All other sources have been hyperlinked, and those should be treated as proper references, and, again, any mistakes made in interpreting them for use in this blog are mine as well.
- Kris V.
When discussing the AK-47, two questions seem to always get asked more than others:
What does AK-47 stand for?
Why is the AK-47 so famous?
The first question, What does AK-47 stand for, is pretty simple to answer. AK literally means Avtomat (Automatic) Kalashnikov (name of designer) and the numbers indicate the year of the rifle's design work being completed.
Think of it as literally meaning Kalashnikov's Automatic Rifle from 1947. Nobody calls it that, but it's an easy way to remember it.
The second question, "Why is the AK-47 so famous?", is a bit more complicated.
Does the US Military use the AK-47? Not to a degree worth mentioning, if at all.
"These days, the U.S. 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."
So, if it's not famous for winning wars for America, why is it so popular?
The simple answer is that it's a simple operating system that operates under really heavy stress for really long periods of time and this is why the AK-47 is one of our biggest sellers.
The AK-47 is one of (if not THE) world’s most popular rifles.
Designed by a young tank engineer in the middle of a brutal war, the AK-47 would go on to become the most inspiring and most ripped-off gun in the history of the world.
Its design was revolutionary, and the AK-47 took the gun world in a bold, new direction that resulted in thousands of new guns that were with direct or partial clones and/or variants of the AK-47 itself.
Chambered in 7.62 x 39, The Automatic Kalashnikov rifle was designed to be a workhorse rifle, built to withstand massive amounts of abuse but roll along unimpeded in the process. Loose tolerances and few moving and/or breakable parts helped the AK-47 quickly secure its reputation as a legendary battle rifle.
He grew up poor and persecuted. The son of displaced refugees who were expelled from their home by the brutal communist dictator Joseph Stalin.
His family was a part of society labeled as “kulaks”, a class of “prosperous peasants” deemed “hesitant allies” of the revolution. Stalin used class warfare to convince the population to divide itself and then look to him for support.
"In the Soviet period the term ‘kulak’ became an ambiguous Party construct but with a fundamentally negative connotation. At times it was applied to all well-to-do peasants; at other times it was used to tar all peasants who opposed Soviet rule."
The Kalashnikov family was one of many that the Communist regime used to manipulate support from the poorer population.
The idea was that the “hesitant allies” (kulaks) were standing in the way of progress for those who had less and therefore should be ran out and ran over so that the political leaders could bring true prosperity to the people who needed it most.
“Hunger, disease, and mass executions during dekulakization led to at least 530,000 to 600,000 deaths from 1929 to 1933…”
Despite the government’s violence against his family, Russia called Mikhail up for service in 1938. Kalashnikov was drafted into service and assigned and trained as a tank driver.
He made himself an engineering standout after developing a tool that could measure the output of power from a tank engine. That design caught the eye of the powers-that-be, and Mikhail Kalashnikov soon found himself in Leningrad overseeing the production of this new instrument.
Wounded in the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941, Kalashnikov spent six months recuperating in a hospital. It’s said that during his time there he became aware of a strong dislike for the current service weapon issued to Soviet soldiers and began thinking of ways to make it better.
HISTORY OF THE AK-47 - KALASHNIKOV’S RIFLE
In 1944 the Soviet Union began trials for a new rifle for its soldiers.
Kalashnikov had begun working in the Matai Arms Depot following his recovery and had spent some time developing ideas for a sub-machine gun that would fire the 7.62 x 25 mm Tokarev round.
The AK-47 was the Soviet Union’s response to the evolution of modern combat and the advent of the German machine gun called the Sturmgewehr (pronounced: sterm-guh-veer) 44. You will see it written out as STG44 or StG44. Either way, this was the model baseline for the Soviet Union as it was seeking input from firearms designers and engineers on the next service weapon for Soviet soldiers.
The battlefields of World War I had shown that a new battlefield strategy was necessary.
The German Blitzkriegs of 1939 and 1940 forced the opposing nations to re-think their tactics, as well as the place of the rifleman in battle. The famed trenches of World War I were all but obsolete. This was a new time, a new era of combat, where firing a well-aimed and well-timed shot from a fixed position had become a thing of the past.
To the Soviet Union, the new battlefield strategy required a new battle rifle.
Lucky for them, a young tank engineer named Mikhail Kalashnikov was looking for a new challenge.
By 1949, the AK-47 would fill that void.
HOW DOES AN AK-47 WORK?
The design of the AK-47 is genius in its simplicity. Kalashnikov is famous for saying,
“All that is complex is not useful, and all that is useful is simple.”
When you pull the trigger on an AK-47, the hammer strikes the firing pin which in turn strikes the primer and causes a small explosion.
The force of that explosion causes the projectile to go forward out of the barrel. The projectile is followed and propelled by the gas that results from the explosion.
Towards the end of the barrel, some of the gas that’s sending the projectile off to its final destination is expelled through a port in the barrel that is attached to a tube. In that tube rests a solid, steel piston. The force of the gas pressure causes that piston to be driven back toward the receiver of the rifle.
The piston is attached to the carrier that houses the bolt that contains both the aforementioned firing pin AND the extractor claw that will remove the empty casing that was once attached to the projectile that’s now headed downrange.
The extractor claw will latch on to the rim of the cartridge and pull it out of the chamber. As all of the gas dispels, the carrier will travel rearward and then return forward. As it heads back home, it will pick up a new round out of the magazine and place it into the chamber of the rifle.
Now you’re ready to pull the trigger and start the process all over again.
HOW’S AN AK DIFFERENT FROM AN AR?
The AK and the AR both function in a very similar manner. In fact, some AR rifles are piston-driven rifles that cycle and function in a way very similar to the AK.
The real difference comes down to tolerance and moving parts.
Brittanica gives this rundown of the AK-47:
“Built around a 7.62mm round with a muzzle velocity of some 700 meters 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.” LINK: https://www.britannica.com/technology/AK-47
This design differs from the AR-15 for a couple of reasons. Most notably the caliber size is about 30% larger (5.56 vs. 7.62) and the gas system is different. In an AK rifle, the gas that results from the explosion following the firing pin slamming into the primer is expelled out of a gas block affixed to the top of the barrel. When the gas releases from the rifle it forces a piston rearward. That solid rod cycles the rifle’s action and allows the spent cartridge to be ejected and a fresh round to be loaded.
In an AR-15, the gas that expels from the barrel goes into a tube that pushes it back into the action of the rifle and allows the rifle to cycle out the old round and insert a new one.
There’s a reason the AK rifle can run despite contact with common impediments like dirt and sand. There is a fair amount of space allowed for movement inside the receiver for the working parts - which compared to an AR, are quite minimal.
If you pop open an AR and an AK and place them side-by-side, you will quickly notice the number of breakable parts that are present in an AR. Pins, springs, and detents galore. The AK, not so much. Pretty much a solid rod with a handle and a bolt that contains minimal breakable parts that should be serviced as needed.
The second feature that sets the AK apart is its loose tolerances. While the AR line of rifles commands a firm and precise fit for most parts, the AK is known for allowing parts “room to breath” and requiring filing and fitting of parts that are added after manufacturing. If you had to file an AR part to get it to fit, you would be safe to say there was a problem somewhere. But if filing a part to fit AK seems odd, you would be considered the problem.
There’s a reason the AK can run as well as it does even after impediments like dirt, sand, mud, and sludge are introduced during the firing cycle, it’s loose tolerances allow the debris to get in and get out. Plus, the solid piston rod means particles are not interfering with one of the core components of the rifle’s functionality.
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DIFFERENT AK-47 RIFLES?
The AK-47 design is not overly complicated. AK parts are made from stamped sheet metal and steel and that has allowed many, many different countries and companies to try their hand at building their own AK. The design is easy and the parts are relatively inexpensive.
That's a perfect combination for creating an overly-abundant amount of variants.
The Israeli made Galil is just one example, but it's genesis really helps prove the point.
The Galil has been an Israeli issued service rifle since 1972, and its design was heavily inspired by the RK62.
Many more guns share a similar lineage. The AK-47 has inspired countless engineers who have designed countless guns based off the classic AK-47 blueprint.
For more examples, look at the Armenian K-3, the Chinese Type 56, the Ukrainian VEPR, multiple “M” models from Yugoslavia/Serbia, or check out the Croatian APS-95 which looks like what you would expect if an AR-15 and an AK-47 had a baby.
WHAT IS AN AK-74?
Few people realize that there was never a time when the design of the AK-47 was NOT being examined for ways to improve. Within ten years of its introduction, the manufacturing process was evolving on the AK-47. By 1974 new machines, new materials and hot new calibers paved the way for the AK-74, named appropriately for its 1974 introduction to the world.
While the two rifles look almost identical, the AK-74 differs from the AK-47 in a few ways.
While the operating system remains intact on the AK-74, the muzzle got an upgrade in the form of a dual-chamber brake that significantly mitigates muzzle rise on the AK-74.
The AK-74 gas block also went through an evolution and moved from 45 to 90 degrees. Standing upright rather than leaning rearward.
But the biggest change lies in the caliber.
The AK-74 left behind the standard 7.62 x 39 round of the AK-47 and moved to the 5.45 x 39 round - a lighter, faster, more lethal round.
The strategy was to court the global market by manufacturing an AK-74 variant that would rely on the ingenuity of the AK-74 design but leverage modern manufacturing techniques and materials to reduce cost. This new variant would also be designed around the 5.56 x 45 caliber being used by many of the NATO countries.
This new line of AK rifles would be purely made for export and never issued to Russian service members. The rifles would be marketed to the NATO countries in the hopes of bringing in cold, hard cash to a newly minted Russian state.
This run of rifles would be distinguished by a unique number system. The first would be numbered 101, the second would be 102, the third would be 103 and they would continue up through 108 to be collectively known as the “Century Line” of rifles.
The AK-101 and 102 were chambered in 5.56 x 45 NATO rounds. The AK-101 had a 16” barrel and a folding stock, and the AK-102 had a 12” barrel a “funnel-shaped compensator” as was found on the AKS-74U.
The AK-103 was chambered in 7.62 x 39, just like the original AK design. Originally offered with a folding stock, a fixed stock option was also made available. The AK-103 had a 16” barrel and weighed just over seven pounds.
The AK-104 was a short-barreled version of the 103.
The AK-105 was quite similar to the AK-102 but chambered in the 5.45 x 39 round.
The AK-107 and AK-108 are chambered in 5.45 x 39 and 5.56 x 45, respectively. These rifles introduced a system of “balanced recoil” that helps reduce felt recoil. The 107 and 108 also used a squared gas tube.
THE PALMETTO STATE ARMORY AK-103
With all this new knowledge, you may well wonder why you should buy a Palmetto State Armory AK-103 above the other available options (minimal as they may be at this time).
Palmetto State Armory has taken modern advancements to the AK build process and implemented them throughout their rifle. By using forged internals where it matters, cold hammer-forged barrels, and a ground-breaking Aircraft Quality 4340 Steel front trunnion that is forged from the same materials used in airplane landing gears, Palmetto State Armory has taken the workhorse AK and given it every new advantage available.
And we back it all with our 100% Full Lifetime Warranty.
You can shop our AK-103 offerings at PalmettoStateArmory.com, or you can stop by any of our retail locations around the state of South Carolina to get hands on when inventory is available.