Weapons: The Venezuelan AK-47 Factory



October 26, 2008: Venezuela has obtained a license to produce the AK-103 assault rifle. Manufacturing equipment has been shipped, and production of Venezuelan made AK-103s is expected to begin next year. Three years ago, Venezuela bought 100,000 of these assault rifles. The AK-103 is the most recent model of the original AK-47.

Russia hasn't manufactured the AK-47 (or its upgraded version, the AKM), for many years. Instead, Russia now makes the AK-74, a weapon similar to the American M-16 (firing a slightly smaller 5.45mm bullet), and the AK-101 (which fires the U.S. 5.56mm round) and the AK-103 (which fires the same 7.62mm bullet of the old AK-47). The AK-103 is essentially a very up-to-date design of the old AK-47. Normally, the AK-103 sells for about $800 each (including cleaning supplies, magazines, spare parts and the like.) But many of the AK-103 sold to Venezuela from Russia are being billed at $1200 each, the additional $400 going into the pockets of Venezuelan politicians who got behind the weapons purchase and distribution (to friends of the current Venezuelan government) of the weapons. New weapons, old traditions. Venezuela could have bought newly manufactured (but not by Russia) AK-47s for $400. But this purchase was not so much about weapons, as it was about politics.

Russia is eager to encourage licensed production of the AK series of rifles. It is believed that over 100 million AKs (most the AK-47 and AKM models) have been produced so far. Most of these AKs were unlicensed models built by other communist countries. Currently, only about ten percent of the million AK type rifles built each year are manufactured legally. The Venezuelan deal is part of an attempt to change that.