Russian Top 5 Assault Rifles the World Doesn’t Know

Eric Sof

Spetsnaz operators with AK-74U assault rifles

The list of the Russian Top 5 assault rifles the world doesn’t know purportedly shows interesting rifles in service use in Russia but are relatively unknown in the West.


The arms race moved the weapon industry to a whole new level during the Cold War. Today, the Cold War is over, but still, there is an arms race between the United States and Russia. In the domain of infantry weapons, Kalashnikov Koncern is still the leading fact in the Russian Army.

Their latest Kalashnikov AK-12 and AK-15 assault rifles have successfully passed muster at live-fire trials and are slated to enter the Russian Armed Forces service. They will replace the current versions of the tried-and-true AK-47 submachine gun, which has become the world’s most popular of its kind since it was introduced in 1949.

That said, Soviet and Russian arms makers have come up with a flurry of other assault rifles which, though not so mass-produced as the Kalashnikovs, have still proved their efficiency thanks to their unconventional design.

A-91 assault rifle

Even though Soviet arms manufacturers have experimented with the bullpup design where the action is located behind the trigger group, bullpup assault rifles have seen limited production and are in service with a few select internal Russian units. It was developed during the 1990s by KBP Instrument Design Bureau in Tula, SSSR, as an offspring of the 9A-91 firearm family.

A bullpup configuration permits a shorter overall weapon for a given barrel length. It also ensures better accuracy of fire, which is vital in urban combat situations. A-91 retains the simple gas-operated, rotating bolt action and a trigger unit design from the 9A-91

Russia's Top 5 Little-Known Assault Rifles - A-91 assault rifle
Russian-made A-91 assault rifle chambered in 5.56 mm caliber (Photo: RussianVK)

The A-91 assault rifle, developed by the Shipunov Design Bureau, was introduced in 1990. It comes in two variants: a “domestic” one, chambered for Russian-made 5.45×39 mm cartridges, and an “export” one handling NATO’s standard 5.56×45 mm cartridge. The A-91 assault rifle is compact, user-friendly, reliable, and integrated 40mm grenade launcher.

However, despite all these upsides, the A-91 weighs a hefty 4.4 kilograms, one kilogram more than the workhorse AK-74, and has seen limited acceptance with the Russian Army and some special police forces. It was enough to put this rifle at the Russian Top 5 assault rifles the world doesn’t know.

AN-94 assault rifle

Developed by the Nikonov Design Bureau in 1994, the AN-94 has been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 1997. The AN-94 was designed to replace the AK-74 series of assault rifles.

The stated great advantage of the AN-94 system is its ability to delay the recoil force until fired rounds have left the barrel. This enables more ‘hits’ on a target under the most adverse combat conditions. The AN-94 offers a unique two-shot burst function at a 1,800 rounds per minute rate of fire.

Russian Top 5 Assault Rifles - Prototype of AN-94 assault rifle, also known as LI-291
A prototype of an AN-94 assault rifle, also known as LI-291 (Photo: XY)

The Nikonov mechanism fires a second shot in burst mode quickly enough to escape before the recoil of the first shot is felt, thus potentially allowing the two shots to hit extremely close together, thus ensuring excellent accuracy.

However, due to its complex design and high production cost, its adoption has been very slow, and its use is currently somewhat limited in service with the Russian Armed Forces. Despite the other produced weapon systems, the AN-94 assault rifle found its place among the Russian Top 5 assault rifles the world doesn’t know the list.

AEK-971 assault rifle

Developed by the Degtyarev Design Bureau in 1978, the AEK-971 looks much like the AK-74, but at closer inspection, even a non-specialist will find it hard to miss the difference between these two weapons.

Even though the AEK-971 is based on previous AK rifles in internal design and layout, it features a balanced automatic recoil system that reduces the adverse effects of recoil resulting in more controllable automatic fire. For the AEK-971 automatic firing, accuracy is improved by 15-20 percent compared to the AK-74M.

Russian assault rifle AEK-971
The Russian Top 5 assault rifles the world doesn’t know: Soviet selective fire assault rifle AEK-971 (Photo: XY)

The A-545 successor to the AEK-971, introduced in December 2014, featured numerous internal and external improvements of the AK-971. The AK-12 has passed state Ratnik trials and will be accepted into service with operational unions for evaluation.

ADS amphibious rifle 

The Shipunov Design Bureau developed the ADS assault rifle in 2009 as a dual-medium weapon capable of firing under and above water. It is scheduled to enter service with the Russian Navy’s Special Ops units next year to replace the current APS underwater assault rifle introduced in 1975.

ADS amphibious assault rifle chambered in 5.45 mm caliber
ADS amphibious assault rifle chambered in 5.45 mm caliber (Photo: XY)

Russian assault rifle specially made for combat divers. It is of a bullpup layout and is chambered in the 5.45×39mm M74 round. The ADS can be equipped with a suppressor and optical sights. The ADS amphibious rifle also features an integral 40 mm grenade launcher with an effective above—water range of 400 meters.

Its rare ability to serve in water and above water granted its place on the Russian Top 5 assault rifles the world doesn’t know the list.

SR-3 “Vikhr” compact rifle

The SR-3 Vikhr is a one-of-a-kind assault rifle, developed by A. D. Borisov, V. N. Levchenko, and A. Tyshlykov at TsNIITTochMash (the Central Institute for Precision Machine Building) in 1994. Compact and lightweight (2.4 kg), the SR-3 has an effective range of up to 200 meters.

Russian Top 5 Assault Rifles the World Doesn't Know - SR-3 Vikhr compact assault rifle
SR-3 Vikhr compact assault rifle (Photo: XY)

The SR-3 Vikhr is chambered in a 9×39 mm caliber. It is a powerful SP-6 9×39 mm cartridge capable of cutting through maximum-security body armors from 50 meters away, which is something cartridges used by longer-range assault rifles can’t boast of.

It is a rare weapon often spelled with the 9A-91 assault rifle. It is a compact assault rifle currently in use by Russian police forces. It is a cheaper and versatile alternative to the SR-3 “Vikhr.” The 9A-91 rifle is a gas-operated, rotating bolt weapon, which utilizes a long-stroke gas piston located above the barrel and a rotating bolt with four lugs.

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