Few rifles have achieved the legendary status of the Soviet rifle of choice: the Kalashnikov AK-47. Its price, reliability and .30 caliber stopping power have made it a favorite among gunslingers everywhere from Third World dictatorships to high-end gun collections. Its legacy even continues to thrive in the Russian military today, in the form of the modernized AK-74 and later, the AK-74M.
However, Russia has long been on the lookout for a more modern replacement for their service rifle. The AK-74M was introduced in the early 1990s, chambered in the same 5.45x39mm as its predecessor but that was the last time Russian troops saw a new platform make its way into service.
There’s good reason for that of course: Russia’s economy, hindered by sanctions established by the United States and other nations as a result of Russian aggression (like the annexation of Crimea in 2014) have left the Russian economy stagnating, forcing officials to prioritize defense initiatives in order of necessity and with an estimated 2 million AK-74s in their inventory, a new service rifle sat patiently on the back burner in favor of more glamorous endeavors like hypersonic missile platforms and massive payload nuclear submersibles.
Now, however, it would seem Russia’s military is set to begin fielding two new service rifle platforms — and in characteristic Russian style, they appear to combine elements of their Soviet history with some modern features that have become commonplace in the militaries of their diplomatic opponents.
The AK-12 and AK-15 are the latest iterations of the storied Kalashnikov line and come chambered in the more recent 5.45x39mm as well as the traditional 7.62x39mm respectively. Why field very similar rifles in two different calibers? Russia hasn’t officially said but it can be safely assumed that Russia has quite a bit of old 7.62 ammunition lying around since the Soviet era. All the brass and lead isn’t free, even if the state of the propellant might be questionable.
With one new platform running their modern ammo and the other using the old, what’s the point of new rifles at all? The answer appears to be in the accessories. Both the AK-12 and 15 have top and bottom Picatinny rails, allowing for the addition of optics and foregrips. While the aftermarket has offered railed solutions for AK platforms in the past, they have never been standard for Russian soldiers before.
New Kalashnikov rifles combine famous, battle-proven high reliability with modern ergonomics, increased hit probability and capabilities to effectively use all modern accessories, from red dot, night and IR sights to underbarrel grenade launchers, forward grips, lasers and flashlights, sound suppressors and more.” Kalashnikov explained in a press release.
Picatinny rails were first developed for use with the M16 service rifle and derive their name from the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, who were responsible for testing and evaluating the rails to serve as a new military standard.
Both rifles will come with thirty-round magazines and both are said to weigh in at 7.7 pounds unloaded making them a bit beefier than an M4 carbine with a full 30 round magazine and even a tad heavier than the AK-74M. That added weight is likely caused by the rails and new buttstock.
According to TASS, a Kremlin-owned media outlet, the new rifles have already started making their way to units but the Russian military has been tight-lipped about when these new rifles will completely replace their dated forefathers. Russia seems interested in exporting the platform, which may ease the cost of production and expedite their deployment.
Images Courtesy of Kalashnikov Media