You see them in Hollywood action movies and in gun stores across the country. You also see them in newsreels showcasing footage from Middle Eastern and war-torn countries. Almost no matter where you look, the AK47 seems to be a ubiquitous firearm across the world. But how did it get to be this way, and why is the AK-47 so popular?
The AK47’s Origins
The origin of the AK-47 is a story that’s basically a Soviet myth. The details aren’t verifiable and might very well be embellished. Nevertheless, the story goes something like this:
- Mikhail Kalashnikov was a Russian soldier who joined the Army during World War II. He was wounded during the Battle of Bryansk in 1941. He also had a lot of time to think about improvements to standard Russian guns.
- During his time on the mend, Kalashnikov began experimenting with an automatic rifle design. He intended for it to be a direct competitor to the machine guns that German invaders were currently using to great effect.
- Though he didn’t have much engineering or mechanical skill, Kalashnikov nonetheless created the Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 or AK-47, with the “47” marking the year of its completion (1947).
The AK47 weapon platform is a simple but versatile firearm that’s easy to use and, more importantly, easy to repair. This means that any issued AK-47 firearm can expect service lives of between 20 and 40 years.
If you’re a general and need to furnish your soldiers with affordable but effective weaponry, an AK-47 is a great compromise between budget-friendliness and stopping power.
The AK-47 is also incredibly reliable. They can withstand quite a lot of punishment from inclement weather and from general misuse.
So if you’re a relatively untrained soldier who drops his or her rifle all the time or if you just see combat in sandy environments, an AK-47 is a great fit.
Even if the firearm is damaged, repairing it is a lot more cost-effective compared to a better-made and better-forming platform.
Additionally, AK-47s use so-called “intermediate rounds.” These cartridges are long enough to hold a good amount of powder (enough to be used in rifles as opposed to just pistols).
But they aren’t quite as powerful or long and bulky as full-on semi-auto rifle rounds (like those fired from the US M1 Garand). As a result, AK-47 ammunition is also inexpensive and decently powerful without producing tons of recoil.
But with all these advantages, there are a few downsides. AK-47s aren’t very accurate outside of close range and cannot be used for reliable tactical scenarios.
In fact, they’re almost exclusively good for general infantry or as “spray and pray” weapons.
How This Relates to Worldwide Appeal
The Soviet Union began mass-producing AK47s in order to provide communist border states and guerrilla groups in proto-communist countries like Vietnam during the Cold War.
The intention was for them to arm rebels and dissidents against the actions of the United States, who armed insurgents of their own allegiance with different weapons.
Notably, the Soviet Union didn’t allow many of its citizens to own AK-47s. But the ease of construction and distribution make the AK-47 a great staple weapon for Cold War activities.
This is why many modern Middle Eastern fighter groups and terrorist organizations still use AK-47 weapons: they got their initial stockpiles from the Soviet Union and the rifles still work today.
There are around 75 million AK-47 units in existence today, out of 500 million total firearms worldwide. As a result, the AK-47 is the most popular or well-used weapon platform as of this writing.
Overall, the AK-47 was simply the right rifle built at the right time and features a design sturdy enough that it’s remained relevant over the decades.
There will probably still be AK-47s kicking around in a hundred years, which is quite the legacy for a Soviet rifle originally designed to compete with German engineering!
What do you think about the AK47? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section!