Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov, a mechanical tinkerer raised by peasant farmers in Siberia who designed the so-called “AK” series of combat rifles, died last week in Russia at the age of 94.
Kalashnikov’s signature assault rifle, the AK-47, is the most widely produced firearms in the history of the world. It remains a widely recognized symbol of modern warfare. Indeed, Mozambique’s national flag features the AK-47, which played an important role in the nation’s revolutionary origins.
“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” said Kalashnikov in an interview in 2002 with The Guardian. “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawn mower.”
John Gresham posted an excellent piece about Kalashnikov’s legacy on the Defense Media Network. I’ve included a few paragraphs below and would strongly encourage reading Gresham’s piece, which is available here:
The beginnings of the AK-series rifles can be traced to the appearance of a new German infantry weapon in late 1943: the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44 – which literally translates to “storm” or “assault” Rifle). The StG 44 (which was also known as the MP 43/44) was designed to replace conventional rifles, carbines, and submachine guns with a single weapon . . . Able to fire both single shots and fully automatic bursts, the StG 44 was the template for every assault rifle design in the world today. The Red Army, which was on the receiving end of those early StG 44s in combat, quickly saw the value of such a weapon, and created their own lightweight, intermediate cartridge – the M43 – that measured 7.62X39mm. Kalashnikov’s first attempt to design a weapon using the M43 cartridge was a carbine, which lost out to a competing design (the SKS from the Simonov Bureau).
Kalashnikov, however, saw the possibilities of both the M43 and a weapon like the German StG 44, and begin to work on one in 1945. His “Maxim” assault rifle design won a Red Army competition in 1946, and became the basis for his Avtomat Kalashnikova Model 1947 (Automatic Kalashnikov 1947), which was issued to Soviet troops in 1949. Gas operated, and capable of both semi- and full- automatic fire, the AK-47 was initially as much a secret as the Soviet atomic bomb. Publicly released photos of the weapons were forbidden for years, and troops equipped with the weapons had to carry them in special bags to conceal their details. Ironically, the basic form of the AK-47, especially the 30 round “banana clip” magazine, today makes it one of the most recognizable firearms in history.
At the time, the AK-47 was almost a decade ahead of contemporary Western designs, which tried to use full-size rifle caliber cartridges like the NATO 7.62X51 mm round. These weapons, like the American M14 and Belgian Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal Fusil Automatique Léger (FAL – for Light Assault Rifle) were nearly uncontrollable when firing at full automatic. Not until the introduction of Eugene Stoner’s Armalite AR-15/M16 in the 1960s, with its M193 5.56X45mm intermediate cartridge, did Western military forces have anything like AK in service. And even then, Kalashnikov’s rifles often bested the Western designs, even in the hands of untrained insurgents and rebels.
Source: Forbes Business