Weapons: The Continued Appeal Of the AK


August 23, 2016: Iran recently ordered some Russian AK-103 assault rifles as well as a manufacturing license for the weapon. This was not a big contract, but is showed that in some areas Iran preferred to stay with the tried and true, not the flashy, and expensive, new stuff. With many of the economic sanctions against Iran lifted this year Russia, a staunch ally, expected to get lots of overdue weapons orders from Iran. The high-tech, high price orders were quickly placed but Iran also went looking for some more basic weapons. Rather than buy a spiffy new assault rifle, like even Russia and China have done, Iran bought a rifle design that was new when the Iranian monarchy was overthrown in 1979.

The AK-103 is basically an AK-74 chambered to fire the old AK-47 ammo. The 5.45mm AK-74 entered service in the 1970s as a replacement for the 7.62mm AK-47 and an answer to the American 5.56mm M-16. The AK-74 had become the standard Russian infantry weapon by the late 1980s, just in time for the end of the Cold War in 1991. An improved AK-74 was introduced in 1991 and is still in service as the AK-74M. This is a 3.4 kg (7.5 pound), 94.3 cm (37.1 inch) weapon with a 41.5 cm (16.3 inch) barrel. It has rails for sights and such and can use a 30 or 45 round magazine. Rate of fire is 650 RPM on full auto, and max effective range was 600 meters. Some five million AK-74s were built, most of them before the Cold War ended in 1991. North Korea manufactures a copy of the AK-74 called the Type 98. Over fifty million AK-47s and AKMs were made, most of them outside Russia. Production, on a small scale, continues.

Meanwhile, several additional AK-74 variants have been developed and put on the market. The AK-101 fires the 5.56mm NATO round and has a 30-round clip. The AK-103 fires the 7.62x39mm round used in the original AK-47, for those who have concerns about the ability of the 5.45mm round to stop enemy troops. The AK-102, 104, and 105 are compact rifles designed for the export market and are available in 5.56mm NATO, 7.62x39mm, and 5.45x39mm calibers. All have 30-round clips.

Izhmash, te company that manufactures the AK-74 still has export sales, which actually kept the firm in business for since the 1990s. Orders from the Russian military declined steeply with the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and export sales were pursued aggressively. It was a matter of economic survival for Izhmash, which has been manufacturing weapons since 1807. Izhmash has also tried to shut down all the unlicensed manufacturers of AK-47/74 weapons. This has not been very successful as during the communist period things like patents and trademarks were regarded as capitalist degeneracy.


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