Why is the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle the first weapon of choice for insurgents and rebels in almost every conflict? The answer should be related to certain factors. Well, first of all, the rifle is available in huge numbers.
Without patents and so on to worry about in Communist countries it could be offered at a low cost: there are still huge stores of the weapons in military and police armories in Russia, Ukraine and other nations which came under the USSR’s sphere of influence.
The Kremlin dutifully authorized factories to be built to churn out identical versions of Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov’s famous design in friendly nations, something the Russian government rues to this day.
The gun soon became a symbol of revolution, even making it onto the flag of Mozambique. The USA was happy to supply Chinese-made AK clones to anti-Soviet insurgents, ensuring Kalashnikov was what every revolutionary wanted for Christmas, even if neither he or his enemy believed in Santa Claus.
In a post-Communist world, the unlicensed copying of the weapon continues to upset Russia’s Foreign Ministry – 90 percent of the 100 million or so AK’s around the world today were made in this way.
Once you have a good supply of ammo you flip the switch to full auto and have a fighter who might be unaware of his weapon’s design history and be poorly trained in infantry tactics, but who will be confident of being able to empty 30 hard-hitting 7.62mm x 39mm rounds into a police van in 2.5 seconds.
In contrast, the USMC trains every recruit to be a rifleman, and a good shot, which takes time and money.
The AK is certainly very easy to train troops to use, quick, compared to Western weapons, and because it’s built with loose tolerances it works in the desert as well as in the frozen tundra.
Marketing: The Soviets distributed Kalashnikovs as a part of a larger anti-Western strategy, for local groups to use them to destabilize countries with Western interests. This over time led to Kalashnikovs being associated with anti-colonialism as well as anti-Westernism. Groups from Peru to Africa to the southern Philippines all used images of the AK-47 (or some variant) on their flags or in their literature.
Guerilla forces in Afghanistan reportedly tie knots in their bootlaces, soak them in oil, and drag these homemade ‘cleaning rods’ through the barrels every now and again without any noticeable loss in function of the rifles.
If the barrel gets bent out of shape? No problem – hit it with a hammer to straighten it out. It should be okay…
Need parts? Simply cannibalise another AK as they can be interchanged from models made in different factories, on different continents (or take some wire and a lump of wood like our poacher friend, and get to work).
Simply put, once you have ammunition to fire through it your AK will not let you down; a boast few other weapons can make.
For the kinds of combat common in Central American or African jungles, or in the mountains of Afghanistan, the AK is well-suited for non-professional soldiers, is freely or very cheaply available, and is for many a symbol of anti-Westernism, anti-established world order. The ease of use, unlike other assault rifles, that needed trained military personnel, AK-47 could be operated by just about anyone.