The Buzz

This Russian Rifle Could Cause Trouble for NATO (Think Automatic Weapons)

One of the primary differences in infantry training between NATO countries and the former Warsaw Pact was the use of automatic fire. While NATO countries train their infantry to almost always use semi-automatic fire to engage targets, the Warsaw Pact countries trained their infantry to make use of fully-automatic fire on the assault, in short, controlled three-round bursts. This was a result of the AK originally entering service to replace the PPSh as a weapon to deliver fully automatic fire. As a result of this doctrine, Russian small-arms designers put significant effort into finding ways of making fully automatic fire with intermediate rifle cartridges more controllable and accurate. One of the more interesting developments of that effort was the invention of the balanced action recoil system, implemented in some recent prototypes that may replace the current issue AK-74M.

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While the Soviet Union had many designers and plants that tinkered with balanced action rifles, the most successful designs were created by the Kovrov Mechanical Plant—otherwise known as ZiD (Zavod imeni Degtyaryova). This plant has had a long heritage of creating automatic weapons: during WWII it produced the famous Degtyarev machine gun, as well as the Shpagin (PPSh) submachine gun. Kovrov got its first real chance to pitch a balanced action gun in the Soviet rifle trials of the early 1970s. After seeing the effectiveness of the M16 in Vietnam, the Soviet military realized they needed a smaller, more lightweight cartridge to match the effectiveness of the new 5.56mm round. In response, they drew up the 5.45x39 round, which shot a lighter bullet flatter and faster than the earlier 7.62x39 round used in the AK and AKM. But a rifle was still needed to fire this new round. The set of requirements for the new rifle was laid out in 1965: the new rifle was expected to perform at least 1.5 times better than the AKM by increasing the terminal effects of the bullets, as well as reducing recoil to reduce the dispersion of fire in bursts.

ZiD’s answer to this trial was the Konstantinova Koksharova SA-006 rifle. Designed in 1970, it decreases recoil by linking the gas piston to another metal weight of the same mass. As the gun’s gas piston is driven back by the gas being tapped from the barrel during the firing of a cartridge, the other metal weight is driven forwards by gears connected to the gas piston. This evens out the impulse of the gas piston being driven back, “balancing” the action and resulting in reduced recoil. This mechanism proved to be very effective in trials in the early 1970s, the SA-006 was the primary competitor to Kalashnikov’s A-3 rifle, which was simply an adoption of the same AK action to a new cartridge. The SA-006 outperformed the conventional Kalashnikov design in accuracy, especially in unsupported and off-hand positions. However it suffered from a lack of maturity in the design, the receiver top cover was prone to pop open during firing, and pulling the charging handle required significantly greater effort than the AK rifles. As such, the A-3 was developed into the AK-74 and adopted. Some have said that this is because the Soviets wanted to have an answer to the M16 in service as soon as possible, without waiting for the more advanced designs to mature.