporate a device variably known as a hammer retarder or rate reducer. While it is unclear what the utility of the device is, it may prevent firing before the action is fully closed. The rate of fire, however, is not significantly altered.

The notched rear tangent iron sight is calibrated with each numeral denoting hundreds of meters. The front sight is a post adjustable for elevation in the field. Windage adjustment is done by the armory prior to issue. The battle setting places the round within a few centimeters above or below the point of aim out to approximately 250 meters. This "point-blank range" setting allows the shooter to fire the gun at any close target without adjusting the sights. Longer settings are intended for area suppression. These settings mirror the Mosin-Nagant and SKS rifles which the AK-47 replaced. This eased transition and simplified training.

The bore and chamber, as well as the gas piston and the interior of the gas cylinder, are generally chromium plated. This plating dramatically increases the life of these parts by resisting corrosion and wear. Chrome plating of critical parts is now common on most modern military weapons.


The standard AK-47 or AKM fires a 7.62 × 39 mm round with a muzzle velocity of 710 m/s. Muzzle energy is 1,990 joules. Cartridge case length is 38.6 mm, weight is 18.21 g. Projectile weight is normally 8 g. The AK-47 and AKM, with the 7.62 × 39 mm cartridge, have an effective range of around 300 meters.


A diagram showing the design of AKM. Includes instructions for disassembly of the rifle for maintenance

To fire, insert a loaded magazine, move the selector lever to the lowest position, pull back and release the charging handle, and then pull the trigger. In this setting, the gun fires once requiring the trigger be released and depressed again for the next shot until the magazine is exhausted. With the selector in the middle position, the rifle continues to fire, automatically cycling fresh rounds into the chamber, until the magazine is exhausted or pressure is released from the trigger.

To field strip, first depress the magazine catch and remove the magazine. Use the charging handle to pull the bolt carrier to the rear and inspect the chamber to verify the gun is unloaded. Press forward on the retainer button at the rear of the receiver cover while simultaneously lifting up on the rear of the cover to remove it. Push the spring assembly forward and lift it from its raceway, withdrawing it out of the bolt carrier and to the rear. Pull the bolt carrier assembly all the way to the rear, lift it and then pull it away. Remove the bolt by pushing it to the rear of the bolt carrier; rotate the bolt so the camming lug clears the raceway on the underside of the bolt carrier and then pull it forward and free. Clean as needed, with special attention to the barrel, bolt face, and gas piston. Oil lightly and reassemble.

Legal status in the USA

Private ownership of full-automatic AK-47 rifles is tightly regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934. The Gun Control Act of 1968 ceased import of foreign manufactured fully automatic firearms for civilian sales and possession effectively halting further importation of civilian accessible AK-47 rifles. In late 1986, an amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act stopped all future domestic manufacture of fully automatic weapons for civilian use. However, machine guns manufactured domestically prior to 1986 and imported prior to 1968 may be transferred between civilians in accordance with federal and state law. Several Soviet and Chinese rifles made it into the U.S. during the mid-1960s when returning Vietnam Veterans brought them home after capture from enemy troops. Many of these were properly registered during the 1968 NFA amnesty. In addition, several states have laws on their books outlawing private possession of full-automatic firearms even with NFA approval.

Certain semi-automatic AK-47 models were banned by the now-expired Federal assault weapons ban of 19942004. A semiautomatic rifle, similar externally to the AK-47 but operably identical to many hunting rifles, was used in a much publicized 1989 shooting in a Stockton, California, schoolyard, and in the 1993 murders outside of the Langley, Virginia, headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (see Mir Amir Kansi). Citing these tragedies, gun control advocates lobbied for strict controls on military-style semiautomatic firearms.

Cultural influence

The AK-47 and its derivatives are favored by many non-Western powers because of their ease of use, robustness, simplicity, and manufacturing cost effectiveness. During most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and China followed a military assistance program, supplying their arms and technical knowledge to numerous countries. In addition, another policy saw the supply of weapons, free of charge, to pro-communist fighters such as the Sandinistas and Viet-Cong. This policy was mirrored in the West, with the United States providing arms to such groups as the Afghan Mujahideen. Estimates for production range over 100 million units.

The broad proliferation of this weapon is reflected by more than just its numbers. The AK-47 is included in the Mozambique coat of arms (formerly also in Burkina Faso coat of arms) and the Hizballah flag. "Kalash", a shortened form of "Kalashnikov", is used as a name for boys in some African countries. Moreover, moviemakers who arm cinema terrorists, gang members (e.g. films like Boyz N The Hood), and "bad guys" in general with AK-47s add much to the weapon's cultural mystique.

The sheer ubiquity of the AK-47, its iconography, the fact that it possesses easily the most distinguishable weapon outline, and its nefarious association with crime and terrorism will ensure a significant and conspicuous impact on society.


Small arms captured in Fallujah, Iraq by the US Marine Corps in 2004

Kalashnikov variants include:

  • AK-47 1948–51, 7.62 × 39 mm. The very earliest models had a stamped sheet metal receiver. Now rare.
  • AK-47 1952, 7.62 × 39 mm: has a milled receiver and wooden buttstock and hand guard. Barrel and chamber are chrome plated to resist corrosion. Rifle weight 4.2 kg.
  • AKS-47; Featured an downward-folding metal stock similar to that of the German MP40 for use in the restricted space in the BMP infantry combat vehicle.
  • RPK 7.62 × 39 mm: squad automatic rifle version with longer barrel and bipod.
  • AKM 7.62 × 39 mm: a simplified, lighter version of the AK-47; receiver is made from stamped and riveted sheet metal. A slanted muzzle device was added to counter climb in automatic fire. Rifle weight 3.61 kg.
  • AKMS 7.62 × 39 mm: folding-stock version of the AKM intended for airborne troops.
  • AK-74 series 5.45 x 39 mm

Other versions

The AK-47 and its descendants are or have been manufactured in the following countries: Egypt, China, North Korea, East Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia (as the M70 and M80 series), Romania, Hungary, Iraq, and Bulgaria. Certainly more have been produced elsewhere, but the above list represents major producers. The AKM design is still in production in Russia, now in a updated form.

The basic design of the AK-47 has been used as the basis for other successful rifle designs such as the Finnish Valmet 62/76, the Israeli Galil, the Indian INSAS and the Yugoslav Zastava (weapon) M76 and M77/M82 (not to be confused with the British M82) rifles. Several bullpup designs have surfaced, although none have been produced in quantity.

See also


  • Fackler et al. (1984). "Wounding potential of the Russian AK-74 assault rifle", Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care. 24, 263-6.
  • Ezell, Edward Clinton (1986). The AK-47 Story: Evolution of the Kalashnikov Weapons. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0811709167. (Ezell is the curator of military history at the Smithsonian Museum.)
  • Guinness World Records 2005. ISBN 1892051222.

External links

Video links


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