Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, the Russian Lieutenant General, inventor, military engineer, writer and small arms designer, is most famous for developing the world acclaimed and highest manufactured AK-47 assault rifle and its improvements, the AKM and AK-74, as well as the PK machine gun and RPK light machine gun. Kalashnikov was, according to himself, a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weaponry to design arms that achieved battlefield ubiquity. Even though Kalashnikov felt sad about the weapons’ uncontrolled distribution, he took pride in his inventions and in their reputation for reliability, emphasizing that his rifle is “a weapon of defence” and “not a weapon for offence”.
General’s Early Life
Kalashnikov was born in Kurya in Altai Krai region of Russia on 10 November 1919, and was the seventeenth child of the 19 children of his parents. In 1930, his father and most of his family had their properties confiscated by the new socialist government and deported to a village. In his youth, Mikhail suffered from various illnesses and was on the verge of death at age six. He was attracted to all kinds of machinery, but also wrote poetry, dreaming of becoming a poet. He went on to write six books and continued to write poetry all of his life. After deportation to Tomsk Oblast, his family had to combine farming with hunting, and thus Mikhail frequently used his father’s rifle in his teens. Kalashnikov continued hunting into his 90s.
Leaves Home Very Young – Joins Red Army
After completing seventh grade, Mikhail, with his stepfather’s permission, left his family and returned to Kurya, hitchhiking for nearly 1,000 km. In Kurya he found a job as a mechanic at a tractor station and developed a passion for weaponry. In 1938, as World war II was about to unfold, he was conscripted into the Red Army. Because of his small size and engineering skills he was assigned as a tank mechanic, and later became a tank commander. While training, he made his first inventions, which concerned not only tanks, but also small weapons, and was personally awarded a wrist watch by Soviet General and Marshal of the Soviet Union, Georgy Zhokov. Zhukov oversaw some of the most decisive victories of Red Army in WW II.
Wounded in Battle and Hospitalised – Idea of AK 47
Kalashnikov served on the T-34 tanks. He was wounded in combat in the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941, and hospitalised until April 1942. In the last few months of being in hospital, he overheard some fellow soldiers bemoaning their current rifles, which were plagued with reliability issues, such as jamming. As he continued to overhear the complaints that the Soviet soldiers had, as soon as he was discharged, he went to work on what would become the famous AK-47 assault rifle. Seeing the drawbacks of the standard infantry weapons at the time, he decided to construct a new rifle for the Soviet military. During this time Kalashnikov began designing a submachine gun. Although his first submachine gun design was not accepted into service, his talent as a designer was noticed. Late 1942 onwards Kalashnikov was assigned to the Central Scientific-developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Artillery Directorate of the Red Army.
The Pathway to the Most Famous AK-47
In 1944, he designed a gas-operated carbine for the new 7.62X39mm cartridge. This weapon, influenced by the U.S. M1 Garand rifle, but it lost out to the new Siminov carbine (by designer Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov) which would be eventually adopted as the SKS. But it Kalashnikov a basis for his entry in an assault rifle competition in 1946. His winning entry in this competition, the “Mikhtim” (named by taking the first letters of his name and patronymic, Mikhail Timofeyevich) became the prototype for the development of a family of prototype rifles. This process culminated in 1947, when he designed the AK-47 (standing for “Avtomat Kalashnikova” model 1947). In 1949, the AK-47 became the standard issue assault rifle of the Soviet Army and went on to become Kalashnikov’s most famous invention. While developing his first assault rifles, Kalashnikov competed with two much more experienced weapon designers, Vassily Degtyaryoy and Georgy Shpagin, who both accepted the superiority of the AK-47. Kalashnikov named Alexandr Zaitsev and Vladimir Deikin as his major collaborators during those years.
Evolves More Weapons
From 1949, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived and worked in Izhevsk, Udmurtia in Western Ural Mountains. He held a degree of Doctor of Technical Sciences (1971), and was a member of 16 academies. Over the course of his career, he evolved the basic design into a weapons family. The AKM (Kalashnikov modernized assault rifle), first brought into service in 1959, was lighter and cheaper to manufacture owing to the use of a stamped steel receiver (in place of the AK-47’s milled steel receiver) and contained detail improvements such as a re-shaped stock and muzzle compensator. From the AKM he developed a squad automatic weapon variant, known as the RPK (Kalashnikov light machine gun). He also developed the general-purpose PK machine gun (Kalashnikov machine gun), which used the more powerful 7.62X54R cartridge. It is cartridge belt-fed, not magazine-fed, as it is intended to provide heavy sustained fire from a tripod mount, or be used as a light, bipod-mounted weapon. The common characteristics of all these weapons are simple design, ruggedness and ease of maintenance in all operating conditions.
AK-47 the Global Weapon
AK-47 assault rifles had been manufactured at a rate of about a million per year. Most of them counterfeit. Izhmash, the official manufacturer of AK-47 in Russia, did not patent the weapon until 1997, and in 2006 accounted for only 10% of the world’s production. This arm became famous due to its reliability in the most extreme climatic conditions, functioning as perfectly in the desert as in the tundra. It is in official use by the militaries of 55 nations, and has been so influential in military struggle that it has been used on national flags, such as Mozambique, Hezbollah, East Timor and Zimbabwean coats of arms.
Kalashnikov Motivated by Service Not Money
Kalashnikov himself claimed he was always motivated by service to his country rather than money, and made no direct profit from weapon production. He did however own 30% of a German company Marken Marketing International (MMI) run by his grandson Igor. The company revamps trademarks and produces merchandise carrying the Kalashnikov name, such as vodka, umbrellas and knives. One of the items is a knife named for the AK-74.
An Eventful Life Comes to an End
Mikhail Kalashnikov married twice. His second wife Ekaterina Viktorovna Moiseyeva was an engineer and did much technical drawing work for her husband. They had four children, three daughters and a son. Son Victor also became a prominent small arms designer. After a prolonged illness Kalashnikov was hospitalized on 17 November 2013, in the town he lived. He died 23 December 2013, at age 94 from gastric hemorrhage. In January 2014 a letter that Kalashnikov wrote six months before his death to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, was published by Russian media. In the letter he stated that he was suffering “spiritual pain” about whether he was responsible for the deaths caused by the weapons he created. Translated from the published letter he states, “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” The patriarch wrote back, thanked Kalashnikov, and said that he “was an example of patriotism and a correct attitude toward the country“. About the design responsibility for the deaths by the rifle, “the church has a well-defined position when the weapon is defence of the Motherland, the Church supports its creators and the military, which use it.” He became one of the first people buried in the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery. The title to the AK-47 trademark belonged to Mikhail Kalashnikov’s family until 4 April 2016, when the Kalashnikov Concern won a lawsuit to invalidate the registration of the trademark.
Weapons Designed By Kalashnikov
During his career, Kalashnikov designed about 150 models of small weapons. The most famous of them were the AK-47, AKM, AK-74, AK-103, AK-105, AK-12, RPK-7, PK, and Saiga semi-automatic rifle.
Awards and Tributes
Among many other awards, such as “hero of Socialist labour”, “Order of Lenin”, and “Order of the Red Star”, on his 90th birthday on 10 November 2009, Kalashnikov was named a “Hero of the Russian Federation” and presented with a medal by President Dmitry Medvedev who lauded him for creating “the brand every Russian is proud of.” Russia released a stamp after his death (2014) and another one dedicated to the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2019. Many institutes in Russia are named after him.
The AK-47 Assault Rifle
The AK-47, ‘Kalashnikov’s automatic device’ is also known as “the Kalashnikov” or just “AK”. It is a gas-operated, 7.62X39mm assault rifle. 47 refers to the year it was finished. Design work on the AK-47 began in 1945. In 1946, the AK-47 was presented for official military trials, and in 1948, the fixed-stock version was introduced into active service with selected units of the Soviet Army. An early development of the design was the “AKS” (S for Skladnoy or “folding”), which was equipped with an under-folding metal shoulder stock. In early 1949, the AK-47 was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces and used by the majority of the member states of the Warsaw Pact. Even after seven decades, the model and its variants remain the most popular and widely used rifles in the world because of its reliability under harsh conditions, low production costs compared to contemporary Western weapons, availability in virtually every geographic region, and ease of use. The AK-47 has been manufactured in many countries and has seen service with armed forces as well as irregular forces and insurgencies worldwide, and was the basis for developing many other types of individual, crew-served and specialised firearms. As of 2004, “Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s”.
Evolution of AK-47
During WW II, the Sturmgewehr 44 rifle of German forces made a deep impression on their Soviet counterparts. The select-fire rifle was chambered for a new intermediate cartridge, the 7.92 X 33 mm Kurz, , and combined the firepower of a submachine gun with the range and accuracy of a rifle. On 15 July 1943, an earlier model of the Sturmgewehr was demonstrated before the People’s Commissariat of arms of the USSR. The Soviets were impressed with the weapon and immediately set about developing an intermediate caliber fully automatic rifle of their own, to replace the older submachine guns and outdated bolt-action rifles. The Soviets soon developed the 7.62X39mm M43 machine gun and the semi-automatic SKS carbine and the RPD light machine gun. Shortly after World War II, the Soviets developed the AK-47 rifle, which would quickly replace the SKS in Soviet service. Introduced in 1959, the AKM is a lighter stamped steel version and the most ubiquitous variant of the entire AK series of firearms. In the 1960s, the Soviets introduced the RPK light machine gun, an AK type weapon with a stronger receiver, a longer heavy barrel, and a bipod, that would eventually replace the RPD light machine gun.
AK 47 Concept
The AK-47 is best described as a hybrid of previous rifle technology innovations. It was an automatic rifle combining the best features of the American M1 and the German StG 44. Kalashnikov’s team had access to these weapons and had no need to “reinvent the wheel”. In 1944, they entered a design competition with this new 7.62×39mm, semi-automatic, gas-operated, long stroke piston, carbine, strongly influenced by the American M1 Garand. However, this new Kalashnikov design lost out to a Simonov design. In 1946, a new design competition was initiated to develop a new rifle. Kalashnikov’s rifles AK-1 (with a milled receiver) and AK-2 (with a stamped receiver) proved to be reliable weapons and were accepted to a second round of competition along with other designs. These prototypes (also known as the AK-46) had a rotary bolt, a two-part receiver with separate trigger unit housing, dual controls (separate safety and fire selector switches) and a non-reciprocating charging handle located on the left side of the weapon. This design had many similarities to the StG 44. In late 1946, as the rifles were being tested, a major redesign to improve reliability was carried out. In November 1947, the new prototypes (AK-47s) were completed. It used a long-stroke gas piston above the barrel. The upper and lower receivers were combined into a single receiver. The selector and safety were combined into a single control-lever/dust-cover on the right side of the rifle. And, the bolt-handle was simply attached to the bolt-carrier. This simplified the design and production of the rifle. The first army trial series began in early 1948. The new rifle proved to be reliable under a wide range of conditions with convenient handling characteristics. In 1949, it was adopted by the Soviet Army as “7.62 mm Kalashnikov rifle (AK)”. Refinements carried on, and the Soviets were able to fully change over by 1956. A further redesigned version designated the AKM (M for modernized) was introduced in 1959. This new model used a stamped sheet metal receiver and featured a slanted muzzle brake on the end of the barrel to compensate for muzzle rise under recoil. In addition, a “cyclic rate reducer” was introduced, that reduced the number of rounds fired per minute during fully automatic fire. It was also roughly one-third lighter than the previous model.
Bulk Production – AKM Model
Both licensed and unlicensed production of the Kalashnikov weapons abroad were almost exclusively of the AKM variant, partially due to the much easier production of the stamped receiver. All rifles based on the Kalashnikov design are frequently referred to as AK-47s in the West, although this is only correct when applied to rifles based on the original three receiver types. In most former Eastern Bloc countries, the weapon is known simply as the “Kalashnikov” or “AK”. The differences between the milled and stamped receivers includes the use of rivets rather than welds on the stamped receiver, as well as the placement of a small dimple above the magazine well for stabilization of the magazine.
The AK fires the 7.62×39mm cartridge has a muzzle velocity of 715 m/s (2,350 ft/s). The cartridge weight is 16.3 g (0.6 oz), the projectile weight is 7.9 g (122 gr). The original Soviet M43 bullets are 123 grain boat-tail bullets with a copper-plated steel jacket, a large steel core, and some lead between the core and the jacket. The AK has excellent penetration when shooting through heavy foliage, walls or a common vehicle’s metal body and into an opponent attempting to use these things as cover. The 7.62×39mm M43 projectile does not generally fragment when striking an opponent and has an unusual tendency to remain intact even after making contact with bone. The 7.62×39mm round produces significant wounding in cases where the bullet tumbles (yaws) in tissue, but produces relatively minor wounds in cases where the bullet exits before beginning to yaw. In the absence of yaw, the M43 round can pencil through tissue with relatively little injury. Most, if not all, of the 7.62×39mm ammunition found today is of the upgraded M67 variety. This variety deleted the steel insert, shifting the center of gravity rearward, and allowing the projectile to destabilize (or yaw) at about 3.3 in (8.4 cm), nearly 6.7 in (17 cm) earlier in tissue than the M43 round. This change also reduces penetration in ballistic gelatin. However, the wounding potential of M67 is mostly when the bullet yaws.
To fire, the operator inserts a loaded magazine, pulls back and releases the charging handle, and then pulls the trigger. In semi-automatic, the firearm fires only once, requiring the trigger to be released and depressed again for the next shot. In fully automatic, the rifle continues to fire automatically cycling fresh rounds into the chamber until the magazine is exhausted or pressure is released from the trigger. After ignition of the cartridge primer and propellant, rapidly expanding propellant gases are diverted into the gas cylinder above the barrel through a vent near the muzzle. The AK-47 does not have a gas valve; excess gases are ventilated through a series of radial ports in the gas cylinder. The Kalashnikov uses an extractor claw to eject the spent cartridge case.
The rifle has a barrel with a chrome-lined bore and four right-hand grooves at a 240 mm (1 in 9.45 in) or 31.5 calibers rifling twist rate. The gas block contains a gas channel that is installed at a slanted angle in relation to the bore axis. The muzzle is threaded for the installation of various muzzle devices such as a muzzle brake or a blank-firing adaptor.
The fire selector is a large lever on the right side to be operated by the right index finger, same as used for trigger. It also acts as a dust-cover and prevents the charging handle from being pulled fully to the rear when it is on safe. It has 3 settings: safe (up), full-auto (center), and semi-auto (down). The reason for this is that under stress a soldier will push the selector lever down with considerable force bypassing the full-auto stage and setting the rifle to semi-auto. To set the AK-47 to full-auto requires the deliberate action. Some AK-type rifles also have a more traditional selector lever on the left side of the receiver just above the pistol grip. This lever is operated by the shooter’s right thumb.
The AK-47 uses a notched rear tangent iron sight calibrated in 100 m increments from 100 to 800 m. The front sight is a post adjustable for elevation in the field. Horizontal adjustment requires a special drift tool and is done by the armory before issue or if the need arises by an armorer after issue. Soldiers are instructed to fire at any target within this range by simply placing the sights on the center of mass of the enemy target. Some AK-type rifles have a front sight with a flip-up luminous dot that is calibrated at 50 m, for improved night fighting.
Butt-stock and Hand-guard
The AK-47 was originally equipped with a butt-stock, hand-guard and an upper heat guard made from solid wood. AKS and AKMS models featured a downward-folding metal butt-stock for use in the restricted space or by paratroops. All 100 series AKs have these replaced by plastic parts with side-folding stocks.
The standard magazine capacity is 30 rounds. There are also 10, 20, and 40-round box magazines, as well as 75-round drum magazines. The AK-47’s standard 30-round magazines have a pronounced curve that allows them to smoothly feed ammunition into the chamber. These magazines are so strong that “Soldiers have been known to use their magazines as hammers, and even bottle openers”. The AK-47 magazine are heavier but more reliable than the U.S. and NATO magazines. Early steel AK-47 magazines are 9.75 in (248 mm) long; the later ribbed steel AKM and newer plastic 7.62×39mm magazines are about 1 in (25 mm) shorter. The transition from steel to mainly plastic magazines yields a significant weight reduction and allows a soldier to carry more ammunition for the same weight.
Accessories supplied with the rifle include a 387 mm (15.2 in) long 6H3 bayonet featuring a 200 mm (7.9 in) long spear point blade. All current model AKM rifles can mount under-barrel 40 mm grenade launchers such as the GP-25 and its variants, which can fire up to 20 rounds per minute and have an effective range of up to 400 meters. All current AKs (100 series) and some older models, have side rails for mounting a variety of scopes and sighting devices. The side rails allow for the removal and remounting of optical accessories without interfering with the zeroing of the optic. However, the 100 series side folding stocks cannot be folded with the optics mounted.
The AK-47 and its variants have been and are made in dozens of countries, with “quality ranging from finely engineered weapons to pieces of questionable workmanship.” As a result, the AK-47 has a service/system life of varying from 6,000 to 15,000 rounds. The AK-47 was designed to be a cheap, simple, easy to manufacture rifle, to treat equipment and weapons as disposable items. As units are often deployed without adequate logistical support for resupply, it is actually more cost-effective to replace rather than repair weapons. The AK-47 has small parts and springs that need to be replaced every few thousand rounds. However, every time it is disassembled beyond the field stripping stage, it will take some time for some parts to regain their fit, some parts may tend to shake loose and fall out when firing the weapon.
Accuracy Measurement – Western and Russian Methods
As per Western assessment, the AK-47’s accuracy has always been considered to be “good enough” to hit an adult male torso out to about 300 m though even experts firing from prone or bench rest positions at this range were observed to have difficulty placing ten consecutive rounds on target. Later designs did not significantly improve its accuracy. The newer AKM models, while more rugged and less prone to metal fatigue, are actually less accurate than the forged/milled receivers of their predecessors. The best shooters are able to hit a man-sized target at 800 m within five shots (firing from prone or bench rest position) or ten shots (standing). The single-shot hit-probability is measured on the NATO E-type Silhouette Target (a human upper body half and head silhouette).
The Russian method for determining accuracy, is far more complex than Western methods. In the West, one fires a group of shots into the target and then simply measures the overall diameter of the group. The Russians, on the other hand, fire a group of shots into the target. They then draw two circles on the target, one for the maximum vertical dispersion of hits and one for the maximum horizontal dispersion of hits. They then disregard the hits on the outer part of the target and only count half of the hits on the inner part of the circles. As per this circular error probability method used by the Russians and some other European militaries, the hit probability increases to 93.7%.
AK – 47 Replacements
In 1974, the Soviets began replacing their AK-47 and AKM rifles with a newer design, the AK-74, which uses 5.45X39mm ammunition. This new rifle and cartridge had only started to be manufactured in Eastern European nations when the Soviet Union collapsed, drastically slowing production of the AK-74 and other weapons of the former Soviet bloc. The AK-74 was built between 1974 to 1991, and later they switched to the modernised AK-74M that is still manufactured. Over 5 million pieces have been built. AKM is a simplified, lighter version of the AK-47. The Type 4 receiver is made from stamped and riveted sheet metal. A slanted muzzle device was added to counter climb in automatic fire. Rifle weight is 3.1 kg (6.8 lb) due to the lighter receiver. This is the most ubiquitous variant of the AK-47. The AKMS is an under-folding stock version of the AKM intended for airborne troops. AKMN has a night scope rail. AKML has a slotted flash suppressor and night scope rail. RPK is a hand-held machine gun version with longer barrel and bipod.
Manufacturing Countries of AK-47 and its Variants.
Large number of countries manufacture the AK 47. A private company Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash) from Russia has repeatedly claimed that the majority of foreign manufacturers are producing AK-type rifles without proper licensing. China Manufactures the Type 56 which is variant of the Soviet-designed AK-47 and AKM rifles Production started in 1956 at State Factory 66 but was eventually handed over to China North Industries Group Corporation Limited (Norinco) who continue to manufacture the rifle primarily for export. Norinco’s international customers include Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Congo, and Venezuela. Pakistan reverse engineered, perhaps with Chinese help, by hand and machine. A Khyber Pass copy is a firearm manufactured by Pakistani cottage gunsmiths in the Khyber pass region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The area has long had a reputation for producing unlicensed copies of firearms using whatever materials are available; more often than not, railway rails, scrap motor vehicles, and other scrap metal with basic hand tools. The quality of such firearms varies widely, ranging from as good as a factory-produced example to dangerously poor. More recently the Pakistan Ordnance Factories started the manufacture of an AK-47/AKM clone called PK-10. Bangladesh also makes the Chinese Type 56.
Many private arms companies in USA make AK-47/AKM variants. Cuba and Egypt makes AKM. Poland, Romania, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, are other manufacturers. Israel’s IMI also makes a variant. India’s INSAS (INdian Small Arms System) is a family of infantry arms consisting of an assault rifle and a light machine gun (LMG). It is manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board at Tiruchirappalli and Small Arms Factory Kanpur and Ishapore. The INSAS assault rifle is the standard infantry weapon of the Indian Armed Forces and is derived from the AKM. The rifle will be replaced with AK-203 and the frontline units now been equipped with SIG 716. As per contract 750,000 AK203 will be manufactured in India under a Indo-Russian joint venture .plant in Amethi in India, 72,000 SIG 716. The light machine gun version is being replaced by 16,479 IWI Negev Ng7.
Throughout the world, the AK and its variants are commonly used by governments, revolutionaries, terrorists, criminals, and civilians alike. In some countries, such as Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Congo and Tanzania, the prices for Black Market AKs are between $30 and $125 per weapon and prices have fallen in the last few decades due to mass counterfeiting. There are places around the world where AK type weapons can be purchased for as little as $6, or traded for a chicken or a sack of grain. The AK-47 has also spawned a cottage industry of sorts and has been copied and manufactured (one gun at a time) in small shops around the world, especially in the Khyber pass area. The Small Arms Survey suggest that between 70 and 100 million of these weapons have been produced since 1947. The World Bank estimates that out of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide, 100 million are of the Kalashnikov family, and 75 million are AK-47s.
AK-47 A Symbol Revolution
In the pro-communist states, the AK-47 became a symbol of the Third World revolution. They were utilized in the Cambodian Civil War. Many Middle Eastern nations received AK 47s such as Iran, Libya, and Syria, as they welcomed Soviet Union backing against Israel. More recently they have been seen in the hands of Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and the Taliban, guerrillas in Colombia.
National Pride for Russia
In Russia, the Kalashnikov is a tremendous source of national pride. The Kalashnikov Museum (also called the AK-47 museum) opened on 4 November 2004 in Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic, and attracts 10,000 monthly visitors. On 19 September 2017 a 9 meters (30 ft) monument of Kalashnikov was unveiled in central Moscow. U.S. and Western European countries frequently associate the AK-47 with their enemies. Western works of fiction (movies, television, novels, video games) often portray criminals, gang members, insurgents, and terrorists using AK-47s as the weapon of choice. In 2006, the Colombian musician and peace activist Cesar Lopez converted an AK-47 into a guitar.
Famous Quotes of Mikhail Kalashnikov
He said “Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer … I always wanted to construct agriculture machinery.” “When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, ‘All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed’ … So this has been my lifetime motto – I have been creating weapons to defend the borders of my fatherland, to be simple and reliable.” “I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists … I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawn mower.” “I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.”
Picture Credit: nytimes.com