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Light Arms

The basic strength of any army is its infantry. The combat effectiveness of infantry is largely dependent on firepower. The greatest military asset of Soviet Russia was manpower. Western efforts to overcome this manpower deficiency were directed toward quality instead of quantity, with the view in mind of increasing the effectiveness of the individual soldier by providing him with mobility and firepower, and by backing him with superior technology and greater industrial capacity.

Western efforts along these line sin the Great War were largely successful. During the Great Patriotic War, the tables were turned, and the forces of Hiterlite Fascism weere crushed by a Red Army that had better weapons, and more of them. Fortunately for all concerned, the Cold War never turned hot.

When the Bolsheviks rose to power in October 1918, they faced the task of creating an armed force and provid- ing it with the necessary weapons and ammunition, primarily small arms and artillery. The need for small arms was particularly critical. Initially, the Red Army depended upon models inherited from the old Russian Army. These included domes- tically manufactured Model '1891 Mosin rifles and carbines, heavy 1910 Model Maxim-type machineguns and 1895 Nagant revolvers. Also available were very limited quantities of foreign models of weapons purchased by the Czarist government during the first World War.

Inasmuch as Czarist Russia's technical and economic base had been barely adequate to supply even a third of the old regime's wartime weapons requirements, the new government marshaled its resources for the purpose of developing a self-sufficient arms industry. By dint of a concentrated organizational effort, which was spurred on by fears that counter-revolutionary military attack was imminent, considerable success was achieved, particularly in the development and production of small arms.

Thus, in the two decades following the October revolution, the combined efforts of scientists, designers and technical workers assembled at centers in Izhevsk, Kovrov, Saratov, and Tula enabled the Soviets to build an industry that was capable of outstripping the enemy in small arms production during the Great Patriotic War.

 Production of Small Arms (1941-1945) 
				USSR 		Germany 
Rifles & carbines 		12,000,000	7,500,000 
Submachlne guns 		6,103,000 	1,247,000 
Light & mounted machineguns 	454,500		617,000 

Soviet small arms development was profoundly influenced by F.G.Fedorov, inventor of the assault rifle and founder of the first Soviet design bureau for automatic weapons; N.M.Filatov, a leader in the production and testing of automatic rifles; and A.A.Blagonravov, who provided administrative leadership in small arms research and expedited the development of new systems. Under the guidance of these men, many designers evolved including such notables as V.A.Degtyarev, P.M.Goryunov, G.S.Shpagin, S.G.Simonov, A.I.Sudayev, and F.V.Tokarev. The use of automatic weapons grew steadily during World War II as their superiority for close combat purposes became obvious. Wartime infantry unit holdings included 7.62mm PPD (Degtyarev) submachineguns, PPsh (Shpagin) and PPs (Sudayev) submachineguns, SVT semiautomatic rifles (Tokarev) and, near the end, SKS-45 semiautomatic carbines (Simonov), DP (Degtyarev) light machine- guns, and SGM (Goryunov) mounted machineguns.

The PPD, which entered service in 1940, combined the qualities of both a pistol (low weight and portability) and a machinegun (high rate of fire). The PPsh, supplied to the front at the end of 1941, retained the performance characteristics of the PPD, but was of simpler design, thus making it easier to manufacture. The PPS submachinegun was the most compact (623mm long), light (3.04 kg) and simple in design. It was noted for its folding-type metal stock and a 2-row box magazine with 35 cartridges and was convenient for use on reconnaissance missions. The air-cooled SGM mounted machinegun, weighing 36.9 kg, replaced heavier (66 kg) water-cooled Maxim machine- guns whose water jackets were vulnerable to bullets and shell splinters.

In an effort to provide Soviet infantry units with tactical independence when engaging highly mechanized enemy troops, each infantry regiment had a company equipped with 14.5mm antitank rifles [in modern parlance, these would be considered anti-materiel rifles]. Two models, the single loading AT rifle designed by Degtyarev, and the 5-shot magazine-fed self-loading AT rifle designed by Simonov, were put into service. The armor-piercing capability of the antitank rifles (not less than 20mm at a distance of 500 m) made them effective against enemy armored vehicles, machineguns, and armored emplacements.

By mid-century Soviet light arms were of the rough and ready variety. By American standards they were simple and some even crude in both design and construction. However, these arms lent themselves to mass manufacture, and had proven effective in the hands of the Russian soldier. All small arms in the Soviet division are 7.62: millimeter or 30 calibre. A comparison of characteristics of the principal small arms found in the Red Army rifle division and in Western infantry divisions was the heavy Russian reliance on submachine guns. A "submachine gun" provides high rate of fire by using "short" pistol bullets, which have short range and low velocity relative to much larger "long" rifle bullets.

It should be noted, in this respect, that Russian ammunition is of poor quality subject to corrosion and rapid deterioration, and is not particularly adapted for use in automatic weapons. Frequent misfires and stoppages may therefore be expected with these weapons. The short effective range of submachine guns has also resulted in high casualty rates among troops so armed. These casualties were accepted in return for the firepower developed.

The individual Soviet rifleman at mid-century was armed principally with the Mossin Naggant model 1891/30 rifle, a manually operated weapon with a magazine of five rounds. The Tokarev rifle was found in some units. It was a gas operated rifle which proved unsatisfactory for several reasons, and was withdrawn from production in 1943). A shorter version of both these rifles wasn produced as carbines. None of these weapons equal American standard rifle or carbine.

In the Soviet rifle squad, the armament is very similar to that found in the American squad. The main differences were that the Russian squad was armed with a light machine gun slightly superior to the Browning Automatic Rifle in firepower, and had an RPG antitank weapon which exceeded the American rifle grenade in armor penetration capability.

Among the designers, the most prolific was M.T.Kalashnikov, a former Great Patriotic War tank sergeant, who was responsible for the AK-47 AKM and AK-74 assault rifles; the RPK and RPKS light machinegun; and the PK, PKB, PKS, PKM, and PKT general-purpose machineguns. These weapons were uniquely successful in satisfying Soviet requirements for small arms capable of providing infantry units with increased automatic firing power and greater effective ranges.

Kalashnikov's gas-operated mechanism was the start of a new weapons family featuring light weight, reliable operation, a high cyclic rate and a relatively low dispersion shot pattern. The basic Soviet criteria for developing infantry weapons were reliability, simplicity of design, ruggedness, ease of operation and ease of maintenance under field conditions. Above all, however, weapons must be easy to mass-produce.

The Kalashnikov assault rifle is one of the most controversial automatic weapons around, just like its American counterpart, the M16. Some hail it as the most reliable such weapon ever built, while others describe it as outdated. The AK-47/74 series of rifle is one of the most prolific and useful weapons on earth. More than 100 million have been made in various parts of the world since 1949 more than FN FALs, M16s, Heckler & Kochs and Uzis combined.

Still, despite the AK-47/74s utility, accuracy and ruggedness, numerous attempts have been made to find a replacement for Mikhail Kalashnikovs legendary invention. In 1981, the Soviet Defense Ministry organized a tender for an assault rifle that would be twice as better as the AK-47/74. As a result, the Nikonov AN-94 submachinegun successfully passed field tests and, although never mass produced, was adopted by the armed forces in 1987. Talk about pensioning off the tried-and-true AK-47/74 resumed in 2011, after the Defense Ministry announced that it was cancelling orders for more Kalashnikovs in addition to the 17 million it already had. Some experts were considering the AEK-971 assault rifle, designed in the late 1970s, as the most likely replacement for the veteran AK-47. Some even talked about buying FAMAS rifles from the French who discarded them in 2016 opting for the more advanced German-made HK416 assault rifle.

The AK platform is famous for its simplicity, reliability, structural strength and low price appeal. The downsides, especially when compared with its most advanced foreign analogues such as the FN SCAR and HK416, are its outdated ergonomics, inconvenient fire mode selector, comparatively low accuracy of fire, etc. Critics also point to the AK platforms low modernization potential and non-modular construction, which is the predominant trend in 21st century firearm production. In theory, modular construction and interchangeable barrels and variable calibers may be vital for Special Ops units when you have to assemble a rifle for a specific mission, but many experts describe this as just a marketing trick by arms manufacturers eager to make more money.

Ergonomics-wise the AKs bolt handle, the clip fixation and the butt shape are reminiscent of the Garand M1, FN FAL, M14 rifles of the mid-20th century and really look old-fashioned. However, modern arms makers big-time and small alike have learned to adjust the AK platform to the demands of this day and by minimizing the blowback and with a variety of user-friendly attachments.

According to the Kalashnikov Concern, their all-new AK-12, unveiled during the Army-2016 expo in September, will be able to remedy all these problems. The long and winding roads of AK-12 The AK-12, developed in 2011, looks very much like the AK-74M but with better ergonomics: a telescopic butt, Picatinni rails a newly designed barrel receiver a telescopic sight can be easily mounted on. The barrel is weighted ensuring more accurate fire. The fore grip and the hand guard are attached to the barrel receiver and the gas tube.

In their effort to make the AK-platform as modular as possible, the Kalashnikov designers unveiled the RPK-16 interchangeable-barrel 5.45 mm light machinegun based on the AK-12. With a long barrel the RPK-16 can be used as a machinegun and with a shorter one as an assault rifle.

In highly secretive programs, some of which remain classified to this day, Soviet engineers actively worked to create unique designs to compete with the US's own next-gen service rifle programs, such as the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW), the Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) program, and the Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program.

Looking through some of these Soviet projects in a 20 May 2017 analysis piece for, military analyst and small-arms expert Vladislav Grinkevich explained that one key difference between the Soviet and American programs was that US weapons designers actively and energetically promoted and marketed their projects, the Soviet engineers' work was more often than not kept secret, much of it emerging only long after the USSR's collapse.

Soviet small-arms designers began experimenting with bold assault rifle designs right from their debut in the late 1940s, soon after the military had approved the 7.62x39-mm cartridge. In addition to the AK-47, which ended up winning the competition to become the Soviet Army's standard rifle, designers from the Tula Design Bureau entered an unusual design the TKB-408.

Developed from 1945-1947 by legendary automatic rifle designer German Korobov at the Tula Arms Plant (TKB is the Russian acronym for the factory) the TKB-408 is broadly considered to be one of the world's first bullpup rifles. (A bullpup is the firearm configuration where the rifle's action and magazine are located behind the trigger). Aside from its bullpup arrangement, TKB-408 was otherwise a rather standard design, with a gas-operated, tilting-bolt action. State testing after the war did not yield particularly impressive results. The gun had low accuracy, poor reliability and a low working life of only 5,000 rounds. In other words, it was no competitor to the Kalashnikov.

In the early 1950s, the Soviet Army's Main Artillery Administration issued technical requirements for a new small arms system an automatic rifle also serving as a light machinegun. In response, Korobov and his team developed the TKB-517, a design visually similar to the AK-47, but using a delayed blowback mechanism. Hungarian weapons designer Pal Kiraly had worked to perfect the concept of delayed blowback in his handguns and machineguns during the Second World War.

The TKB-517 would go on to become the main competitor to the AKM, the modernized variant of the AK-47 introduced in the late 1950s. Grinkevich recalled that "Korobov's gun was lighter, simpler and had superior accuracy in burst firing." On its basis, the engineer also developed a light machinegun operating on both magazine and belt-fed ammunition, which would become a competitor to Kalashnikov's RPK.

But notwithstanding its obvious advantages, Korobov's gun was still inferior to Kalashnikov's gun in the area where it counted most: reliability. Many experts believe that automatic rifles with delayed blowback are generally unable to provide adequate reliability for weapons using intermediate and machine-gun cartridges. The sad fate of the French FAMAS rifle, which uses a scheme similar to that of the TKB-517, is indirect confirmation of this.

For Soviet designers, the 1960s could be called the golden age of Soviet bullpups, with Korobov's designs complemented by those of another designer from Tula Nikolai Afganasyev. The TKB-022 series of automatic rifle designs is broadly thought to be one of Korobov's most interesting creations. These were compact weapons encased in plastic housing. In terms of design and the materials used, the system was a genuine breakthrough the famous plastic-based Steyer AUG appeared in Austria only about fifteen years later.

The TKB-022 had several variants. The TKB-022P featured a magazine system directly under the trigger, similar to the Israeli Uzi. The TKB-022PM, which had the same 415 mm barrel length as the AKM, was shorter than an AKMS with its stock folded. This was possible to achieve by placing the rifle's magazine well at the butt of the rifle.

Another innovation in the TKB-022 series was the discharge of spent cartridge casings forward, which solved the problem of shooting from the left shoulder. Grinkevich recalled that this innovation would be used in a 21st century Belgian design the FN2000. Overall, according to available estimates (the official results of the tests have yet to be published), Korobov's rifles boasted characteristics similar to those of the AKM, but were far superior in the area of compactness.

As far as the TKB-022PM is concerned, its unusual center of gravity toward the rear of the rifle was perceived as a problem by the Army. As for the TKB-022P, the magazine feed's placement near the trigger is obviously a dubious ergonomic solution. Finally, the general problem of bullpup designs is their short sight, which has a negative effect on accuracy. It is no coincidence that the Steyer AUG features an integrated telescopic sight.

In the mid-1960s, well-known small-arms designer Nikolai Afanasyev developed his own bullpup design the TKB-011, borrowing engineering solutions first pioneered by Korobov, including the overall layout, materials, and the cartridge ejection system. The TKB-011 had a very unusual appearance: the front and rear sections of the receiver were designed at an angle to one another.

For one reason or another, Korobov and Afanasyev's bullpup designs of the 1960s did not go past the prototype stage. According to military historians, it's difficult to say why this was the case most of the designs remain secret, and openly available information on their testing is very limited.

The Soviet military's conservative appraisals regarding steel vs. plastics was likely another reason for the designs' shelving, with planners concerned not only about the guns' properties in rugged combat conditions, but also their ability to withstand decades of storage in cold warehouses. All in all, there may have been many reasons given, but the potential advantages of the rifles did not seem able to withstand the obvious downsides.

Also starting in the 1960s, Soviet engineers would begin to keep a close eye on the work of their US counterparts, and the latters' attempts to increase the efficiency of small-arms weapons. In the late 1950s, the US launched its Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program, a series of projects aimed at creating a workable flechette-firing rifle which would fire bursts at an extremely high firing rate, and potentially allow for fire featuring controlled dispersion.

Looking to keep up with the Americans, Soviet engineers also conducted experiments to create rifles with a very high rate of fire, but they used traditional 7.62x39-mm bullets. In 1962, designers created a prototype called Device 3B, out of which the TKB-059 three-barrel bullpup assault rifle would emerge.

externally, it resembled an anti-aircraft machine gun, only smaller in size. Firing was conducted either in bursts, or bursts of three rounds. The rate of fire reached 1,800 rounds per minute. According to available information, the TKB-059 made it through to the state testing stage, and showed very high accuracy, but after that the triple-barrel experiment mysteriously ended.

When the military tasked designers to create a new assault rifle to go with the new, smaller, lighter 5.45x39-mm cartridge in the early 1970s, Kalashnikov went to work on a project that would eventually become known as the AK-74. The successor to the AK-47 would gradually go on to replace it in both the Soviet Army and those of its allies.

The AK-74's successor, the Abakan AN-94 - named after chief designer Gennady Nikonov - also had its origins in the USSR, although production would begin only in the 1990s, several years after the Soviet Union's collapse. The Abakan would become the last and most ambitious Soviet automatic rifle program. Within its framework were plans to create a fundamentally new weapon at least 200-250% more accurate and precise than the AK-74.

By timing, the Abakan, development of which began in the early 1980s, approximately coincided with the US's Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) program, which had a similar purpose to double the efficiency of the M16.

Both programs' de facto goal was to create an assault weapon of the future, but the Soviets were a little more conservative in their ambitions. Where US designers began actively experimenting with caseless bullets and flechette ammo, Soviet designers were presented with restrictions from the very start: their 'miracle weapon' would have to work using the existing 5.45x39-mm cartridges.

The Abakan program would eventually result in the creation of the AN-94, whose features include delayed recoil and extremely high accuracy for two round bursts hitting close together thanks to its rapid 1,800-2,000 round per minute rate of fire.

Ultimately, the American Advanced Combat Rifle program ended up being a dead-end. In Russia, the AN-94 was formally adopted into service by the military, but the gun was raw, and there was no drive to engage in the necessary fine-tuning in the 1990s, as the country lay in ruins.

As of 2000, the AN-94 was armed with the individual units of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior (in particular the group of special purpose "Vityaz" , special units of DON, Izhevsk SWAT, because the machine has high requirements for skill and weapon culture arrow. Full transition to the AN-94, as far as we know, is not planned. The advantages of the AN-94 are shown mainly, not in assault combat, but in the defense of fortified settlements and special operations (where more importance is given not to high density with respect to heap fire, but reliable single shot defeat purposes). Alongside the AN-94, named after chief designer Gennady Nikonov, another project to create the USSR's next-gen assault rifle came from Igor Strechkin, who developed the TKB-0146, another bullpup design. One of the major features of Strechkin's design was its mechanism releasing spent shell casings through a special hatch near the gun's pistol grip, allowing a user to fire from his left shoulder.

Nikonov too experimented with bullpups, creating the NA-2 and NA-4 designs in the early 1980s, which incorporated the delayed recoil technology eventually adapted on the AN-94.

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Page last modified: 02-12-2019 17:59:44 ZULU