I don’t have a problem with the AK-variants for what they are: weapons that were designed (don’t buy into the Soviet mythology of a lone armor corps tanker tinkering in the mechanic shop to design a rifle from scratch) and mass-produced by a totalitarian regime for the use of illiterate, largely third-world peasants en masse. It truly is as robust as an infantry carbine can be, although nowhere near as invincible as the myth makers would like you to believe. They DO malfunction. They can be destroyed.
The AK is not a weapon for riflemen. It is capable of “minute-of-man” accuracy, which is more than adequate for urban guerrilla needs. It will not do for most alpine guerrilla personnel due to its largely non-existent intermediate distance capabilities.
The 7.62x39mm caliber of the original design of 1947 is not the man-killer it is made out to be in some circles. As a Special Forces colleague pointed out once, “We’ve killed a lot more little brown people with 5.56 than the little brown dudes have killed with 7.62×39.” It is a hard-hitting round and will do damage. The Russian adoption of the 5.45×39 caliber with the AK-74-variant is a telling manifestation of the improvement of the small-caliber cartridge over the heavier round, for the realities of modern conventional and unconventional warfare operations. Most infantry combat will occur at 0-200 yards, with the occasional need to reach out to 500-plus yards in some environments. Even the ballistic abilities of the 7.62×39 cartridge illustrate this. Roughly the equivalent of the ever-popular .30-30 deer rifle cartridge, the Russian round is realistically limited to 200 yards for consistent point target, first-round hits.
The 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, which has been popular since its introduction concurrent with the M14 rifle, is a great all-around cartridge. While this round possesses 95% of the ballistic capabilities of the venerable .30-06, it has significantly reduced recoil and operates in box magazine-fed rifles far better than the older, rimmed cartridge. The ballistics of the round make it a consistent performer out to 800 yards and, in capable hands, hits have been recorded under combat conditions well in excess of 1200 yards.
The drawback of the cartridge, as it was in the 1950s, is the weight, both of the cartridge itself and of the weapons that utilize it. While in certain applications this is not an issue, for the guerrilla fighter, this is a critical issue. Theorists can argue the importance of the “one-shot kill” and the ability of the 7.62mmNATO round to kill with every round but experienced warfighters acknowledge that the chances of regular, first-round hits on moving targets hiding behind cover under combat conditions is largely the realm of fantasy and Hollywood.
Far more important an issue is proven combat-lethality, combined with a light enough weight to facilitate carrying a large basic load. The 210-round “basic load” of the Army for conventional-force infantryman is far superior to the 120-round basic load that was historically carried with the M14. Even accounting for the misses that will occur in combat, this allows the war fighter to kill more of the enemy than the basic load with the M14, with a lighter load.
Personal Thoughts on the AR.
As far as questions regarding the supposed lack of lethality in the 5.56mmNATO cartridge: I’ve never shot a bad guy where I was supposed to shoot him and it not result in said bad guy being dead afterwards. The only time I’ve ever seen the round fail to kill the enemy was when the only rounds to strike the enemy were peripheral strikes. Even these however, will stop a threat long enough to put a “finishing” round into the guy, if necessary. I have no doubts about the effectiveness of the 5.56mmNATO cartridge. With the development of new, improved offerings in this caliber, such as the MK262 77-grain round and MK318 improved 62-grain round, this caliber will find a new lease on life within the military and police as well as within the civilian shooting community.
The AR-15/M-16 family of weapons, despite birthing pains during the Vietnam War, is a time- and combat-proven combat weapon. I have fired hundreds of thousands, if not millions of rounds, through this platform in training and combat and have never had it fail me. In swamps and jungles, mountains, deserts, and urban environments, I’ve never had the round or the weapon system fail me. I will, personally, stick with the AR-15/M-16 platform, for the foreseeable future, both due to my familiar expertise with the weapon as well as my faith in its reliability and effectiveness.
If I had to choose a personal primary small-arm in 7.62x51mmNATO, it would not be the venerable favorite of American gun writers, the M14/M1A. While a competent and accuracy-capable weapon system, the reality is it is large, heavy, cumbersome, and horrendously non-ergonomic. Further, a fact little heralded in the U.S. firearms media, during the Army Ordnance Board tests that resulted in the adoption of the M14, it was soundly trounced by the Belgian FN/FAL. If I had to choose a rifle in that caliber to run for my personal use in the guerrilla warfare paradigm, I’d actually choose the Belgian rifle. It is reliable, combat-proven (something the M14 cannot really claim, despite some use in the earliest part of the Vietnam War), and commonplace internationally (it was, after all, adopted by over 90 different nations, earning the sobriquet “Freedom’s Right Arm!”). You can expect that, when the regime calls on the U.N. for assistance in putting down any potential future “rebellion,” there will be some people in blue helmets carrying FALs.
The introduction of modern, U.S.-manufactured aftermarket accessories for this platform by companies like DS Arms others, has capitalized on the popularity of the modularity of the AR-15/M-16 by developing similar abilities for the FAL. (I should add that, the more I play with them, the more enamored I am of some of the non-Armalite AR10 variants. I think an 18″ barreled .308 AR-variant is my next counter-sniper platform.) While I am not a fan on accessorizing a fighting rifle with anything that changes the basic manual of arms of the platform (no Magpul BAD levers, ambidextrous safety selectors, etc.) due to the training issues if you need to pick up someone else’s rifle of the same type, the ability to build your personal rifle to fit you is definitely a desirable commodity.
These issues having been raised; do not mistake them as imprecations against other battle rifles. I would not refuse an AK-variant, or a HKG3, or an M1A, if that’s what I needed to pick up and run in order to continue the fight. The ultimate weight of the struggle still resides on the shoulders of the individual fighter.