The video discusses the new armaments that Russia is bringing in to possibly replace Mikhail Kalashnikov’s masterpiece: the AK-74. This has been the Russian and Soviet militaries’ principal and individual weapons for nearly seven decades. It is a testimony to the brilliance of the design that it defies replacement and instead lends itself to further modifications.
The most important change to the original AK design took place in the 1970s with the adoption of the AK-74, which instead of the 7.62mm intermediate round, used a lighter 5.45mm high-velocity round, which gave the weapon greater accuracy and improved lethality. The AK-74 in turn gave way to the 1990’s vintage AK-74M, which introduced composites to the design, giving it that characteristic “black rifle” look and included a number of improvements to improve its durability and facilitate the use of night vision and aiming devices.
Now, the Russian military is facing a choice: stick to the time-tested design of the AK-74 or to adopt a new assault rifle that would replace the venerable AK.
The list of AK-74 challenges is a long one. The first proposed replacement was the Nikonov AN-94 Abakan, whose two-round burst technology was offset by the big complexity of the weapon. More recently, the “Ratnik” individual soldier system profiled in an earlier edition of the Russian Defence Report prompted the Russian military to solicit proposals for the AK-74 follow on. Two rifles were entered: the AEK-971, whose design eliminated recoil and the Kalashnikov’s AK-12.
After a prolonged series of trials, the Russian Ministry of Defense made a decision in February 2015 in favor of the AK-12. The AK-12 combines its predecessor’s best qualities with improved accuracy and ergonomics. Its design allows the shooter to perform key operations like releasing the magazine or manipulating the safety and selector switch with one hand and without taking the finger off the trigger.
The AK-12 is also better suited to accept a variety of attachments, such as sighting devices, laser designators, forward hand grips, night vision devices and the associated mounts such as the Picatinny rail. The new AK-12 can use the new 60-round and 90-round magazines, too.
Does this mean the AK-12 manufacturing will begin to eclipse the AK-74 series currently in service? It doesn’t appear likely. Part of it has to do with Russia’s ongoing budget pinch which has refocused on other procurement plans. But the bigger reason is that the AK-12 does not really offer a bigger advantage to warrant such a dramatic re-armament.
Russia is not unique in that respect. The US military has held several major competitions to identify a successor to the M-16 and M-4 weapons. And yet these flawed weapons will continue in service for decades because the potential replacements’ performance advantage is insufficient to warrant the cost.
The decision to equip the National Guard with AK-74M rifles is an indication that the Russian leadership is in favor of opting for continued modifications of existing rifles with the designation of AK-74M3. Several of these, referred to as AK-74M “Obves,” were seen during the May 2015 victory parade. This new model has a new buttstock design, new hand grip and changes to the receiver cover to add Picatinny rails, in addition to other improvements.
The AK-12, on the other hand, will most likely be purchased in small numbers, for use by specialized and elite units, much as the US and NATO countries issue more advanced and expensive designs to its elite forces, while retaining older weapons in service. The importance of the AK-12 and the new AK-74M3 will be indicated in their presence or absence at this year’s victory parades.