"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.