Expert Comparisons of the AK-47
Reviewing the Number One Warsaw Pact Weapon
The purpose of this article is to examine and test-fire five of the most popular variants of the AK-47 (the Number One Battle Rifle in the World) that are currently available in the United States. To do this, I assembled some knowledgeable AK experts who have hands-on experience with several variants of the gun. We call ourselves The Warsaw Pact Panel.
The Warsaw Pact Panel Test Team
As a former USMC Range Officer, I was very familiar with all of the small arms in the US Military inventories, but my knowledge of Warsaw Pact weapons was pretty much hit or miss. [There were, of course, Marine Weapons and Tactics Intelligence officers assigned to garner detailed knowledge of enemy weapons.] Over the years I have maintained my interest in shooting and in collecting military weapons.
However, in buying and firing many foreign weapons I have gathered a small group of experts to advise me. If a buddy did not have an answer, one of his buddies did have it. It was in this manner that the unofficial “Warsaw Pact Panel” was formed. They all gained their detailed expertise during careers in the Special Operations world over several decades. They have had many names over the years and, as they are all “retired” now, only nicknames are used in this article. [Although they are retired from special ops, they are frequently in demand as “consultants”.] So, in this article I had direct assistance from just two of the members, two being out of the country for some reason. The team for this article is below.
- Broker—Served in the US Navy SEALs as Enlisted man and Officer
- Deacon—Served in US Clandestine Service as an Field Officer
- Mac—Served in US Marines as a Weapons Training Officer
Even before the Cold War ended the United States was importing large numbers of Warsaw Pact weapons: Moisin-Nagants, Simonov SKS carbines, Dragunov rifles (including PSL, M76 and other variants), Tokarev pistols, Makarov pistols and others in their original (unmodified) form.
Enter the Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947! As the Cold War came to an end, large numbers of AK-47s, AK-74s, RPKs, etc. were imported after modification to remove the full automatic capability. The Red Chinese, particularly through the Norinco organization, exported large numbers of semiautomatic AK-47s purpose built for the US market. [I purchased my first Norinco AK in 1987 and was very happy with its performance.]
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the crumbling of the Soviet Union thereafter, the firearms of the Warsaw Pact began flowing to the biggest civilian firearms market in the world – US. The flow of Russian models dried up first; possibly because it was easier and more profitable to ship them to multiple Third-World war zones. Many of the former Eastern Bloc countries began to sell modified (select-fire to semi-auto) AK-47s and AK-74s to the United States market. [The former Soviet allies included: Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia. This is besides the versions from China, Egypt and Finland.]
Congress, in its wisdom, soon provided restrictive laws that required US made components in each and every Kalashnikov now imported. This, however, brought to the fore the natural entrepreneurial spirit of American business. With their business partners across the seas providing “parts kits” containing all of the guns components save the receiver (the heart of the selective-fire capability) an array of companies in the US began building attractive semi-automatic “American” AK-47s and AK-74s by replacing the stamped receiver and trigger group only.
Among the companies providing this valuable service are Arsenal, Inc. of Nevada, Century Arms of Florida, DPS Arms of North Carolina, I.O., Inc. of North Carolina and J&G Sales of Arizona. American Tactical, Inc. (ATI) of New York has joined this group with a milled receiver model from Xtreme Machining of Pennsylvania.
Five rifles (in good condition) were obtained for the tests. One case [1,000 rds. - 7.62 X 39mm] of current manufacture Russian ammunition was used in all weapons for the entire test.
Each weapon was cleaned and then inspected, photographed, chronographed and then put through a known distance [50 meter and 100 meter] bench rest 50 rounds each [10 sighting in, then 20 rds @ 50 meters / 20 rds @ 100 meters]. Each was then put through a rapid fire function test: one 30 round magazine fired in 5 to 6 seconds.
Each rifle was then assessed anecdotally by each expert. All positive features would be noted. Additionally, all malfunctions would also be noted along the way.
AK-47 ModelRomanian GP75Yugoslavian M70AB2TNorinco NHM91Bulgarian SSR85Xtreme Mfg.Muzzle Velocity2,364 FPS2,359 FPS2.422 FPS2,361 FPS2,377 FPS
|Best Group||1/4 inch||1/2 inch||3/4 inch||1/2 inch||1/2 inch|
ROMANIAN SAR 1:
The Romanian AK-47 used in the test was new out of the box and performed very well. It had a stamped receiver, very good wooden furniture and a 16.00 inch barrel without a flash suppressor. The action was as smooth as one would expect from a new Kalashnikov. In the range test it had the lowest total score (71.25), but a ¼ inch best group. In that there was only a 6.75 percentage point variance from the best score to the lowest, this rifle is a dependable performer with a great price point [$380 @ Dunham’s].
Mac—This rifle has a clever “notch” in the back of the bolt spring rod to make disassembly and assembly easier. It is a good feature. It also has the scope mounting base on the left side of the receiver.
Deacon—See comment below Norinco paragraph.
The Yugo used in the test is my personal weapon and a favorite because the underfolder stock fits my large frame very well. The piece used is an original Zastava-Kragujevac from Century International Arms. It came with the standard stamped receiver and black zytel furniture. It finished in the middle of the pack on the range test (77.50) but did reasonably well with its ½ inch best group.
The Yugo is the only AK-47 tested here that has significant design changes from the original Soviet design. It has a shorter gas block (1 ¼ inch instead of the standard 2 inch), the upper handguard is therefore longer (5 ½ inch instead of 4 ½ inch) with three vents instead of two. Finally, as the Cold War Yugoslavian military really liked rifle grenades, it has a cleverly designed grenade launching system with a sheet metal grenade sight that automatically cuts off the gas system when raised. (This suddenly gives you a manually operated AK until you put the sight back down.)
If “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” then this is a much flattered design. Although the original (clearly stamped) Zastava kits have just about disappeared, the American re-built models are still being produced. Other countries, including Saddam’s Iraq, have manufactured their own versions of the Yugo design. Both Deacon and I (Mac) like this weapon for personal carry in unpleasant places. As of February, this rifle is still available at the Dunham Sporting goods chain for $580.
Mac—This rifle has a handy button on the left side of the receiver cover in the back to make disassembly and assembly easier. It is a very good feature.
Deacon—Hands down my favorite of the rifles tested. If I dare blasphemy, the M70 is, in my opinion, the 1911 of short range weapons. Carry with a single point rear sling makes this already stunted AK an almost pistol size shooter. With the stock collapsed, forward pressure on the grip against the sling provides a solid shooting platform for strong or offhand shooting in tight situations where a fully deployed stock would be inconvenient. Rain, snow, dirt, mud and dust, leave this “loosely” fitted weapon unaffected. Like my loosely fitted 1924 Colt 1911, the M70 is combat accurate and likely to be more accurate than a shooter is capable of in a stressful situation.
The Chinese made AK-47 model used in this test is about ten years old and has had some 2,000 to 3,000 rounds put through it in that time period. This would be something of a disadvantage as all of the other guns in the test are new or “low-mileage”. However, this model (NHM91) has a 20 inch heavy barrel (just under ¾”, as opposed to the standard: just under 5/8 inch). This feature (we believe) allowed this rifle to obtain the best total score (78.00) of all of the rifles on the range. Ironically, it disappointed me in the “best group” category (3/4 inch). It also exhibited the only malfunction of the five rifles, with a single failure to feed. The Norinco AK-47s like this one are presently difficult to obtain in new condition.
Mac—Although this rifle appears to be of slightly lighter construction than the European variants, it has always performed well, with stoppages a rarity.
Deacon—I suppose this would be as good a place as any to discuss a shooter’s ability to put a round on target. That little trick usually is accomplished by lining up the front and rear sight to form a sight picture on the intended target. The Norinco and the Romanian would both benefit from a little time on the work bench and would certainly be improved if they were to stay in my personal collection. The rear sights reminded me of my appendix. You know that little vestigial organ that does something and usually goes unnoticed until it causes you pain and has to be removed.
Working from a bench on a well lit range and shooting at an orange target is about the most optimal situation a rifleman can expect with any sight system. With the miniscule notches of the rear sight on either of these weapons, just changing to a black bull’s eye would be enough to cause questionable hits and I’d be hard pressed to call a shot.
Under stress, in the dark or while moving, it’s easy to understand why our enemy combatants du jour have such a pitiful hit ratio and tend to shoot from the hip and fall into the spray and pray attitude that lends them better than even odds they’ll get their allotment of virgins in the afterlife. Forget seeing the sights. Buy a scope mount, use the fixture on the left side of the receiver and affix a red dot or a 4x illuminated anything and you’ll be far less likely to suffer the chance of confusing the front sight with either of the protective posts on either side. Or, you can always grab your wife or girlfriend’s red nail polish, put a drop on the front post and open up the rear sight with a file. Of course that won’t help in the dark, but when does a bad guy ever bother anyone when the lights are out.
The rifle used for this test was not new, but had little range time on it. It was a loaner from a friend of a Panel member. It closely resembled the Romanian unit and performed in a nearly identical fashion. It sported the same 16 inch barrel, stamped receiver (although there are milled Bulgarian models now available) and wood furniture. It came in with a slightly better range score that the Romanian (72.00) but only managed a best group of ½ inch. Because this variant is more rare, they can get a higher market price ($1,100).
Broker—My personal favorite is still the original Russian and this piece is the closest to it.
Mac—All in all it is a sturdy good shooter.
XTREME MFG. AT-47
This rifle was the most interesting to me personally because it was crafted from a Ukrainian parts kit in my home state of Pennsylvania. It has a beautifully machined receiver and barrel and is carefully assembled in the quaint town of Grassflat, Pennsylvania. (They are distributed by ATI in Rochester, NY) Because the receiver is machined from a single billet of steel, it has a slightly different look (although it has the standard Soviet-Bloc wood furniture). Apparently the more precise construction gives this higher barrel pressure and better bullet velocity. It achieved the best 100 yard score (76.50) from the bench. [It is currently priced at $899 MSRP from ATI]
Broker—While I liked the smooth action, tightly controlled recoil, and accuracy – I thought the stock and grip too small and a bit awkward.
Mac—The good news for my friend is that Xtreme is designing a completely USA crafted AK with an adjustable stock (that’s a story for another day).
Deacon—The all American AK has been a long time coming. Since enactment of Bubba’s infamous assault weapons ban, perfectly good weapons have been mutilated overseas, stripped of the essentials and imported piecemeal to be rebuilt with selected U.S. components to make superior or inferior rifles depending on what side of the argument you choose to take. Having fired Soviet Bloc milled units in the past, I was pleased to see this rifle introduced by Xtreme Mfg.
The inherent greatness of the AK has been its low cost of manufacture, the simplicity of the machines needed to stamp out the parts by the score and readily field a combat ready weapon. Tolerances are loose by design and while this built in “rattle” provides us with a weather proof rifle, it also leaves us wanting for accuracy. The 7.62 X 39mm round has been badly maligned as being inaccurate. It ain’t the round, it’s the marriage of receiver, bolt and chamber that seats the round, properly spaces the projectile and preps it for our hands to send on its way. I have a friend in the North East who has been hunting deer for years with what he calls “Russian rounds” from a Savage bolt action with a Douglas Barrel he had chambered for the 39mm. He takes a ribbing for using the stuff but everyone enjoys his venison stew and that’s where the laughter stops.
It seems from all objective results that Xtreme has tightened tolerances and given us a solid receiver that will shoot on par with any AR upper chambered in the same round. If they pass on importing foreign furniture and sights and build entirely from U.S. components we’ll all benefit.
Made in America. You have to love that. Sure there is room for improvement but the folks at Extreme are listening to the guys in the field and tweaking as I write.
NOTE: Comparison to the AR-15 Family of weapons is avoided here as (in Broker’s words) “An apples to oranges comparison that cannot be done scientifically. But the AK will allow you to do a triple-tap out to 500 yards! It has a 600 yard lethality!
Since we were in the process of testing the toughest rifles in the world, we thought we would test the toughest magazines that go with them. The magazines were rotated through the five rifles throughout the range firing process so that each design of magazine was tested in each design of rifle. Below are listed the various magazines we used in the testing and observations about them.
PRO MAG (30 Round) This lightweight, but rugged, plastic mag fit well in all of the rifles and never failed to perform as expected. Deacon did have failure to feed from this mag in one of his AKs, the M70 oddly.
TAPCO (30 Round) This plastic magazine feels heavier and more rugged that even the PRO MAG above. It fit easily in all the rifles except the Xtreme model. This being a machined receiver was a bit tighter than the others, but not a problem.
NORINCO (30 Round) This Chinese magazine came with the NHM91, but performed very well in all of the other rifles as well. It does not have the distinctive rib down the back of the mag like the European models, but seemed just as tough. Deacon this one doesn’t attack your hand when loading.
YUGOSLAVIAN (30 Round) The Yugo is most interesting, it has the spot-welded rib, is very rugged and has a bolt stop follower. (The lack of a bolt “hold open” capability has been a criticism of the AK for a long time.)
HUNGARIAN (20 Round) A solidly made little magazine that does the job. The best feature is that it’s lower profile makes the AK more convenient to use from a bench rest or sand bag.
In order to get a general overall feel for a weapon there is a trick I have learned in many years on the range. When I set up a sighting in target before the scoring, I leave that target in place and put each score target in turn over top of it. Therefore, and the end of shooting I have a clear picture of where ALL of the rifles were shooting. [It also gives a great idea of that weapon’s lethality.