The AR-15 and its parent rifle, the select-fire-capable M4 carbine, have served the United States Armed Forces and many of its allies for nearly 50 years. Many of us know the history behind its selection and implementation, complete with all its growing pains. Today’s M4 is similar to the original M16A1, but advancements in machining, design, materials, and powder make today’s M4 a much more reliable weapon platform.
That being said, I can no longer place any confidence in the AR-15 to defend myself in a time of disaster or urban unrest. To protect myself and my family, I have completely switched over to the AKM family of weapons—a semi-automatic variant of the legendary AK-47. I know that somewhere, someone is saying out loud that I am a dumb-ass or a communist. When I first discussed this with one of my close friends, a career Army infantryman with more than 16 months of combat duty spent with the 172nd Infantry Brigade, he just shook his head in disagreement. I remember telling him over some beers, and he just kept asking “Why?” with a look of disappointment and bewilderment on his face.
The M16A2 was my primary weapon for my entire career in the United States Air Force; I knew it inside and out. I was one of the few USAF engineers I knew who loved target shooting, going to the range, hell, I even liked to clean guns. So why walk away from a weapon platform I had used or owned for over 20 years? The answer comes down to two major reasons: supportability and simplicity.
Any military or company that uses AR-15s/M4s has much deeper pockets than I will ever have. Major corporations and military units typically have a robust supply system that can provide an individual any desired replacement part they may need. This is necessary, because the variation in parts from manufacturer to manufacturer is immense, making interchangeability difficult.
The buffer spring and buffer weights alone have more than a dozen different variations depending on barrel length and number of coils on the buffer spring. Then, stop and consider the rifling twist rates in the weapon’s barrel and what projectile works optimally in them. Here is a sample of the variations and options on buffer weights alone.
The size of the gas port in the barrel also varies depending on the manufacturer of the barrel and its intended use. This directly affects the amount of gas coming back to cycle the weapon. Over-gassed or under-gassed guns coupled with improper buffer springs and weights can cause failures to cycle and operate effectively.
The pins used in the trigger and lower control group also have variations depending on manufacturer. Colt used a pin set with a larger diameter than other makers, while also making rifles with the industry-standard smaller-sized pins.
With the AKM/AK-47 family of rifles, buffer-spring variants from country to country don’t matter much, and it has no buffer weights to worry about. Problem solved. I only need to stock one style of spring, the same one used by most of the 100 million AK-47s that have been produced. This makes my overhead for long-term support of my rifles considerably less.
The word simplicity might cause people to think that the AR-15/M4 is a difficult weapon to operate, and that is not the case at all. When I use the word simplicity, I think of overall use and maintenance of the weapon. How maintenance-intensive is it? What type of lubricant do I have to use for my situation?
With the AR-15/M4, there is an entire segment of the shooting world that will launch into heated arguments about what lubricant works best. I have seen the debates between CLP versus Frog Lube versus Fire Clean. Running the gun ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ is another topic of debate. I have even heard people who say they use WD40 or Castrol Slick 50 on their AR-15s/M4s.
Properly lubricating a weapon isn’t rocket science, but improper lubrication can lead to the weapon jamming at the most inopportune moment. In the case of over-lubrication, in a dusty or sandy area, excessive dirt and debris can accrue on the weapon’s working parts, causing stoppages and malfunctions.
The AK alternative
Consider my selection. The AKM can be lubricated by just about anything that has some degree of viscosity. Bearing grease, lithium grease, motor oil, 80W 90 gear oil, the tears of liberals, the blood of unicorns, you get the idea. There is a scene in the video below (at about the 20-second point) where you can see an AK-47—buried in the dirt and clay of Africa for 18 years—rendered operable with only a can of motor oil.
Squawking and haters
I know a lot of people will tell me how superior an AR-15/M4 and the .223/5.56mm cartridge is compared to the AKM and its 7.62mm x 39mm cartridge. They will try to make their point with ballistic coefficients, tables, or charts outlining bullet drop at various distances. Then they will resort to name calling; that’s what insecure, narrow-minded people often do. The bottom line is, when I analyzed my threat assessment, what I needed my rifle to do, and the conditions I needed it to operate in, I chose what I felt was best for me. I am secure with my choice—the AKM.
If I was part of an invading army, with thousands of people making sure I had what I needed to do the job properly, then by all means, the AR-15/M4 would be perfect. But I am not, and I don’t see myself being in that situation again. I also don’t foresee myself needing to hit a man-sized target from 600 yards away. I need to have a weapon to operate in a close-quarters environment without worry about lubrication, jamming, buffer weights, or springs.
While this article may sound like a condemnation of the AR15/M4 as a viable weapon, it is not. For the past 20 years, the military has been looking for a replacement for the AR-15/M4 and they can’t seem to find one that fits their needs. That says a lot about the gun. The point of this is to open people’s eyes to the fact that, if you are preparing for a disaster and choose a semi-automatic rifle, there are variables to consider. A well-maintained and well-built AR-15/M4 is a fine weapon, but it can be maintenance intensive.
Not all AKs are equal
This needs to be said: Not all AKs are equal. Often, people’s only exposure to AK-47 variants are poorly built imports. Most of these guns are full of major safety and functional issues requiring skilled gunsmiths to correct. Like anything mechanical in nature, cheap knockoffs will never meet the standard of the original.
For me, the AKM was the perfect weapon for my needs: short range, heavy-hitting, simple, and with a proven track record. I selected an American-built AKM made from a Polish parts kit, with a few upgrades added to it before I got it. The manufacturer I selected has a good quality-control process to ensure safety and reliability.
During my field trials with this American/Polish AKM, I have sent nearly 1,000 rounds downrange and have had only one failure. The failure was a primer that was installed backward from the ammunition manufacturer—not a problem with the rifle itself. A full review on my AKM will be done at the 5,000-round count.
This article was written Rick Dembroski.