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Weapons: "Spray and Pray" Is Going Away
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November 30, 2007: "Spray and pray" is going away. The AK-47, on full automatic, is increasingly being seen as a liability by its many users. Originally designed to allow poorly trained troops to deliver automatic fire, the AK-47 ten pound (loaded with a 30 round magazine) AK-47 didn't have to be cleaned frequently, and could still fire even if covered with mud, sand or any other crud commonly encountered on the battlefield. But the AK-47 has flaws. The same design that makes it jam proof, also deliver poor accuracy. Moreover, the shabby sights on the AK-47 don't help much either. The design also trades reliability for the ability to quickly change magazines, or even operate the safety. But the main reason over fifty million AK-47s were built was because it did what it was designed to do very well. The AK-47 was the ultimate "spray and pray" weapon.


Equipping infantry with assault rifles began during World War I. In doing that, the Germans also took the lead in developing submachineguns, like the MP 18, a weapon that would eventually evolve into the modern assault rifle. By the end of World War I, about 30,000 MP 18s were in use. The MP 18 demonstrated the devastating effect of automatic weapons in the hands of infantry. The MP 18 fired the standard 9mm pistol round and used a 32 round drum magazine that fired 6-7 bullets a second. The basic need was for a compact weapon that could quickly fire a lot of bullets. This gave the MP18 user a big edge in combat. The Germans kept developing this type of weapon and by World War II they had the MP 38 and MP 40. The short range (50-100 meters) of the 9mm pistol round prevented the Germans from attempting to rearm all their infantry with this weapon, who often had to hits targets farther away.


It wasn't until they saw the Russians used similar weapons on a mass scale during World War II that the Germans realized that the short range of the 9mm pistol round was not as great a shortcoming as they thought. The Russians understood that for an attack, arming all the troops with submachineguns gave you so much firepower, that the enemy had a hard time shooting back at your attacking troops. This was particularly useful in urban or trench warfare, where there were a lot of small scale (a dozen or fewer attacking troops) operations at short ranges. Russia produced over five million of their eight pound PPSh submachineguns. It used either a 35 pound box magazine (weighing 1.5 pounds) or a four pound drum holding 71 rounds. That was 7-8 seconds worth of firing. The bullet used was a 7.62mm (.30 caliber) pistol round that moved at only about 1,600 feet per second. Catch one of these in the head, and you were dead. Anywhere else, and you would probably live. But with so many of these bullets flying around, multiple hits were more likely.


One thing the 7.62/25 PPSh round didn't have was penetration. You needed that in urban areas to fire through doors, floors and walls. The Germans overcame this by developing the StG-44 in 1943, which used a more powerful, 7.92mm, bullet. This weapon looks a lot like the Russian AK-47, and heavily influenced the design of the AK-47. The StG.44, like the AK-47, used a shorter (than the standards rifle), and about 20 percent lighter, bullet that could still fire through walls and doors. The Russians combined the best features of the StG-44 and PPSh to produce the AK-47 after World War II. It was cheap, rugged, used a larger, more powerful bullet, and enabled green troops to generate a lot of firepower on the battlefield.


But war has changed. Better trained troops, with more accurate weapons (like the M-16), are more likely to prevail. Even the Russians have long since abandoned the AK-47 for weapons similar to the M16. But all those AK-47s out there still appeal to the ill-trained, impoverished and trigger happy young men eager to make their point with a hail of bullets.


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geekynerd       11/30/2007 12:22:18 PM
This article appears to be a bit contradictory.  On the one hand spray and pray is innacurate, etc.  On the other hand, it wouldn't appear to be a great problem in close-quarters house-to-house combat as the heavy round will smash through internal walls and doors while retaining a killing kinetic energy and the innacuracy (as noted with the 9mm subs in wwII) isn't such an issue at close quarters where "quantity <of fire> has a quality all of it's own.

So, is the AK47 good or bad, or more accurately is it passe'?  Seems more an issue of the context of its use than a global yes or no.  Heck, the old Tommy gun would probably still work nicely in close quarters if you wanted something cheap and reliable.  Witness the longevity of good old Ma Duece.
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maruben    Confusing   11/30/2007 12:44:56 PM
You are right! It is not clear what is the main point of the article.
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Horsesoldier       11/30/2007 1:30:32 PM
Bad article.  Some real facts there, but the analysis is wanting, and there are some statements that border on simple falsehood, such as:

But war has changed. Better trained troops, with more accurate weapons (like the M-16), are more likely to prevail. Even the Russians have long since abandoned the AK-47 for weapons similar to the M16. But all those AK-47s out there still appeal to the ill-trained, impoverished and trigger happy young men eager to make their point with a hail of bullets.
The Russians replaced the AK-47 with the AK-74.  Exact same operating system.  All the same strengths and weaknesses of the weapon itself.  The only difference is a lighter, lower recoiling round that, I admit, is a Russian version of 5.56mm for all intents and purposes.  But the weapon firing it is just about unchanged from the original AK-47.
And it's main differences from the AK-47?  Lighter bullet means lower recoil impulse, and a quite efficient recoil compensator at the end of the muzzle . . . both of which were used to make the rifle more efficient when fired on fully automatic.
The article is kind of a hodge-podge of unrelated facts.  The US (and many other western nations) is not a big proponent of fully automatic fire . . . but the US military never really was.  We've always been pushing aimed semi-auto fire in most applications (and more importantly, in most training) whether it was with M14s or whatever mark of the M16 or M4.  Mapping that difference of opinion onto the Russians and their weapons designs is no more logical or correct than trying to make a sweeping generalization about armored fighting vehicles here in the US by looking at Russian tank designs.
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smitty237    The simple truth   12/2/2007 2:19:24 AM
No need to over analyze this, boys.  If I were to organize a military unit comprised of uneducated soldiers I would choose the AK-47 (or one of its varients) as my weapon of choice, but I would still do my best to train them to keep their fingers off the trigger until a threat is presented, and to fire on semi-auto as much as possible.  Were I training well educated and disciplined troops I would rather equip them with M-16s or M-4s. 
The M-16 is inherently more accurate than the AK-47, if for nothing else than its sights.  At ranges less than a hundred meters there may not be that much of a difference, but at greater ranges the M-16 will beat the AK-47 hands down. 
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trenchsol       12/2/2007 9:24:38 AM
I don't think that this is a bad article. It contains a short history of infantry small arms. The point is that the makers of old AK-47 are replacing it with more sophisticated weapons. Russia is seeking to replace even AK-74, but there is no successor yet. They have been testing AN-94, AEK and other rifles.


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ker       12/4/2007 6:47:26 PM
Another advantage to more deliberate fire is that there are some things or people you don't want to shoot on the battle field.  Friendly fire and civilian causlultys were not big concerns of Stalinist.  AK-47 and it's predecessors had an advantage in attrition warfare.  Between the time a man was shot and died he could empty his magazine towards the enemy.  A kind of suicide gunner.  If you see the peace time soviet army as primarily a place to dump the politically and ethnically inconvenient segments of soviet society and secondarily a protection against invasion this makes even more sense.  Some units were more inconvenient than others.  What were the casualty rates in soviet peacetime training exercises.  5%-10%?  I could go look that up in How to Make War.
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