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  • What could be more iconic than the Kalashnikov?

  • Rough-hewn from wood and iron, its simple construction belies an enduring example of

  • industrial design.

  • It's the weapon of choice for a revolution, and the backbone of any insurgency.

  • So, what makes the AK so special?

  • Why is a near seventy year old rifle still so popular?

  • And is there really no substitute?

  • The legendary rifle's story starts in Soviet Russia, in the embers of World War 2.

  • This was an era of rapid technological progress amidst valiant acts - and the Soviet Union

  • loved a hero.

  • Mikhail Kalashnikov was a tanker in the Red Army, wounded in action in 1941.

  • During his recuperation he learned of his comrade's woes with their issued rifles - and

  • resolved to tackle them with a soldier-focussed approach to small arms design: with innate

  • usability borne from simplicity and reliable function.

  • His early designs caught the eye of officials, and Kalashnikov found himself part of a small

  • arms development group for the Red Army.

  • The Soviets were not shy to take influence from what other forces were fielding - and

  • between captured Nazi weapons, Allied supplies - and a long line of Russian prototypes - the

  • AK-47 began to take shape.

  • The German Sturmgewehr 44 was a major influence: with similar form factor, it proved the viability

  • of a mid-power cartridge - and provided the gas system for Kalashnikov's design.

  • The earlier RPD would also lend its intermediate cartridge to the AK-47: the 7.62x39mm round,

  • also known as the M43.

  • Its slightly tapered casing is responsible for giving the AK-47 its distinctive curved

  • magazine.

  • In demonstrations, the 1947 prototype outperformed any rival, and was readily adopted by the

  • Russians - although initial manufacturing issues did slow down deployment.

  • These issues were remedied by 1959, when a modernised version was introduced: known as

  • the AKM.

  • It replaced the milled receiver with a stamped metal one - both lighter and easier to produce,

  • and was also equipped with a muzzle brake to improve the accuracy of automatic fire.

  • There were a large number of variants of this basic design: from the AKS, with a folding

  • stock; to a large number of foreign-produced AK pattern rifles, such as the Chinese Type

  • 56; Hungarian AMD-65 or the Finnish Rk 62.

  • The smaller calibre AK-74 emerged in 1974 - firing the lighter but higher velocity 5.45x39mm

  • round: with greater wounding potential versus the older round, the AK74 would supplement

  • and eventually replace the AKM in service.

  • Pair these variants with such a broad service history, and you have a recipe for a very

  • popular weapon indeed.

  • There have been more Kalashnikov-pattern rifles made than all other assault rifles combined

  • - in fact, of all the small arms that exist: 1 in 5 is an AK.

  • It's utterly ubiquitous: found in every corner of the globe - and such is its influence,

  • it even adorns the flag of Mozambique.

  • No surprise, then, that the AK-47 is as popular in video games as it is in real life: with

  • perhaps as many digital renditions as those stamped from steel.

  • It's so well known that most instances - regardless of variant - are labelled as the 'AK-47',

  • without fear of license rights: only the most cautious opting to use ersatz appellations,

  • such as Goldeneye's 'KF-7 Soviet' or the 'CV-47' in earlier Counter-Strike games.

  • These virtual depictions reflect the rifle's design in a variety of ways: but there's no

  • mistaking the familiar characteristics of the AK.

  • Often, a weapon's identity is forged by the powers that wield it: and with its prominent

  • use by the Second World during the Cold War, the AK has come to symbolise the defiance

  • and might of those who would oppose the west.

  • It's the foil to the American M16, and the weapon of choice for any opposing force: and

  • for that reason it's often the default option for the 'bad guys' in games that mirror any

  • recent conflict.

  • In some cases, like in Counter-Strike, the AK is only available to the terrorist forces:

  • and here it has prime placement, being the top-tier automatic weapon on offer, alongside

  • the Counter-Terrorist's M4.

  • Perhaps it's by its association with untrained militia fighters, or just affinity by design:

  • but long bursts of automatic fire - spray and pray - seems a natural fit for the AK.

  • It has perfectly good accuracy, and is more than capable of hitting targets within its

  • effective range: but somehow the AK doesn't feel like a marksman's rifle.

  • Luckily, the weapon is quite suited to sustained fire: and this is normally reflected within

  • its depiction.

  • The AK's rate of fire is fairly moderate, and while recoil is present it's still possible

  • to wrest the weapon onto a close-range target.

  • It's not particularly elegant, nor great for ammo conservation - but you've got 30 chances

  • to hit something, even if it's not what you were aiming at.

  • Of course, it's not just enough to be capable of automatic fire - a weapon must also be

  • able to dole out magazine after magazine without stoppage or fuss.

  • Luckily, the AK's reliability is legendary: with loose tolerances, and as simple a mechanism

  • as possible - there's not too much that can go wrong, and even less that can't be put

  • right.

  • This is one trait that doesn't transfer well to video games: malfunctions are seldom shown,

  • as firearm maintenance isn't a particularly exciting endeavour - and experiencing a feed

  • failure mid-firefight would only prove frustrating.

  • Some games do reflect these factors, however - perhaps most notably Far Cry 2, with scavenged

  • weapons proving much less reliable than those bought brand new.

  • Weapon condition is also a factor in some RPGs, such as in Fallout 3: but a poorly-kept

  • weapon suffers only in the damage stakes, rather than with any interruption.

  • It's this reliability and simplicity that gives the weapon much of its charm - other

  • weapons might be more high-tech, but that does you no good if it chokes in dusty environments.

  • It seems almost sacrilegious to tamper with the purity of the AK - strapping anything

  • superfluous to the weapon is an insult to the design principles of Kalashnikov.

  • Some games do let you customise your AK-47 with a variety of attachments: optics, suppressors

  • and garish paint jobs.

  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had the right idea, as equipping a red-dot sight would harm

  • the AK-47's long range damage: meaning the most sensible choice was just a plain rifle

  • with iron sights.

  • Remember: just because you can... doesn't mean you should.

  • Of course, if you're some tin-pot dictator of some far-flung land you can generally do

  • whatever you like - and this extends to having your favourite rifle gold-plated.

  • Although such weapons are ornamental, and clearly not designed for the rigours of battle,

  • some games do feature golden guns.

  • Some represent the pinnacle of accomplishment with the weapon, a reward for the completion

  • of challenges: while others just represent an absence of good taste.

  • So, the AK-47. The very best there is.

  • From drug lords to peasant rebellions, the AK is everyone's favourite weapon: a great

  • equaliser, irrespective of wealth or status.

  • It's not the most accurate weapon, nor the most elegant - but it simply doesn't have

  • to be. It's good enough.

  • It excels where fighters need it most: it's reliable. Stoppages are rare, and any faults

  • that do occur can probably be fixed with a hammer.

  • It's simple to use. There's no need to pore over a manual, the AK is point and shoot.

  • It's so simple a child could use it - and in some parts of the world, they often do.

  • It's cheap. Easy to manufacture and even easier to acquire - if you're looking to arm an insurrection

  • on a budget, no other rifle will come close.

  • It is an old weapon, but it's not yet outdated: at the end of World War 2, it was cutting

  • edge - and led the way for the rise of the assault rifle during the 20th Century.

  • Today, although not quite as high-tech as some infantry weapons, the AK-47 still performs

  • its duty: and with 100 million rifles in existence, its popularity is unlikely to evaporate any

  • time soon.

  • With its widespread use and low cost, the weapon can be counted alongside the most basic

  • of tools:

  • The hammer;

  • The sickle;

  • The AK-47.

  • Thank you very much for watching - and until next time, farewell.

What could be more iconic than the Kalashnikov?

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B2 H-INT UK ak weapon rifle design automatic fire

AK-47.

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    Daniel Lin posted on 2016/10/30
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