The Kalashnikov is one of the most well-known and widely-used weapons in history. More than 75 million of the Russian assault rifles have been produced since it entered service in 1949. And while AKs are renowned for their simplicity and durability, the 64 year old line is long overdue for a design update. But can modern materials and production techniques really build a better AK?
The new platform model is designated the Kalashnikov AK-12 ("Avtomat Kalashnikova, 2012") and is produced in the famed Izhmash factory, which was formed by decree of Tsar Alexander I in 1807 and produced the original line of Kalashnikovs. Russian authorities plan to phase out the existing AK-74M and AK-100 lines in favor of the AK-12, should it pass acceptance testing later this year. Development on the AK-12 began prior to 2010 but it wasn't until May of that year that the Russian Defence Ministry announced the existence of the project and that initial testing would begin in 2011. Political wrangling—and questions of what to do with the massive surplus of perfectly good AK-74 rifles—delayed trials until the end of 2012, whereupon the results of the tests revealed "range of defects" on the prototypes. Luckily, engineers at the the Izhmash corporation were confident they could fix all of the rifle's issues and are currently working to do so ahead of acceptance trials and the expected series production launch at the end of the year.
“In the interests of the Defense Ministry, Izhmash is working on the modernisation of the AK-74 (shown below) and AK-100 assault rifles in service with the Russian army, as well as developing a [new] standard assault rifle on the AK-12 platform which will undergo state acceptance trials in June 2013,” Vladimir Zlobin, Izhmash’s chief designer, told Defence Talk Monday.
The new AK-12 will feature nearly two dozen design improvements over its predecessor while retaining the rifle's versatility and reliability. It will be available to military forces in both light and heavy versions. The Light variant will be able to fire 5.45x39, 5.56x45, 6.5 Grendel and 7.62x39 rounds while the Heavy version will shoot 7.62×51 NATO rounds. Both variants will feature three select-firing modes similar to the American M-16—single shot, three round burst, full auto—rather than the AK's binary semi- or full-auto options. What's more, the old right-handed fire-select switch has been replaced with an ambidextrous selector lever. The magazine release, ejector port, and cocking handle can all be adapted for righties or lefties alike.
The muzzle has also been redesigned to fire 22mm NATO-standard barrel-mounted grenades rather than the 40 mm GP-25 grenades utilised by the AK-47. In addition, improved rifling has reportedly improved the new model's accuracy from the older's rating of "good enough". A new Picatinny rail for mounting optical and IR sights, target indicators, and other equipment has also been added. The Ministry of Defence is reportedly also looking into developing carbine, compact carbine, submachine gun, and sniper rifle variants as well.
Russian civilians are even getting a .223 Remington semi-automatic model of their own by year's end.