Perfect just the way Kalashnikov designed it!
I recently attended an event with several manufacturers or importers of AK rifles or AK accessories. Several expressed frustration over the increasing hostility of AK shooters toward any attempt to improve or modernize the AK platform.
American shooters tend to make firearm decisions based on emotion over reason. I am no different – I have many firearms that may not be the most practical for the purpose, or that really have no practical purpose for me outside of the enjoyment of collecting and shooting them. For some reason though, the AK seems to give rise to very strong emotions among shooters and the result can be some pretty ugly confrontations. Many AK shooters tend to believe strongly that any change from the basic AK configuration destroys the weapons usefulness.
The AK was designed in the mid 1940s, borrowing and combining concepts from firearms designed in the 1930s, 1940s, and earlier. It was designed for a certain type of combat based around the Soviet military doctrine of the time. It is a dated design, just as many of the other weapons of the time (MAS 49, FN49, SKS, etc.) are now considered dated designs and are no longer seen in common military use. However, the AK had certain advantages that not only kept it in use far past most contemporary weapons, but, boosted by Cold War political climates, made it one of the most successful small arms in history in terms of worldwide military popularity. The AK has become the icon of third world conflict, and the image of a battered AK wielded by a tattered youth with a hollow stare has been burned into our consciousness. This is the AK.
We need only to consider the most common military use of the AK platform to realize that vast numbers does not equate modern effectiveness. The AK is, above all, inexpensive, plentiful, and accessible. It is also simple and reliable. The AK was forced upon many nations by the Soviet Union. It was poured into others as the Soviets sought to expand and consolidate their influence around the world. Still other nations fount that they could purchase or produce several AK rifles for the price of one competing rifle – a compelling reason for poor nations to arm themselves with the AK.
The AK was updated during this time, but remained visually the same. During this time the American service rifle also went through a series of updates. As we reach modern times, we see similarities in how the AK and the M16/M4 platforms are being updated for military use. Both weapons are evolving for use in modern tactics developed over the years in a thousand small conflicts in hot, dirty corners of the world. Modern military weapons of all types have suddenly sprouted optics, collapsible stocks, better pistol grips, tactical lights, and more effective controls.
Here in America, though, a funny thing has happened. While foreign governments are working hard to modernize their military AKs, American shooters seem to feel that they need to protect the AK from any change. They argue that the AK is the ideal weapon and should not be altered or accessorized. Do they have a valid point?
Lets have a look at the arguments:
1. The AK was perfect the way it was designed and should be kept and used as Kalashnikov intended.
The AK-47 was designed a long time ago. Fighting methods have changed since then. Troops are receiving better training. Advances have been made in technology. Optics are in widespread use by the common soldier. Training that was formerly reserved for special units is now available to the infantryman. The infantryman’s weapon should be able to support the newer methods, tactics, and technology, or it will soon be obsolete.
The M16 was also designed a long time ago. In its original configuration, it would now be considered obsolete for military purposes. It has evolved to reflect changing tactics, missions, and technology. Military M4 carbines now sport rail systems, better collapsible stocks, better pistol grips, optics, foregrips, lasers, lights, tactical slings, and other upgrades, depending on the mission.
The same guy who is in favor of accessorizing an AR-15 with these types of accessories, for some reason feels that it is heresy to even mention adding one of the same accessories to an AK. Why? Because our perception of the AK is different than that of people who live in countries that field the AK as their service weapon. We are used to seeing modernized M4s in the hands of our troops on our evening news, just as they are becoming familiar with modernized AKs in the hands of their troops. In America, we don’t see modern troops armed with modernized AK rifles. Remember the battle-hardened youth with the battered AK? That is still our perception of the AK. That is still the face of many of our enemies.
To insist that American shooters should always keep their AKs configured like some of our insurgent enemies do, out of some misplaced nostalgia, is ludicrous. A weapon should be configured to work best for the intended purpose. (Of course, if that purpose is just recreational shooting or collecting, then it should be configured in whatever way the owner prefers – it is not critical.)
2. I don’t want to change my AK because I want to be able to pick up any AK and run it.
People configure their AR-15s in many different ways. I have a preference, but I can pick up any AR and run it if I need to. I could also pick up an M1 Carbine, an 1892 Winchester, or an AK and fight with it if I needed to. If I was running an AK in combat, there are certain improvements I would want to make to the weapon in order to help me to be effective as possible. These improvements will not prevent me from being able to use any other AK, but would help me to be more effective in using my own weapon. Let’s face it; I would very rarely need to use an enemy weapon, if ever.
3. You are just trying to replace training with gizmos.
So many times we do try to replace training with devices. I am a strong believer in investing more money in people than in complicated gear. I would rather be well trained with a simple weapon than some kind of poorly trained robo-cop-type who is helpless when my batteries die.
On the other hand, a lot of training with the AK involves workarounds for a less than ideal configuration. If I can make a few simple changes to the configuration that allow me to fight with the weapon more quickly and positively, I will do it. I will make the weapon more effective to use and then train to use it effectively. I will always do all I can to make a weapon fit the way I use it, and I will still train, because I am not replacing training with a device – I am making my training more effective. Be sure, though, that you think about the benefits of any accessory or device you place on a weapon. Add only what will help you and make sure it is a sound concept.
The bottom line is this: if you are building a fighting AK, keep it as simple as possible, while including those things that will help you to be more effective with the weapon. Use a comfortable stock with the right length of pull and a good cheek weld. Add an optic and a better pistol grip. Improve the safety selector lever. Make the weapon fit your need and don’t worry about the purists.
Please be sure to comment on this post and discuss your thoughts on this issue. I will follow up soon with a short list of accessories and upgrades that I think are a good idea for a fighting AK rifle.