13 April, 2017
It has been 68 years since the Avtomat Kaslashnikova was officially accepted as the new infantry weapon of the USSR. Since then, an estimated 100 million (so far) of the Kalashnikov family of firearms have been made – and 75 percent of them are the AK-47.
The AK-47 has spawned a number of variants: The AKM is slightly lighter and less expensive, but is the same length; the AK-74 is slightly longer – thanks to a muzzle brake at the end of a barrel; and the AK-103 is the new modernized version firing the old classic 7.62 x 39mm cartridge.
Not only is the Kalashnikov the most common firearm in the world, it is also making a mockery of the UN’s attempts to regulate the global gray/black market in firearms. Machine shops and tinkers are flooding markets in Africa and Asia with their own copies of the weapon and its parts.
The AK is iconic for good reason. It is notoriously simple to use – one YouTube clip even features a Chimpanzee firing one. It can take a lot of abuse and keep working (an old friend once saw one with the foresight rusted off and pitting on the chrome bolt in the hands of a stoned child soldier in West Africa).
The AK-47 is also lethal. Like the American M1911A1 .45 auto, or the British 25 Pounder field gun, the munition predates the weapon which was optimized to make use of it. The 7.62 x 39mm cartridge was designed four years before the AK-47 came off the drawing board and works well in almost all circumstances.
The old AK-47 can be put to many uses, but one of them is a little unusual. As a standard, nigh universal rifle, the basic AK-47 with a wooden stock is .88m long from muzzle to buttplate. The assault rifle is the same whether in the hands of some tall Montenegrian (average male height 1.832m) or short Indonesian (average make height (1.58m).
Then there are the North Koreans. As it is in so many ways, Pyongyang is a little sensitive to the issue of the height and physical development of its citizens. However, defectors from North Korea tend to be three inches (7.62 cm) shorter than their counter-parts from South Korea, and endemic malnourishment and food shortages have had their effects on the population overall.
North Korea – like so many Communist nations have done in the past – will fudge the numbers to reflect the glorious achievements of the regime and the happiness of the people under the wise and loving guidance of their leaders. But they can’t hide the size of their soldiers against the Kalashnikov scale…
In 2012, North Korea reduced the mandatory male height requirement for military service to 142 cm (4 feet, 7 inches), and has picked up on the recruitment of women to meet ‘shortfalls’ in the conscript quota. Is the world ready to see the stunted dwarves of North Korea running up hillsides with an infantryman’s combat load, or shifting tons of artillery ammunition? Wrestling track back on to its 50-year old tanks? Probably not.
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