AK-47: A world’s most used assault rifle in modern history

Eric Sof

AK-47 barrel and its distinctive gas block

The AK-47 has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most reliable assault rifles ever produced. There are currently between 30 million of these rifles in service worldwide, making it the most widely distributed assault rifle. This firearm was designed by Russian inventor and soldier Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov (1919-2013).


Various Kalashnikov models, clones, and copies could fill a book. No matter the variations in the basic models, the firearm’s function remains the same.


The AK-47 was designed to replace the SKS, and as a rifle, that became a weapon that Soviet tank crews could use. In 1946, while working at the Kovrov weapons plant, Kalashnikov began work on the AK-47. The AK-47 was accepted as the standard rifle for the Soviet Army in 1949 and retained that status until the AKM succeeded it.

The AK-47 is chambered in 7.62×39 and features hardwood furniture with a fixed stock. The AK-47 has a 16-inch barrel with a muzzle nut to protect the threads. The AK-47 features a stamped receiver with a nonribbed cover plate and magazine. The rifle can be fired in two modes; semi and full auto. The AK-47 has an 800-meter leaf sight that is only adjustable for range.

AK-47 Diagram with all parts
AK-47 Diagram with all parts (Photo: Kalashnikov)

All windage adjustments must be made by using the front sight. The AK-47 weighs 4,300g and has a rate of fire of 600rpm. The rifle will accept most synthetic and metal magazines, generally 30 rounds in capacity. The rifle’s effective killing range is 1,500 meters, and is typically not used for more than 300 meters. The original AK-47 was not outfitted for a bayonet. However, the design was changed, and a bayonet was added. The AK-47 also features a hollow compartment in the buttstock to keep the cleaning kit.

Modernization of AK-47 rifles

In 1947 base model for all AKs entered service. This submachine gun was manufactured up to 1959. In several countries, it is being manufactured modernized to some extent nowadays.

In 1959, the submachine gun’s modernization aimed to increase its technical and operating characteristics. At the same time, there were developed light machine guns with a fixed and folding butts based on the submachine gun RPK-47.

In 1961 Soviet Army adopted the complex of Kalashnikov machine guns:

  • PKS – a heavy machine gun
  • PKB – an armored carrier machine gun
  • PKT – a tank machine gun.

At the end of the 60th – beginning of the 70th years, the works on creating the submachine guns for cartridges of reduced caliber began. It aimed to increase the weapon’s battle efficiency and operational characteristics. After several experiments, the cartridge 5.45×39 with a steel bullet slug was chosen.

Why is the AK-74 not as popular as the AK-47?
AK-74 vs. AK-47: The main difference is in calibers (Photo: XY)

In 1974, submachine guns and light machine guns for cartridges were developed and adopted in armament.

In 1990 the Army was equipped with the modernized Kalashnikov submachine gun AK-74M, having a folding plastic butt with the accessory placed in it and a plate for mounting optical and night sights.

In 1991 the same modernization was carried out with a light machine gun. And so, the modernized Kalashnikov light machine guns RPK-74M (5.45 mm) was adopted in armament. It replaced four modifications of light machine guns.

Nowadays, Kalashnikov submachine guns, the series 100, are developed with the purpose of expansion of their vocabulary for various types of cartridges and export:

  • AK101 – the 5,56 mm Kalashnikov submachine gun for cartridge 5,56×45 NATO
  • AK102 – the same but with a short barrel
  • AK103 – the 7,62 mm Kalashnikov submachine gun for cartridge 7,62×39
  • AK104 – the same but with a short barrel
  • AK105 – 5,45 mm Kalashnikov submachine gun with a short barrel for cartridge 5,45×39.

In 1993 within the framework of a defensive industry of “IZHMASH,” Open Joint Stock Company developed the self-loading hunting carbine “Saiga” based on the Kalashnikov submachine guns.

To this day, more than 100 million copies and variations of the AK-47 have been produced worldwide, making it the most widely used rifle in the world.

Technical specifications

Manufacturer:Kalashnikov Concern, SSSR
Service:1949–1974 (Soviet Union);
1949–present (other countries)
Type:gas-operated, rotating bolt
Caliber: 7.62×39 mm
Barrel:415 mm (16.3 in)
Weight (empty):3.47 kg (7.7 lb)
Effective firing range:350 m (380 yds)
Rate of fire:600 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity:20-round, 30-round detachable box magazine. There are also 40-round, and 75-round drum magazines available.

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