Perhaps one of the most infamous bad guy images of modern times is that of Osama Bin Laden armed with a 5.45x39mm AKS-74U (known as a “Krinkov” here in the United States). Along with the famous 7.62x39mm AK-47 and the RPG -7, this class of firearm will likely always be remembered as an iconic weapon of the Global War on Terrorism.
According to Vladislav Tamarov, a former Soviet soldier and author who participated in 217 combat missions during their military intervention in Afghanistan, troops like those in the 40th Army carried the AK-47 in 7.62x39mm, while Soviet Airborne Forces and other special operations troops transitioned to a new and much lighter main rifle known as the AK-74 and the compact AKS-74U (Krinkov). The basic AK-74 and AKS-74U are chambered in 5.45x39mm caliber.
The original AK-47 was designed to use the intermediate M43 7.62x39mm cartridge and was equipped with either a fixed wood or later a folding metal stock.
Mass production of the AK-47 began in 1949 with a total of four different models being made using various manufacturing techniques. After an initial attempt at producing a viable stamped-steel receiver, the earliest AK-47 receivers were milled from blocks of ordnance steel. However, the Russians later refined the manufacturing techniques and produced the more modern and lightweight AKM version of the AK-47 with a stamped steel receiver in the late 1950s. The newer method of producing the more modern AKM with the stamped steel receiver resulted in the rifle weighing 6.92 pounds, as opposed to the previous (heaviest) model AK-47 that weighed 9.48 pounds.
Even though the AK-47 is by no means the prettiest rifle, it does have a well-deserved reputation for being flawlessly reliable, easy to maintain and simple to use. This reputation includes stories of guerilla forces and insurgents in extremely harsh battlefield conditions using diesel fuel, old motor oil and knotted cord to clean and lubricate their AKs in the field.
While the American-made M14 in 7.62x51mm NATO caliber is a main battle rifle that is known to be an effective man stopper, the AK-47 was designed to engage enemy combatants in more traditional CQB distances. This meant that when Soviet troops wanted to engage someone at more extreme distances, they would use a sniper rifle that was designed for that specific purpose.
The AK-47 is chambered for the same 7.62x39mm cartridge as the famous 10-round semi-automatic SKS 45 (Samozraridnya Karabina Simonova) carbine, which was equipped with a folding blade bayonet. However, the AK’s detachable box magazine (most commonly in 30-round configurations) and modified operating system made it a more capable arm in comparison.
U.S. military estimates put the production of AK-47 variants from all worldwide sources at 63 to 65 million units. However, its younger sibling, the AK-74, is no slouch in the numbers department either.