Posted On August 27, 2012 by Print This Post

Adam Firestone on Arming Your Villains While Maintaining Your Credibility: An AK Rifle Primer for Authors

Remember that TV show, CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL? Well, if you have a question about firearms, Adam Firestone  is your man to explain it all. Today he takes on the not-so-generic AK rifles – before you arm your hero with an AK47, check Adam’s AK Rifle Primer to keep your weapon descriptions on target!

One of the most striking linguistic regionalisms for a refugee from the northeastern United States who is either sojourning in or transplanted to the southern United States is the description used for carbonated soft drinks. Everything, it seems, is a “Coke.” It doesn’t matter if the drink is a lemon-lime flavored Sprite, a Dr Pepper, a grape Nehi or Dr. Brown’s celery flavored concoction, Cel-Ray, to the majority of Americans living in the south from New Mexico to the Carolinas, it’s still a Coke.

As can be imagined, this dialectical imprecision causes not a little confusion for beverage-seeking visitors from the rest of the planet. When it comes to arming antagonists, authors often engage, unwittingly, in the same sort of generalization. The archetypal, ubiquitous weapon wielded by the bad guys is the AK-47 assault rifle. (How could it not be? There were, by most accurate estimates, over 100 MILLION AK type rifles manufactured – and the basic design is still in production!)

That’s fine, except for the fact that there are almost as many AK variants as there are Coca-Cola products, and unwittingly lumping them into a single, generic class is a signal to the savvy thriller, action or drama reader that the author’s credibility (and, by extension, readability) is suspect. For the rest of this article, we’ll discuss key AK variants, their differing origins, purposes and features.

On January 11th, 1948 (or January 10th, depending on whose history you trust), a decision was taken by the Scientific and Technical Council of the Research Proving Grounds for Firearms and Mortars. Located near the village of Schurovo, some sixty miles southeast of Moscow, the Research Proving Grounds was a secret development, test and evaluation facility belonging to the Soviet Red Army’s Glavnoe Artilleriiskoe Upravlenie (GAU, or Main Artillery Directorate). Its mission, since the reign of Czar Nicholas II, had been to test and evaluate Russian and foreign arms.

The decision taken by the Council would have repercussions that are still felt, for it was on that day that a new rifle, ostensibly developed by a Red Army sergeant from Kazakhstan named Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov [1], was selected as the new standard weapon for the Soviet military. The weapon was given the designation Avtomat Kalashnikova obrazets 1947 goda, or “Kalashnikov’s Automatic Rifle, Model of the Year 1947.” The world would come to know it as the AK-47.

Despite being adopted in early 1948, the rifle would require additional refinement before being issued in large numbers to the Red Army. Even after the rifle entered large scale manufacturing and issue in 1949, it would continue to undergo a process of continual improvement and development throughout its service life.

[1] The legend of Kalashnikov’s designing the AK-47 as a sergeant convalescing from a wound he received defending the Motherland is just that, a legend.  It was a useful myth constructed by Soviet propagandists.  The reality is that a number of highly trained and talented engineers and designers worked on the rifle that was to become the AK-47 between 1946 and 1948, that the rifle combined aspects of many different systems and that it was the product of a dedicated and structured arms procurement process initiated by the GAU when it issued Tactical & Technical Requirements No. 3131.


The first AK-47 rifles were manufactured from sheet steel stampings. This variant, as with all later versions of the AK-47 was made in two distinct sub-variants. The first, referred to as the Type 1A, was the standard infantry rifle with a fixed stock. The second, known as the Type 1B had a large hole bored in the back of the receiver to accommodate hardware for a stock that folded underneath the receiver. This version of the rifle is referred to as the AKS. (The S stands for skladnoe or “folding.”) Folding stock rifles were intended for use by paratroopers and armored vehicle crews. Original, Type 1 AK-47’s are extremely rare.

After 1951, the Soviet Union stopped making the AK-47 out of stamped sheet metal and fabricated the rifles using a receiver milled out of a solid block of steel. This variant, with the “Type 2” or “Type 3” receiver became the definitive version of the AK-47 as produced by the Soviet Union. If your character is armed with something called an AK-47, this is the version you want to use. It’s useful for plot purposes to recognize that this version of the rifle was both heavy (between ten and eleven pounds loaded) and between 20 and 25 percent more accurate than the earlier (or later) stamped steel versions.


Beginning in 1959, the Soviets began replacing the heavy, milled receiver AK-47 with a modernized variant constructed, again, from sheet steel. Appropriately, it was given the nomenclature Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy (AKM, or “AK, Modernized”). This rifle weighed eight pounds fully loaded and contained a number of production engineering improvements such as a pinned barrel and a simplified gas block. It too was manufactured with a folding stock variant, which was called the AKMS. The most important thing to keep in mind when working a Kalashnikov rifle into a work of fiction, however, is that this is THE most produced variant of the most produced rifle in the world. Between ten and eleven million were made in the Soviet Union, with an estimated 50 to 70 million more being made in Soviet client states around the world. If you’re arming your bad guy (or your heroine, for that matter) with a Kalashnikov, this is the version to which she’ll most likely have access. Variants made in Soviet client states had their own nomenclature. For details on the various names given to the AK rifles by the different countries that used them, see the section on “Foreign Variants,” below.


The AK-74 is a straightforward, evolutionary development of AKM. Drawing on lessons learned by the American experience with high velocity, small bore cartridges in Vietnam, the Soviet Union began to replace its AKM and AKMS rifles with a version that used a smaller cartridge. This cartridge, the 5.45×39mm (roughly .215”), replaced the 7.62×39mm (roughly .30”) chambering of earlier Kalashnikov-system weapons. The AK-74 is the representative weapon of the Afghan War era Soviet military, as well as the post-Soviet era Russian military. Like the AK-47 and the AKM, a folding stock variant, the AKS-74 was developed. More than five million AK-74 variants have been built, and more come off production lines every day.


It was not the Russian military that was to make the AK-74 and its variants into an icon, but a far darker and more sinister entity. When Osama bin Laden broadcast videos of himself in which he justified the 9/11 attacks, two tangible entities in the images communicated his version of Islamism more clearly than his words: a copy of the Koran and an AKS-74U carbine leaning against the wall. The AKS-74U is a shortened version of the folding-stock AKS-74, and was intended to be used by special forces, airborne infantry, rear-echelon units (cooks, communications troops, etc.) and armored vehicle crews.

The AKS-74U’s notoriety makes it an excellent choice for arming villains and antagonists. However, there is a pitfall awaiting the eager but uninformed author. In the United States, the AKS-74U is known as the “Krinkov.” This is an American commercial designation, not a Russian or eastern bloc military term. It is, in fact, completely devoid of meaning. (Were you to ask a Russian arms salesman to examine his “Krinkov,” you might get an interesting response, but not the one you initially sought!) Russian soldiers’ jargon for the AKS-74U includes: “Ksyukha,” which is derived from AKS- 74U and sounds like a girl’s name (the nickname for Xenya); “Suchok,” which comes from AKS-74U and in Russian means “little bough;” “Suchka,” which in Russian means “little bitch;” and “Okurok,” the Russian word for “cigarette butt.”


Like the AKM was for the AK-47, the AK-74M is a modernized version of the AK-74. It is the standard service rifle of the current Russian Federation, and includes improvements such as a black synthetic stock that is shaped like the standard AK-74 stock, but folds to the side and a rail system for mounting optical sights.

Century Series AK Rifles

With the end of the Cold War, the immense Russian and eastern bloc arms establishments were suddenly forced to compete on the world market for business. One of the by-products of the frantic scramble for market share that ensued was the development of the “century series” AK rifles. These rifles are product improved versions of the AKM/AK-74 in a variety of calibers designed for sale on the global market. Your modern protagonist would not be poorly – or incorrectly – armed with one of these. The century series includes:

• AK-101: AK-74M chambered for the NATO standard 5.56x45mm cartridge;
• AK-102: Short barreled, carbine version of the AK-101;
• AK-103: Modernized version of the 7.62x39mm AKM;
• AK-104: Short barreled, carbine version of the AK-101;
• AK-105: Short barreled, carbine version of 5.45x39mm AK-74M
• AK-107: Improved 5.45x39mm AK-74M incorporating a recoil balancing system that eliminates felt recoil and muzzle rise using a counterweight mechanism; and
• AK-108: 5.56mm NATO version of the AK-107.

Foreign Variants

No discussion of AK rifles would be complete without a brief overview of the variants produced outside the Soviet Union. Referring to a Chinese soldier’s Type 56 rifle as an AK-47 is as much of a gaffe as confusing an AKMS with an AK-74. To help make some sense out of what is, admittedly, a brain jarring collection of countries and nomenclatures, I offer the following table – which, by the way, is NOT exhaustive:














People’s Republic of China

Type 56

Type 56-II

East Germany










Iraq Tabuk
Nigeria OBJ-006
North Korea Type 58A Type-68A Type68B Type 88
Pakistan PK-10
Poland kbkg wz. 1960 kbk AKM kbk AKMSkbk wz. 1988 Tantal
Romania PM md. 63 PM md. 65PM md. 90 PA md. 86
Yugoslavia M60M64M70 M70B1 M70AB2


The Kalashnikov series of weapons are ubiquitous. For the author, they are a gold mine; emotionally evocative, powerfully symbolic and instantly understood by the reader. They are also a place where technical accuracy, plot plausibility and literary credibility can go south in a hurry. However, with a little time, patience and attention to detail, you can get it right, to the delight and satisfaction of your readers.


Do you have any questions for Adam regarding AK rifles? Ask away!

Join us Monday when Handsome Hansel returns with his regular column!


Bio: Adam Firestone brings more than 25 years of experience with weapon systems including small arms, artillery, armor, area denial systems and precision guided munitions to Romance University. Additionally, Adam is an accomplished small arms instructor, editor, literary consultant and co-author of a recently published work on the production of rifles in the United States for Allied forces during the First World War.

Adam has been providing general and technical editing services to authors and publishing houses specializing in firearms books since the early 2000s. Additionally, Adam provides literary consulting services to fiction authors including action scene choreography, technical vetting and technical editing. In this line of experience, Adam has had the fortune to work with well known authors including Shannon McKenna and Elizabeth Jennings.

Check out Adam’s blog here:

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18 Responses to “Adam Firestone on Arming Your Villains While Maintaining Your Credibility: An AK Rifle Primer for Authors”

  1. Adam – Thanks for another extremely informative post. Once again, you’ve educated me on things I didn’t know I didn’t know! I’ll feel much more confident when arming my characters now.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | August 27, 2012, 4:59 am
  2. Morning Adam!

    Wow, that’s amazing! I never knew….

    Are there still AK-47’s around? The original kind? And, I hope this isn’t a stupid question =) but are most of the AK’s held by foreign armies?

    Thanks for posting with us Adam – I always learn something new when you’re here!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 27, 2012, 6:26 am
    • Hi Carrie,

      While there are original Type 1 AKs out there, most are either in museums or collections. They would be sixty some odd years old, and there simply weren’t that many made relative to later variants.

      And yes, most AK rifles are used by non-US military forces.

      All the best,


      Posted by Adam Firestone | August 27, 2012, 8:40 am
  3. Yay! I always love when Adam visits! Thank you for another fantastic post.

    I’m curious what your favorite weapon is and is it the gun you would give your hero in a book? And (of course!) why do you like that one?

    Thanks, Adam. Another post going into the research file!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 27, 2012, 6:49 am
    • Hi Adrienne!

      Favorite, huh? Well…if you give me a little more information as to what my hero needs to do with his weapon (Is he wearing a dinner jacket in a tuxedo, or is he hunting terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan?), I can give you a much better answer!

      All the best,


      Posted by Adam Firestone | August 27, 2012, 1:01 pm
  4. Adam –

    I haven’t had a chance lately to tell you how much I love you ;-). My son’s going to enjoy reading today’s post.

    Any thoughts on what a retired high level military guy might keep on hand in his pick-up truck or closet? I have a guy who’s pulling some strings in one of my books and I figure he or his minions might keep some weapons on hand :-).

    Thanks a ton!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | August 27, 2012, 12:19 pm
  5. Here’s one for you, Adam – I just saw this in today’s news. They call the weapon a submachine gun, but I’m guessing it’s probably not:

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 27, 2012, 2:45 pm
  6. Hi Adam!

    Until I read your post, I thought AK type rifles were only produced by the Soviets/Russians. Nigeria manufactures firearms?

    Enjoyed the brief history of the AK. Thank you!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 27, 2012, 2:49 pm
    • Hi Jennifer –

      Nigeria *and* a whole host of other countries.

      As an aside, one of the more prolific sites for the current manufacture of AK rifles is the USA, where semi-automatic variants are turned out in the thousands for the sporting and collector market.

      All the best,


      Posted by Adam Firestone | August 28, 2012, 6:31 am
  7. Adam – Thanks so much for another informative post, and for hanging out with us today!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 27, 2012, 5:30 pm


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