We have been working with the AK for many years now. I am told by industry insiders that when talk turns to the AK in the USA, we come up prominently, and first, in the conversation.
In the early years, we focused on the CQB aspects of the rifles as that was what everyone seemed to want, as well as what needed to be prioritized.
Yet, the CQB aspect is but one facet of the rifle study, just like point shooting below the line of sight, is but one aspect of the study of the handgun.
We seek to be complete fighters, thus the objective must be to deploy the weapon to the limits of its capability and cartridge.
With the Kalashnikov, the quintessential assault rifle, we need the capability of reaching out and hitting accurately to at least 300 yards. The overfed, Elmer Fudd mainstream gun gurus will scoff at the mere possibility of such a thing with those evil terrorist-commie guns, but as we have shown publically, doing that is not difficult at all. Yet I will be the first to say here that not all Kalashnikovs in the hands of americans will suffice.
But that is not the fault of the weapon platform, rather a fault of two things: assembly, and the quality of the parts used in such an assembly. That is one area where the AR-15 has retained the lead simply because you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone making accessories for an AR-15.
Nonetheless, you cannot compare a Daniel Defense AR-15 with a Century Arms AR-15 can you? One is a Rolex...the other is a Timex.
So what does it take to take the Kalashnikov System to its highest level.
1). New parts. Think for a moment what it would take to assemble a mish mash of rusty AR-15 parts dated from the Vietman era, and well used to boot, into a rifle that would be considered good to go by the AR crowd? The answer would ential one simple concept...using as few of those surplus parts as possible. Yet many people still think one can take a surplus set of discarded parts and "guaranteed" turn it into a tack driver just because so-and-so assembled it. Sorry, but no.
Begin with new parts and you will have 90% of the problem licked. Recently at a class, one of our students fired an admirable group with a Kalashnikov rifle. As we admired it, he was quick to say that it was because it was a rifle made by so-and-so. Tom Cornelius, our general manager was quick to stop the unwarranted homage. "Your successful marksmanship had nothing to do with the gunsmith...it is because you are a really good shot, and because that rifle is a new rifle from new parts". Indeed.
2). Increased shootability - While I am all for the simple caveman approach, even Mr. Cro-Magnon eventually put an edge on that sharp rock and tied it to a stick to form an axe. I suppose his fellow cavemen may have said he simply "needed to get stronger" so he did not need the added leverage of a handle, and that the "special units of cavemen never used such modifications", etc., etc., but the sharp stone axe was a definite improvement over the untouched rock.
With regards to the Kalashnikov I will say this. Nobody needs to change the handling controls such as safety lever, bolt handle, or magazine release any more than they need to be changed on the M14, FAL, G3, or any other non-AR-15 weapon. Those are fine as they are and they will not confound your actions should you find yourself using another man's rifle. So leave unnecessary and stupid things off the rifle. What are stupid things? Left side charging handles, ambidextrous safety levers, overly-extended magazine release levers, and stuff like that.
Everything else, however, is fine. Its fine if you disagree with me, but seeking to turn the Kalashnikov into a FAL or an M4 is as silly as trying to turn the shotgun into a rifle. Go ahead, but don't mind my snickering as I do not follow.
The stocks can be adapted to the shooter. Length of pull and tight cheekweld are extremely important once you leave the CQB environment. Yet the accessories market for the AK has been dismal in this area. As they say..."The US can put a man on the moon but they can't make a good stock for the AK". I am to the point where if we cannot come up with a better solution, using a strong M4 style stock may be the best thing to do here. So something like a Vltor adapter and stock make perfect sense if you want to be able to hit things a quarter mile away with your AK. Poor cheekweld = poor accuracy.
Triggers can be improved as well. For shots inside 100 yards, the stock trigger is fine. That said, the shipment of these triggers I got was sent back to the maker because I found they had not been heat treated properly. The best solution is the Red Star Arms Trigger. Sure its a little more money, but we have gotten past the era of the "cheap AK" haven't we? the RSA is what I have on mine.
Furniture changes will not help accuracy, per se, but they will make the rifle more comfortable to shoot, which in turn will make it easier for the shooter to employ good marksmanship. Things like handguards and pistol grips can be adapted to the shooter very easily. Pistol grips are easy. There is the US Palm pistol grip as the best...and then everything else. For handguards...there are some interesting developments coming in this area.
Muzzle attachments. Well....I cannot honestly think of a single reason why you would need a muzzle brake on an assault rilfe that is only to be used in semi-auto mode. That such is what the Russians did is of marginal interest to me. Everything the Russians do, or did, is not necessarily right or good. So we need a better reason, and with the availability of flash hiders, we can abandon muzzle brakes completely.
There are many good ones here and trying to bring out something new in this area is a sure way to lose money in an already crowded market. Any flash hider you use needs to be tested on your gun for both flash suppression as well as for effects on accuracy. I have a PSL that went from a 3" gun to a 1.5" gun by simply changing the flash hider. I am very impressed with the Surefire
FH762K02 Flash Hider / Suppressor Adapter for example.
3). Sighting improvements - The existing iron sights are the best submachinegun sights in the world. They allow you to track a moving target and snap shoot like a shotgun. Inside of CQB there is nothing better, and the AK sights surpass the M4 sights decisively. Yet if you want more...which is the purpose of the exercise here, sighting improvements are needed.
Please, oh please keep those big dot things off your rifle. You will not be able to hit a freaking thing at any distance. You would be better served by simply taking your sights off the rifle and point shooting. And no...there are no other iron sight improvements for the AK. Sure, you can open up the rear sight notch a little bit, anb contour the rear sight profile a little, but there is not much more possible. Nor will it help for what we seek to do. yes...I know...I know...that is what the Russian Army used since 1947, but even they are working to add red dot sights to the hinged railed topcovers of their new AK-200s.
The addition of a red dot sight will take your rifle miles farther than any other change. The cadillac of these systems is the Aimpoint T-1, Arms #31, and Ultimak. There are rumors of the Ultimak getting too hot, and such, but I will tell you that I have never...NEVER seen an issue with these. Other options exist, but they are all exercises in compromise. Ideally you have cowitnessing AND a quick detach capability. The ultimak gives you that and any unit intended to compete with them must offer the same advantages.
Red dot systems are good for about 200 yards. We have publically taken snap shots on steel IPSC with 8" barreled AKs at 200 yards with boring accuracy. Exceed 200 yards and you need some sort of magnification to operate at the top efficiency. Don't believe me? Look at the ACOGs on the rifles of the US Military and then tell me again.
The next step is the use of the railed top cover system. Originally shown in the Russian AK-200 series, and later in the modernized Polish Beryl, it is available in the USA vis-a-vis the Texas Weapon Systems top cover. While it is protected by patent, there are already a couple of knock offs. Such is capitalism and the free market.
The Texas Weapon System Top Cover (regretably named "the dogleg") makes all side mounts irrelevant and obsolete. Name any optic you want and now you can mount it on the AK close to the eye. The cadillac here is the ACOG in a BDC for the 7.62x39. I have two of them currently and that system will feature prominently on the TSD Kalashnikovs.
4). Assembly - Would you have a car mechanic assemble the rifles for a world class hunt? Would you have a construction worker accurize the rifles of a Tier One group? No...you would shop for quality and not price. Cheap is never best. Let me say that again...CHEAP IS NEVER BEST.
A properly assembled rifle will not have canted sights, nor a bent barrel, nor anything installed crooked. A properly assembled rifle will not require stories and excuses from the maker about why it is not right. The trigger will be perfect without creep or slap. The bolt will slide back and forth like glass on oil. And the finish will be impeccable whether it is parkerizing or cerakote. And it will be able to shoot well, without excuses, lengthy delays, high school girl drama, or "the dog ate my homework" stories. It would be the epitome of the fighting rifle, robust, reliable, surgically accurate and attractive as a super model.
The excuse that such a rifle is not possible with the Kalashnikov is the excuse of the stupid and the lazy. It is quite definitely possible. Witness the Finnish Defense Force Rifles, the Sako 95. Everything the Russian AK is and much, much, more. They can do that because they follow the points in this article.
I suspect that eventually, such a rifle will be available. It will not be a "cheap" AK. It will be more of a Rolex than a Timex, for the folks that can afford and appreciate such things. And it will be guaranteed to do everything discussed in this article. All of this is very doable, and possible, and an eager market awaits. I for one cannot wait to see it.