The Avtomat Kalashnikov 47 (or AK-47) is one of the most common military rifles in the world. The AK-47 was actually replaced by a variant called the AKM a few years after it was introduced. Nevertheless, the AK-47 moniker generally applies to all similar Kalashnikov assault rifles. According to a Russia Times article, over 100 million AK-series rifles are currently in use around the world. The venerable assault rifle equips the armed forces of 106 countries. It is even enshrined on the flag of Mozambique. Designed by Kalashnikov and adopted by the Soviet Union, the rifle has become an international symbol of communism, revolution and terrorism. During the cold war, the Soviet Union freely distributed the AK-47 to communist insurgents around the world. Today, the AK-47 is manufactured under license in 30 different countries.
Here are eight reasons why the AK-47 is so popular:
1. Firepower. The Soviet Army was one of the first to equip large infantry formations with submachine guns. The thought was that waves of Red Army soldiers could overcome the enemy with a large volume of fire. The AK-47 is an assault rifle that is designed around that idea. Large than a submachine gun, but shorter than a traditional battle rifle, the AK-47 is instantly recognizable by the distinctive curved 30-round detachable box magazine (often called a “banana clip”). On full automatic, the AK-47 puts an awful lot of firepower in the hands of a soldier.
2. Power. Assault rifle cartridges are generally not as powerful as the full-sized battle rifle cartridges they replaced. Using the Bullet Kinetic Energy calculator at firearmsexpertwitness.com, a typical 124 grain 7.62 x 39mm cartridge at an AK-47 muzzle velocity of 2350 feet per second would generate 1520.23 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. In contrast, an American M-16A1 firing it’s typical 55 grain 5.56mm x 45mm round at 3280 feet per second generates 1313.60 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. That shows that the AK-47 is quite a bit more powerful than the AR-15, the civilian version of the M-16. However, the World War 2, M1 Garand fires a 150 grain .30-06 round at 2800 feet per second and generates 2610.72 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. It should be noted that the .30-06 is a very typical American hunting round and it shows why a conventional deer rifle is a better choice for hunting than an AK-47. The AK-47 is less powerful than a typical hunting rifle. It just carries more bullets.
3. Reliability. The AK-47 was engineered with the goal of equipping masses of poorly trained Russian conscripts with a simple, rugged, rifle that wouldn’t let them down in the harshest of conditions. It can function in cold, snow, ice, mud, and desert sand. According to The World’s Great Small Arms, “the AK bolt carrier has grooves cut on its external surface to scrape out dirt and fouling, and the system will continue working in conditions that would jam most other weapons of this class.” It is far more reliable than many more accurate Western-made rifles which are engineered to tighter tolerances.
4. Simplicity. Since the AK-47 was expressly designed for conscripts with limited mechanical ability, it has proven very easy to maintain. This simplicity has made it the perfect rifle for guerilla movements in less-developed countries. The AK-47 is very easy to load and fire. This simplicity makes it appealing for use in stressful situations.
5. Historical Significance. The AK-47 is very appealing to collectors because it is the enemy weapon. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, the AK-47 has been the rifle of America’s adversaries. It also embodies a very different design philosophy than typical American and Western European small arms. Historically, the AK-47 may be the most influential firearm of the late twentieth and early 21st century. According to a Voice of Russia article, “units of formerly non-combat personnel armed with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades suddenly became a real force. The Western world lost its advantage on the battlefield, which before that had been guaranteed by machine guns and rapid-fire artillery. Thus, the Kalashnikov rifle became the key instrument and symbol of de-colonization of third world countries. ”
6. Star Power. The AK-47 has been featured prominently in many movies and television shows. According to an article by John Fasano in AK-47 and Soviet Weapons magazine, the AK-47 has also appeared in movies from Apocalypse Now to Zero Dark Thirty. On the small screen Fasano writes that the AK-47 has made appearances in popular shows like The Sopranos, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Falling Skies, and 24: Redemption.
7. Affordable. As a simple, mass produced, firearm, the AK-47 is relatively affordable. A quick look at gunbroker.com shows that in the United States, you can get a new AK-47 variant at prices from just under $500 to about $1200 depending on the model, country of origin, and features.
8. Customizable. Making custom parts for the AK-47 is a cottage industry. There are all kinds of available accessory rails, scopes, lights, lasers, and replacement stocks.
It’s no wonder that the AK-47 is such a popular rifle among shooters. As the Second Amendment is the ultimate check on government power, the AK-47 is an excellent roughly military-equivalent firearm for citizens. It is well suited to defend a home or business in times of civil unrest. However, shooters must remember that the AK-47 is a truly awesome firearm with a grim record, according to a Russia Times article, an estimated 250,000 people per year are killed using the AK-47 around the world.
Fasano, John. “Hollywood’s AKs” AK-47 & Soviet Weapons, Gunbuyer’s Annual, 2014
AK-47 Auction Listings, Gunbroker.com
McNab, Chris. Twentieth-Century Small Arms, Metro Books, 2001.
Philip, Craig. The World’s Great Small Arms. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1993.
Trester, Verne (gunsmith), Bullet Kinetic Energy Calculator, firearmexpertwitness.com
Kramnik, Ilya. “Simple, reliable, and deadly: Kalashnikov’s AK-47 and the story behind it” VoiceofRussia.com, December 25, 2013.
Russia Times, “RIP Kalashnikov: 20 facts you may not have known about the AK-47 and its creator” December, 23, 2013.