AK rifles are gaining acceptance in the U.S., as evidenced by the rise of AK accessories and of businesses catering to AK owners. And Colorado Shooting Sports (CSS) is emerging as a leader in producing AKs for serious applications. The main reason for this is CSS owner Anthony Navarro, the driving force behind several CSS businesses and products: Lightning Bolt, Lightning Lever and, now, A3 GunFighter Series AKs. Readers may also recognize him as a winner of the Discovery Channel program “One Man Army,” in which Anthony defeated some impressive warriors from MARSOC and the Navy SEALS.
CSS is a unique blend of manufacturing and practical application, focused on producing an AK fit for the 21st century. Early on, Anthony was one of the notable proponents of the AK in the U.S. He created enhancements for the AK such as his Lightning Bolt and Lightning Lever, and has concentrated his efforts on the AK because he feels the platform has been neglected, especially in comparison to the AR. The AK is legendary for its ruggedness and ability to operate where other rifles fail. CSS’ AK accessories and A3 GunFighter Series AKs are meant to make the AK run faster, more ergonomically and more in tune with how operators function under stress. Anthony started CSS as a training school, in response to the dearth of qualified personal-defense instruction in Colorado. Everything CSS has since undertaken flows from this mission. CSS’ products are based on lessons learned from years of hard, realistic training. An initial prototype of a rifle dubbed the G4 in 5.45x39mm was put through dozens of rifle classes during a three-year period. CSS not only looked at what accessories and modifications would help its GunFighter Series AKs shoot faster and more accurately, but also at what items would be the most durable in the harshest environments. Anthony is not set in his ways and frequently attends other schools, Tactical Response and Haley Strategic for example, to keep CSS fresh. The Lightning Bolt AK enhancement stemmed from such a training experience, and the CSS GunFighter Series AKs naturally progressed from that.
GunFighter Series AKs
CSS offers AKs chambered for 5.45x 39mm, 7.62x39mm and 5.56x45mm—the G4, G5 and G6 respectively. For this article, I tested the G4. CSS also offers AK users the opportunity to send in their existing AKs for upgrading. Navarro is developing CSS as a “custom” AK manufacturer with AKs available off the shelf. Customers won’t have to wait several months for a custom build, which is currently the norm. How is this accomplished? CSS offers a limited number of choice options, streamlining the process. CSS has production, coating, fabrication and engraving sites located within 3 miles of each other, making for very rapid production times. Aesthetically, the G4 gets your attention immediately with its 14.5-inch barrel and pinned flash suppressor/muzzle brake. CSS removes the barrel from the receiver, cuts the barrel down, re-crowns and re-chromes it, attaches the Battlecomp AK (AKBC) muzzle brake and a rail system, ceramic-coats the rifle, reassembles it, and adds XS tritium sights. My test sample was fitted with an AK-100 series folding stock—a solid polymer stock comes standard. The customer receives a rifle ready to run as soon as the box is opened.
CSS permanently attaches the Battlecomp AK on the 5.45x39mm G4 model for compliance with ATF barrel-length regulations. The left-side sight rail is removed as it is unneeded weight, and experience has shown that most individuals do not utilize the rail. Befitting a fighting rifle, the CSS GunFighter AKs have a roughened, textured pistol grip for conditions where sweat or blood make holding the rifle problematic. Different color options are available, from matte black to multi-color ceramic coatings. An interesting CSS touch is the look of the GunFighter AK’s receiver: Where the rivets are typically found there is, instead, a glass-smooth surface—CSS calls this their Zero Rivet service. All of the CSS GunFighter AKs come standard with other CSS products: the AK Lightning Bolt and Lightning Lever. Together, all these features result in an AK that is responsive and reliable when engaging multiple targets or an unexpected adversary.
The CSS A3 GunFighter Series AK is a fighting rifle that is all business and no waste. Anthony’s ideas are proofed during numerous training cycles and personal applications in the field, under the most rigorous conditions. He is building AKs that will give ARs a run for their money when it comes to accuracy, reinforce the AK’s already legendary reliability and do it in a faster, lighter, smaller and more aggressive package. Anthony says that he builds each rifle as though he were building it for the fight of his life.
What sets apart the A3 GunFighter G4 AK is the amount of product development, field-testing and crossover support (training and manufacturing) the weapon receives from other CSS entities. CSS offers various packages to cater to customer needs. The G4 I tested further breaks from standard AK-fashion by eliminating the factory handguard and going with an Ultimak railed forend. The existence of multiple rails is beneficial for those who need to add mission-essential gear to their rifles. The G4’s overall length is 34.5 inches (26 inches with the stock folded) and weight is between 7.5 and 8 pounds. The simplest ideas are often the best ones. CSS’ AK Lightning Bolt, part of the GunFighter Series AKs, is one such idea. One of the most common complaints of the AK relates to the bolt handle, situated on the right side of the rifle. The handle often makes it difficult for right-handed operators to efficiently work the bolt handle during reloads or malfunction drills with the off-hand and simultaneously keep the rifle shouldered and on target. The rifle and shooter’s attention must be brought off target to work the action. Many will retort that this is splitting hairs, considering the number of AKs produced and their battlefield record. But it is worth addressing. The AK Lightning Bolt moves the bolt handle to the left side of the rifle. The existing bolt is placed inside the new bolt carrier, featuring a left-handed bolt handle. A new, re-configured top cover plate is also installed, to accommodate the left-sided bolt. The new top-plate design increases ventilation in the receiver area, via the raceway that is added for the left-handed bolt. CSS’ AK Lightning Lever is another nuanced product that enhances AK performance. By replacing the stock AK safety lever, the Lightning Lever allows a shooter to manipulate the safety without having to remove his or her hand from the AK’s pistol grip. This is an important benefit in weapon manipulation. As Anthony says, “Why not give yourself more chances to succeed?” When you combine an AK Lightning Bolt and an AK Lightning Lever, not only do you speed up your reload and simplify your manual of arms, but now you can run the gun’s safety with just one hand—a huge advantage if you’re injured.
Range testing of the G4 5.45x39mm AK consisted of initial orientation and confirmation that the Aimpoint H-1 was zeroed. Accuracy testing was surely limited by the red-dot optic—a magnified scope would have provided a better indication of inherent accuracy. With that said, the Hornady 5.45x39mm 60-grain V-MAX was the most consistent performer, with 2-inch groups. Wolf, Silver Bear and Tula Ammunition were in the 3- to 4-inch range. After smacking steel with a couple hundred rounds at Echo Valley Training Center’s (EVTC) Range #2, we moved to the recently installed Jungle Walk range. The 300-by-50-yard Jungle Walk allows for random placement of targets, with the shooter taking advantage of cover and other terrain features while advancing down the winding, undulating path. Individual as well as team exercises are based on real-world scenarios relayed to EVTC staff by the wide cross-section of students who visit the facilities. The G4 AK had no problems during the various Jungle Walk runs, which consisted of multiple magazines and engaging targets from 15 to 175 yards. Bounding and providing covering fire for teammates quickly heated up the G4. Nearly 600 rounds of Wolf, Silver Bear and Tula rounds were expended over a couple days of hard, scenario-based training. This is a good way to get an appreciation of a rifle and how reliable it is under stressful field conditions.
There is a fundamental reason why AKs proliferate around the world and are now spreading across the land of its Cold War nemesis: Its well-earned reputation for ruggedness and reliability. The CSS A3 GunFighter G4 AK is what many AK connoisseurs have been waiting for and instinctually knew what was possible—and there’s one ready on the shelf. In the U.S., the AK platform has taken another step forward. For more information on CSS, call 970-395-0664 or visit coloradoshootingsports.com. ★
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