Two Great Weapons Born from Different Design Philosophies
Oirignally appeared at SouthFront in May 2016
I have read many articles and reviews comparing the American AR-15 and the Russian AK-47 family of assault rifles. Most reviews attempted to definitively label one or the other as the superior weapon. I have found that this entire chain of reasoning missed the point, and showed a deep misunderstanding of the design philosophy behind the genius of both Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov.
I like to believe that both men would appreciate the competition often superimposed upon their work, as all great and gifted minds do; however, their designs are so different in substance and philosophy that such an idea is quite artificial and truly an artifice of official propaganda or idle conjecture. Anyone that has fired either weapon recreationally, or more importantly, trusted his life to the weapon in battle, would walk away with a profound love of either rifle, for a host of shared and different reasons. Having utilized and owned different variants of both families of firearms, I greatly respect both designs for similar reasons.
I first fired an AR-15 pattern rifle (an M16A2) while a cadet in the U.S. Army ROTC program at the ripe age of 18. I instantly fell in love with the minimal felt recoil, the easily achievable accuracy, and the lightweight polymer-packed design. Although I eventually ended up serving in the U.S. Navy and not the Army, my affinity for the AR-15 began at that point and never lessened over the years. After many years of hearing that the AK design was an inferior weapon, I would become acquainted with the rifle, and fall in love with it for entirely different reasons. Truly, there is no competition between the two weapons, for they stand as almost perfect manifestations of their designers’ intent. In that respect, they are both almost perfect in design and have provided fighting men of many different origins, nationalities and proficiency, with an efficient and deadly means of self-defense and the ability to effectively impose their will upon the enemy.
The two rifles in question are quite different, and so is the history behind their development. One reaches all the way back to the Second World War and the lessons learned by the Soviet Union in that great conflict, the other to a period of great change in small arms design at a time when the United States desperately needed a modern rifle. At the time of their inception, both weapons were designed for conscript (draft) armies. While one design would excel in this original intent, the other would fall short. While Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 to be a battle rifle for a conscript army and partisans, Eugene Stoner envisioned a more refined tool for a highly trained professional soldier.
The AK pattern assault rifle is attributed to Mikhail Kalashnikov, a young designer who had served initially as a tank driver during the Great Patriotic War. After he was wounded in action at the Battle of Bryansk in 1941, he worked on designing a new sub-machine gun during his convalescence, and by 1942, was assigned to the Central Scientific and Developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Directorate of Artillery. It was here that his simple, utilitarian design genius would be tested and nurtured in the company of fellow designers. At a time when the fate of all those he loved, his nation and his culture, was in question, it was easy for him to find the motivation to work hard to design effective means of resistance and hopefully, the means to triumph. He would work on small arms designs at the Directorate throughout the war, and would eventually win the competition to design the next generation assault rifle for the Soviet Armed Forces. There is no question that advanced German small arms design in the last year of the war influenced Kalashnikov’s own design, most notably that of the Sturmgewehr 44 (Stg. 44), the first select-fire military assault rifle ever fielded. Kalashnikov’s design would win the competition, and be known from that point on as the Avtomat Kalashnikov model 1947, or AK-47.
Eugene Stoner began his engineering career in the aircraft industry in 1945 and would not transition to designing small arms until almost a decade later. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. In 1954, he worked for Armalite, a division of Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation and helped to design the AR-5 survival rifle. The AR-5 was adopted by the United States Air Force in 1956 as an aircrew survival weapon. Firearms collectors and enthusiasts know the A-5 as the survival rifle that breaks down and is stowed in the stock of the weapon, and fires a high-powered .22 caliber rim-fire cartridge.
Stoner would lead the design team that would develop the Armalite 15 (AR-15) select-fire rifle between 1956 and 1958, but it was not until the early 1960’s that the United States military would adopt a replacement for the M14 rifle. Officially adopted in 1963, and designated M-16, the rifle exhibited notable improvements over the M14; however, fell far short of what U.S. soldiers were really looking for in a battle rifle. It definitely fell far short of the benchmark set by the AK-47. It would take Stoner more than two more decades to perfect the AR-15 design, largely as a result of the battlefield experience of U.S. and allied troops, and turn it into one of the greatest firearm designs of the twentieth century.
Different Design Philosophies
Anyone that tries to compare the AK-47 family of weapons with that of the AR-15 has often missed the point, that they are comparing apples to oranges. Both families of weapons were designed with an entirely different philosophy, and thus the weapons’ envisioned utilization, and resultant strengths and weaknesses are not directly comparable. In many respects their differences revolve around who they were designed for, and under which circumstances they were to be used.
Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the greatest shoulder-fired, gas-operated, select-fire rifle of intermediate caliber the world has yet known, for use by a conscript army. Its simplicity and ease of use allow for a conscript army, partisans, or insurgent forces to be able to learn how to use the weapon and maintain it under the most medieval and brutal of circumstances. It was designed to be used excessively, over long periods of time, with minimal maintenance, and under every type of atmospheric and environmental condition imaginable. Reliability, simplicity, high volume of fire and reasonable accuracy at intermediate range were the main aims of the design. It excels in all of these categories. Anyone can gain satisfactory proficiency in its use and maintenance. Highly trained and seasoned soldiers, on the other hand, can prove devastating with the weapon. At the time of its initial acceptance, it was accepted that a large conscript Soviet Army could leverage the weapon’s many benefits, and mitigate its few, yet obvious, shortcomings.
On the contrary, while the AR-15 was designed as a select fire rifle for a conscript army, it would not achieve its true potential as a weapon for highly trained professional soldiers, until the passage of a number of intervening decades and the transformation of the U.S. Armed Forces into an all-volunteer force. The AR-15 would undergo a number of modifications between 1963 and the early 2000’s. These modifications were driven by both battlefield experience and the incessant complaints and suggestions of American soldiers. A much more complicated design, it took much longer for the AR-15 to reach the level of perfection that the AK-47 possessed at its inception; however, in the hands of a highly trained, professional military force, the inherent benefits of the AR-15 platform have proven devastatingly effective in a multitude of combat scenarios, over a wide range of environments.
The modern AR-15 rifle is a far cry from the rifle that accompanied American riflemen and marines in the hard fought battles of Vietnam. Highly accurate for a gas-operated, select fire rifle, the AR-15 family of rifles has proven effective in the hands of highly trained professional military forces in engaging enemy infantry in short, intermediate, and even extended ranges (depending on the variant of rifle). It is highly reliable when reasonably cared for, and easy to manipulate due to its refined ergonomics. Perhaps its greatest asset, is its modular design, providing a multitude of customizable options to meet mission requirements.
Positives of the AR
The most notable advantage of the AR-15 rifle, and which was a key consideration in its design, is the accuracy that can be achieved with the weapon by a reasonably trained soldier. There are many design features that allow for the high accuracy of the rifle. Chief amongst them are the low level of felt recoil, large sight radius, and light weight of the rifle itself. Anyone who has used an AR-15 pattern rifle or carbine can attest to all of these attributes.
The low level of felt recoil is obtained through a combination of the small caliber round chambered and the recoil absorbing buffer and spring in the stock. The 5.56 x 45mm caliber round is an intermediate cartridge that uses a projectile of relatively low mass. When fired from an AR-15 with a barrel length of 20 inches, the round maintains a high muzzle velocity, and the round tends to fragment and cause additional soft-tissue damage at a terminal velocity of 2,500ft/s or higher. When the U.S. military demanded higher numbers of shorter barreled AR-15 carbines (M4) over the past two decades, a noticeable reduction in the effectiveness of the 5.56 x 45mm round was immediately observed.
The relatively large sight radius of the rifle, with the front and rear sites being 19.75 inches apart on a rifle with a 20inch barrel, is quite large. The larger sight radius, allows for a higher level of accuracy, when the weapon is properly sighted and utilized. In addition, the light weight of the weapon, at approximately 8 lbs. loaded helps to minimize fatigue in handling and firing the weapon. A loaded AK47, in comparison, weighs in at approximately 10 lbs.
Another advantage of the AR-15 design, is the ability to alter the basic rifle to suit the needs of the user. Although the original design of the rifle allows for ease of alteration, it took decades of war and the experience of tens of thousands of soldiers, as well as the popularity in of the AR-15 as a sporting rifle in the United States, for manufacturers to fully embrace the modular nature and adaptability of the platform.
The rifle is made up of four main components: the stock (which holds the recoil buffer and spring), the barrel, the upper receiver (which holds the bolt carrier group and barrel) and lower receiver (which holds the trigger group). These four main components can be mixed and matched at will as long as they meet basic design parameters. The firearm can be tailored to the needs of a specific user, and a specific mission. There are quite literally thousands of options and accessories available for the firearm. One rifle can easily be altered into a carbine or pistol as the mission dictates.
Positives of the AK
The AK pattern rifles are all very simple in their design, especially in comparison to the other select-fire rifles fielded by the armies of other nations. Simplicity of design and use was one of the main goals of Mikhail Kalashnikov in his design efforts. All functions of the AK are easy to perform with minimal familiarization and practice. Although the fire selector/safety is located on the right side of the weapon, it is large and easy to manipulate, even with gloved hands. The magazine release is located along the centerline of the rifle, just to the rear of the magazine well, and can be ambidextrously manipulated. Although the sight radius of the AK is shorter than that of the AR, the rear sight is easily adjustable for range, and is graduated from 100 to 800 meters on most rifles.
An AK47, AKM, AKS or AK74, field strip down to six main components for the purposes of basic battlefield maintenance and cleaning. Disassembly beyond this point is not usually necessary for long periods of time, and due to the simplicity of the long stroke gas piston design, the rifle does not run as dirty as a direct gas impingement AR-15. The AK has a rotating bolt with only two stout locking lugs, compared to the AR’s bolt which relies on no less than seven smaller, precision lugs.
Simplicity of construction is another great characteristic of the AK. It is made of simple materials, and could be built in most machine shops the world over. Modern AK variants take advantage of polymer and machined aluminum components, where the original was made completely of steel, iron and wood.
The AK is extremely rugged and stands up to all but the most severe of battlefield punishment. It’s simplicity of design, few moving parts, and steel, wood, and/or polymer construction make for a rugged rifle. The design has been battle proven around the world, in just about every type of weather and environment that exists on the planet. The weapon will function in hot and humid climates such as tropical jungles, the dry and arid climates of deserts, and even under the demanding environment of the arctic.
Simple and stout design usually equates to reliability, and this is definitely true in the case of the AK. The components are big and solidly built. There are no small parts that tend to break in use, or can be dropped and lost during cleaning. Disassembling and reassembling an AR is a more lengthy process (although quite simple with practice) than that of the AK.
The design of the rifle does not allow for the easy introduction of dirt, dust, moisture or other foreign matter into the rifle. This not only aids in safe reliable operation, but also helps reduce long term damage over time due to rust and corrosion. The AK fires from a closed bolt, and the charging handle is integrated into the bolt carrier so the only time that the bolt is open is when the firearm is charged, and when the bolt reciprocates back and forth while being fired. In addition, when the safety is moved in the “safe” position, it covers the open channel that the charging handle moves through. This design helps to keeps foreign matter out of the firearm.
Finally, the AK has very few components that are designed with tight tolerances, and all of these are manufactured and fitted together at the factory and are not meant to be disassembled by the user. Most components operate under loose tolerances. This is obvious to anyone who has used an AK, and greatly increases its reliability. Tight tolerances can lead to breakages and failures over time, especially when excessive volumes of fire are considered, which can often be the case in modern warfare.
Negatives of the AR
The AR platform is much more complex than the AK in all respects. It is manufactured of steel, forged aluminum alloy, and polymers. There are a number of small manufacturers in the U.S. that also make receivers out of milled aluminum and even titanium.
When comparing the basic design of the two rifles, the AR is made of many more components and moving parts, and the rifle operates under tighter tolerances in all respects. A simple illustration of this difference can be found by comparing the bolt and bolt carrier groups of each design:
The greater complexity of the AR logically leads to the greater probability of breakage or failure of one or more components over time and through excessive use. The direct gas impingement design of the action, where the gases from the explosion of each ignited round is fed via a small pipe directly into the bolt carrier group, introduces much more carbon and small ignition debris into the bolt carrier group and locking-lug recesses ( often called the star chamber) of the rifle. Although the amount of cleaning required by the AR is often far over-blown, it does fire dirtier than an AK. That being said, I have never experienced a stoppage or malfunction with an AR rifle due to build-up of carbon and debris in the action; however, the cleaning process is more involved than that of the AK.
The 5.56 x 45mm Caliber
Perhaps the Achilles heel of the AR design is the round it was designed to use. The NATO standard 5.56 x 45mm intermediate rifle round has an equal share of supporters and detractors. While the round was adopted by all NATO armed forces, the armed forces of the member states do not all use the same firearms with this round.
As stated earlier, the original AR pattern rifle adopted by the U.S. armed forces, the M16, was designed with a barrel length of 20 inches. This was meant to maximize the performance of the firearm and the round that it fired. The 20 inch barrel produced the necessary muzzle velocity to make the relatively small projectile effective against a human target, with the desired fragmentation, at an “effective range” of approximately 500 yards and a terminal velocity of 2,500ft/s. The M16 was significantly improved since its initial adoption in 1963, with most early reliability issues rectified; however, the decision to adopt a shorter barreled carbine version, designated the M4, has negatively affected the reputation of the AR design as a whole. The M4 uses a short 14.5 inch length barrel, 1.5 inches shorter than a standard 16 inch carbine barrel. The shorter barrel reduces the muzzle velocity achieved significantly, while at the same time the shorter length of the gas pipe that feeds gases back into the bolt carrier and cycles the action, increases the pressure and stresses exerted on the firearm. Widespread replacement of the M16A2rifle with the M4 carbine was a fateful decision that would provide the majority of the U.S. armed forces with a less effective weapon just prior to the post 9/11 era of U.S. wars of intervention and regime change.
Many U.S. soldiers have complained about the lack of stopping power of the M4 and the 5.56 x 45mm round. This even lead to a Congressional inquiry to determine if U.S. soldiers were issued with a primary weapon that under-performed on the battlefield. There are many arguments both in favor of and against the M4 carbine, but there is no argument that its shorter barrel length reduces the effectiveness of the round it fires.
Negatives of the AK
The most obvious weakness of the AK platform is its inaccuracy relative to other select-fire rifles, chambered in an intermediate rifle caliber. It is notably less accurate than the AR, not to mention the select-fire rifles fielded by other NATO members and non-aligned countries. Its effective range is recognized to be approximately 300 yards, yet even at this range, 10 round shot groupings are in excess of 17 inches on average. The inaccuracy of the AK47 and successor AKM rifles lead to the adoption of a similar round to the 5.56 x 45 mm round, the 5.45 x 39mm round used in the newly designed AK-74.
Although the AK lacks the accuracy of any of its competitors, it has proven to be accurate enough in the hands of trained soldiers in handling most combat situations on the modern battlefield. It is without a doubt, accurate enough at short range, and its high rate of fire and reliability (it does not jam or misfire) are more important factors in close range assault and defense. Within its effective range, the ballistic qualities of the 7.62 x 39mm round are devastating.
An additional weakness of the AK is the relative non-modularity of the design. Whereas the AR can be modified extensively to fit the needs of the user and thus the mission, the AK does not provide this flexibility. In contrast, the AK had to be built is a number of specific variants to fill the role of short-barreled CQB weapon (AKS-74U), standard infantry rifle, and squad automatic weapon (the RPK).
The obvious benefits of modularity achieved in the AR-15 design was noted by the Russian Armed Forces, as well as commercial firearm and firearm accessory manufacturers. Over the past decade, the flexibility of the AK platform has been greatly improved. Ironically, the AK and AR platforms have morphed in such a way over the intervening years since there initial adoption into the ranks of armies the world over, that they have come to closely resemble one another in many respects.
The Intermediate Rifle Caliber; Which Round is Better?
The effectiveness of a firearm in its intended role cannot be separated from the ammunition that it is designed to use. Many of the arguments surrounding which weapon is better than the other, have more to do with the intermediate rifle rounds that they utilize, and have less to do with the firearms themselves. It is interesting to note that modern variants of both the AR and the AK, have been designed to fire different caliber rounds than they were initially designed for.
The adoption of an intermediate rifle round provides a number of benefits to both the user and in the bigger picture of military logistics. The smaller rounds are lighter, and thus reduce the overall weight of the firearm. It is less fatiguing for the user to carry and to fire. The round also produces less recoil than a high-power rifle round, which improves accuracy and lessens fatigue when fired. The smaller round equates to a higher capacity relative to the size of the firearm’s magazine. Soldiers can carry more ammunition in the weapon, and on their person, and the logistics supply chain can move more ammunition. The per-unit cost of transporting the intermediate rifle round through the supply chain is significantly cheaper.
The main drawback of the intermediate rifle round in comparison to a full size rifle round is the loss of range and the lesser penetration and stopping power achievable by the larger round. The experience of the Second World War revolutionized many aspects of warfare. It definitely altered the design of infantry small arms, as well as the way that such arms were to be utilized. Infantry tactics had to be developed to suit the new weapons, and the weapons had to fit the new doctrine. It was determined that a select-fire rifle, that could provide a greater rate and volume of fire to the individual infantryman, was preferable to a bolt-action or semi-automatic battle rifle. As the majority of infantry combat occurred at ranges not to exceed 400 yards, the loss of range and power provided by a high powered rifle round, was not seen to outweigh the benefits provided by the select-fire “assault” rifle.
Without a doubt, military planners in the Soviet Union appreciated the benefits of the select-fire assault rifle more than their Western counterparts. The scale and brutality of the Second World War, as experienced by the Soviet Union, proved to the Soviet Armed Forces that such a weapon was a necessity on the modern battlefield. The Armed Forces of the United States; however, would not abandon the full sized rifle as the main weapon of the infantryman until the M16A1 was introduced in 1963, replacing the M14A1. When put up against the AK47 in Vietnam, it was found that the M14A1 could not match the other rifles volume of fire, and soldiers could never carry enough ammunition. The greater range of the M14’s 7.62 x 51mm round was mostly negated by the dense jungle environment, and was rarely ever an advantage.
Now that the benefits of the intermediate rifle round are understood, how do the two competing rounds match up? The AR platform fires the 5.56 x 45mm round, and the AK47 fires the 7.62 x 39mm round. The AK-74 was introduced into the Soviet military starting in 1974, and takes advantage of experience learned from the use of the 5.56 x 45mm round, while improving upon it. The AK-74 fires a 5.45 x 39mm round, which has greater penetrating power than the 5.56 x 45mm, yet due to its steel core, does not fragment as heavily as the NATO round. In addition, due to a number of factors including the length to width ratio of the projectile, it tends to tumble upon impact with a soft target, resulting in large and ghastly wounds in soft tissue.
7.62 x 39mm
The projectile has twice the mass as that of the AR’s 5.56 x 45mm at .0079 kg compared to .0039 kg. Although the bullet moves at a much lower velocity of 718m/s. (2,356ft/s.), the sizeable difference in mass produces greater kinetic energy, 2,036 joules (1,502ft.-lbs.), and a significant wound profile within its effective range. A heavier projectile moving at lower velocity is more susceptible to the influences of crosswind and bullet drop. This greatly effects the AK47s accuracy and explains some of the reasons for this inaccuracy in comparison to the AR-15.
5.56 x 45mm NATO
At a mass of .0039 kg, the projectile is quite small; however, the bullet has a muzzle velocity of between 905m/s and 940m/s (2,970ft/s. and 3,100ft/s.), assuming the round is fired out of a 20 inch barrel. The resultant kinetic energy is between 1,679 joules and 1,760 joules (1,238ft.-lbs. and 1,325ft.-lbs.). The small mass and high muzzle velocity improves accuracy over distance, mitigating the effects of bullet drop and crosswind. The bullet was designed to reach effective fragmentation at a terminal velocity of 2,500ft/s., causing maximum soft tissue damage and a significant enough wound profile to maim or kill. With the advent of the M4 carbine being issued as the standard infantry weapon in the U.S. Armed Forces, with its 14.5 inch barrel, the performance of the 5.56 x 45mm round has been greatly reduced when used in conjunction with this weapon.
5.45 x 39mm
The genesis of the 5.45 x 39mm round is based on the battlefield experience of both the Soviet and U.S. militaries. The Soviet Union had closely watched the development of the 5.56 x 45mm round, and quickly deduced the benefits inherent in a round that provided greater accuracy and penetration at greater range. Both the strengths and the weakness of the American round became apparent during the course of the Vietnam War, and Soviet research and development hoped to improve upon the concept. The 5.45 x 39mm has a mass of .0034 – .0036 kg., and a muzzle velocity of 718m/s. (2,356ft/s.), which produces a kinetic energy of 2,036 joules (1,439ft.-lbs.). The bullet tends to wobbles upon impact with soft targets, and tends to cause significant wounds.
The Wrong Argument
I have often heard the false argument over the years, regarding which firearm design is superior, the AR or the AK? In search of definitive and simplistic answers, as is human nature, people often lose sight of the true nature of the question, and whether the question is even relevant in the first place. In the case of these two superlative firearms, you simply cannot compare them in such a narrow set of criteria. Both firearms excel and fail in exactly the categories they were meant to, as designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov and Eugene Stoner.
A tool is designed to perform certain tasks as efficiently as possible, dependent upon specific design criteria. In the case of the AK47, it was designed to be simple, rugged, reliable, and deadly at an effective range of 300 yards, while providing a high volume of fire for the largely conscript military force envisioned. It excelled in all of these areas. It is without a doubt, one of the greatest small arms designs of all time. In the case of the AR-15, it was designed to be highly accurate, highly adaptable and flexible, providing a high volume of fire, and intended for use by a highly trained, professional military. In each category, it excels without question. It also, is one of the greatest small arms designs ever produced.
Both the AK and the AR are outstanding tools conceived by the creative spirit and intelligence of men that hoped to provide for the defense of life and homeland. A tool is only effective if properly utilized as intended. Over the course of more than half a century, both designs have improved one another to a point that they both have far more in common than they do apart. In many ways, the competing designs have pushed one another to a higher level of utility, reliability, and accuracy.
Both Designs Have Improved One Another Over Time
There is no doubt that both weapons designs have improved over time, and that some of this improvement is rooted in the design efforts of engineers and military leaders that studied the strengths of the opposing design. The many variants of the AR-15, including the M16A2, M4, M16A3, M16A4, and countless AR pattern rifles and carbines made by smaller, independent manufacturers, have tried to emulate the strengths of the Kalashnikov design. Likewise, The AK47 improved over time, with the advent of the AK74 and its many modern variants, gained some of the strengths of the AR. Like two prize fighters, the weapons have been locked in fierce competition for decades, and have become stronger as a result of pushing one another, learning and adapting to the strengths of their opponent, always trying to gain an edge over the other.
In many respects, this fierce competition has transformed both firearms is such a way that they resemble one another today. Both designs have ascended from their original design, and morphed into more capable weapons. Although there are other select-fire assault rifles in service with the militaries of the world, none have achieved such widespread acceptance and admiration.
The Influence of the Civilian Firearms Market
The popularity of both firearms amongst shooting enthusiasts, sportsmen, hunters and ranchers in the United States, has advanced the development and innovation observed in modern variants of both weapons. The positive attributes that have made both weapons so successful in their military roles have carried over to many recreational shooting and sports applications in the United States. Popularity of both weapons have also increased as more and more military veterans return home after combat deployments and share their experience with both rifles with the civilian sport shooting community and the firearms industry in the United States.
In addition to sport shooting, the AR platform has become popular with hunters of small game and ranchers, farmers and people living in rural areas, in eliminating large harmful pests. While not powerful enough to hunt large game, the AR has proven ideal for hunting wild pigs, which are aggressive and dangerous animals that have overpopulated in certain regions of the country. Coyotes, a constant threat to ranchers and farmers, are also easily dispatched with the rifle. Both male and female shooters find the felt recoil of the AR easily manageable.
Although import bans prevent the importation of complete AKs of foreign manufacture, the popularity of the platform has led to the growth of domestic manufacturers of AK rifles and components. Owning an AK is legal if at least 10 of 20 identified parts (as per 27 CFR §478.39) are not of foreign manufacture. AK based rifles, carbines and pistols are usually more affordable to buy and to shoot than an equivalent AR, and 7.62 x 39 ammunition is cheap and plentiful.
For the millions of Americans who embrace the inalienable, natural right of self-defense as stated in the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which also stands as a bulwark against the establishment of government abuse and tyranny, both firearms are seen as necessary tools to maintaining liberty. It is estimated that there are over 100 million rifles of all types in the ownership of U.S. citizens, 30 to 40 million of which are ARs, AKs and firearms of similar design. Millions of Americans have decided to embrace Mikhail Kalashnikov’s rifle, a rifle he designed to ensure the freedom and independence of his own nation and its people.
A thorough study of both the AR and AK pattern firearms reveals many strength and few weaknesses. Both weapons have improved greatly since they were first accepted by the militaries of the United States and the Soviet Union. There is little doubt that neither firearm would have reached their present level of excellence without the constant challenge presented by such a superlative competitor. The AR versus AK competition is perhaps the fiercest battle of opposing military engineering in modern history, presenting the greatest influence on military developments of the late twentieth century.
Mikhail Kalashnikov and Eugene Stoner are widely respected and revered by soldiers, shooting enthusiasts, and engineers the world over. Both men came from humble beginnings, served in the most costly of all human conflicts in the enlisted ranks during World War II, and desired to produce a superior weapon that could guarantee the continued freedom and welfare of their respective nations and people. Both men lamented the tremendous loss of life caused by their inventions prior to their deaths in 1997 (Stoner) and 2013 (Kalashnikov). It is hard to quantify how many people died at the “business end” of both weapons, or how many more were horribly injured and maimed for life.
Having owned and used numerous AR and AK pattern firearms, I can honestly say that I greatly respect them both for similar and different reasons. It is hard to beat the accuracy and minimal recoil of an AR, and the options available to tailor the weapon to the specific needs of the user are almost limitless these days. On the other hand, the simplicity and reliability of the AK are equally endearing. Many shooters, including myself, have often yearned for the best of both worlds. Although I have not had the opportunity to test fire one yet, the small number of AR/AK hybrids now on the market may provide just such a possibility. These firearms are based on an AR platform, but they are chambered in the Russian 7.62 x 39mm round.
Both firearms will continue their service for years to come in the many varied conflicts that will regrettably, and inevitably plague mankind. They will be used by men to kill, injure and maim his fellow man; however, they will also be used to protect the lives of equal numbers of combatants and civilians alike. A firearm is but a tool that can be used to protect life and human rights, or to deny these rights and to take life. The purpose of their use always lies in the minds and the hearts of men. Just as a hammer can be used to build, it can just as easily be used to demolish. Both Mikhail Kalashnikov and Eugene Stoner understood this paradox, and yet bent their will toward developing tools that they hoped would be used more for protection than subjugation. In many ways, the fate of the gun and the fate of humanity are entwined by the bond of the blessing and the curse of free will.