2004-11-08 00:18:23 ET|
The AK-47 And The M-16
The assault rifle is the staple of every modern military force. Utilizing a medium powered cartridge, it is able to provide an accurate, high rate of fire over close to medium ranges The recoil produced by such a rifle is much less than that of high powered rifles utilizing a more powerful round. This allows for better control of the weapon when firing bursts.
Two of the best known assault rifles in the world are the AK-47 and the M-16. The AK-47 is a Soviet design and is considered to be the most widely used rifle in the world. The M-16 is an American design and has been in service with the US military for far longer than any other rifle. Though quite different, they are both considered to be excellent weapons and are used by many armed forces around the world.
The battles of World War 2 had brought a change in miltary doctrine. Where before military doctrine had called for common infantry units to utilize high powered rifles to provide slow, well aimed fire over very long ranges (usually exceeding 800 yards), new military tactics favored firepower overall. After all, it has been found that most combat during the second great war took place at ranges under 400 yards. Using long, bulky, high powered rifles proved disadvantageous when fighting at close range against an enemy with superior firepower. Blitzkrieg was a new tactic to be adopted by all the world's forces and it called for highly mobile troops laying down heavy fire. Bolt action and semi-automatic rifles firing such high power rounds as the 8mm Mauser and the 30.06 Springfield were too bulky, heavy, and suffered from heavy recoil which required the shooter to constantly re-aim his rifle at the target. Also, the weight of the ammuntion itself meant that each individual soldier could only carry a small amount thus exacerbating supply problems.
The first mainstream assault rifle was the German Sturm Gewehr 44 or Stg44 for short (Sturm Gewehr, a term coined by Hitler, translates literally into "assault rifle"). Firing a medium powered 7.92 Kurz round it proved to be the inspiration for firearm designers around the world who quickly saw it's advantages over the battle rifles of old. While introduced too late to help the Axis powers win the war, the Stg44 proved to be the spark that ignited a frenzy of assault rifle design.
The AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova 47) was designed by a Soviet sergeant by the name of Mikhail Kalashnikov and was introduced into the Soviet arsenal in 1947 (hence the 47 in the name). The AK was designed from the beginning to be a so-called idiot-proof rifle. The AK design is quite rugged and known for its extreme reliability and simplicity of use and maintainence. It was meant to be used by the common Soviet soldier who was usually poorly trained and under supplied. However, with the AK design forcusing mainly on reliability and simplicity of use some trade-offs have been made. The AK-47 suffers from poor accuracy and ergonomics. It was designed to hit a man-sized target at distances approaching 400 yards and it does that quite well. Precision shots, on the other hand, are not very common with the AK. This is in stark contrast with the M16 which is renowned for being extremely accurate.
Design Principles of the AK-47
The AK-47 uses a gas-operated action to cycle and fire the medium-powered 7.62x39 round. When a round is chambered and a shot is fired some of the propellant gases are vented through a gas port into a gas chamber where they impinge on a piston assembly. The piston is attached to a massive bolt carrier located in the receiver of the rifle. When the piston is pushed back by the propellant gases the piston pushes back the bolt carrier. The bolt carrier contains a groove which serves as a track for a stud located on the AK-47 bolt. As the bolt carrier moves back this track forces the stud (and thus the bolt) to rotate and unlock from the barrel (and thus extract the spent cartridge case). The bolt carrier continues to move back taking the bolt with it. At this time the spent cartridge case is ejected. This entire bolt assembly is brought back to the front by a powerful return spring which causes the bolt assembly to move up front, pick up and chamber a new round from the magazine, and rotate and thus lock the bolt.
What makes the whole design so reliable is a few things. The most commonly stated reason is the fact that the AK rifles were not built to exacting tolerances. There is quite a bit of leeway between different parts. This is done in case any dust, dirt, or grit gets into the rifle. If the tolerances were tight the foreign particles would build up in the recesses and jam up the action. The loose tolerances prevent that. Also, the bolt carrier has grooves cut into its external area which help brush away and dirt that might have gotten into the action. Finally, the safety/semi/auto selector switch serves as a dust cover (so dirt won't enter the mechanism) when the the switch is set to Safe. In the rare case that the mechanism does jam, the cocking handle is permanently attached to the bolt carrier so one can simply force it back and forward. Also, the barrel of the AK is chrome lined and thus wears out more slowly then a regular barrel.
Of course, these loose tolerances, combined with the massive bolt carrier tend to greatly decrease the AK's accuracy. Still, as was stated before, accuracy was not meant to be one of the AK's strong points. Also, the safety selector switch's design is rather cumbersome and thus detracts from the ergonomics of the rifle. The AK also lacks a bolt stop device and thus the bolt still goes forward after the last round is fired.
The M-16 is an American design and is the brainchild of Eugene Stoner. It was America's first true assault rifle and was introduced and put into service fairly late (i.e. during the Vietnam War) when compared to other nations' assault rifle designs. The M-16 is very lightweight assault rifle that fires the 5.56x44mm NATO (5.56mm making it a .22 caliber round as opposed to a .30 caliber round which is what the AK-47's 7.62 round is) round. It's known for it's light weight and accuracy but has also gained an early reputation as being a jam-prone rifle. While the design has changed over the years (with each major overhaul given a new name such as the M16A1 and the M16A2) the rifle still requires constant care and cleaning in order to function properly and reliably. It is an excellent rifle, however, if given proper care.
Design Principles of the M-16
The M-16 utilizes a very unique and peculiar form of gas operation which was designed by Eugene Stoner. Originally intended to increase accuracy by lessening the shift of the center of gravity of the rifle it is deemed to be the biggest flaw in the rifle design. The problem with the design is that the rifle lacks a gas piston and the propellant gasses are vented through a gas port into a long thin tube which lays parallel to the barrel. The tube guides the gasses directly into a so-called bolt-carrier "key". This key leads to a hollowed out section of the bolt-carrier where the gasses collect and proceed to propel the bolt carrier backwards. After this unusual step, the operating method is quite similar to that of an AK-47 and its variants. The problem with this design is that the propellant gases impinge directly on the bolt assembly and any impurities in the propellant tend to foul up the mechanism. Thus, the M-16 requires constant cleaning.
That said, the M-16 is also built to exacting tolerances. This greatly increases the accuracy of the rifle and this and the lack of a reciprocating piston on the front end of the gun make the M-16 design one of the most accurate in the world. This fact, combined with the very low recoil of the military 5.56 NATO round makes the M-16 one of the main fixtures of NATO armories.
A Word On Ammunition
Any comparison between the AK-47 design and the M-16 deserves mention of the ammunition used in both rifles. The AK-47 fires a more massive though slower-moving round than the M-16 (i.e. it fires the 7.62x39mm Russian vs. the 5.56x44mm NATO). This decreases the AK-47 accuracy since the bullet tends to travel in a parabolic arc whenever the shooter is firing at a distant target. The M-16 round (5.56x44mm NATO) is less massive and is of smaller diameter (.223 as opposed to .30) than the 7.62x39 Russian. However, it maintains a much greater velocity over a longer range. It can thus be used for making precision shots over longer distances than the AK.
There has been a massive debate concerning the differences in stopping power between both rounds. The AK-47 round and the M-16 round utilize different ideologies when it comes to stopping power. The AK-47 bullet is more massive and is of a larger diameter, thus, when it hits a target there is a greater transfer of energy between the bullet and the target. The idea behind the stopping power of the 7.62x39 round is that of a massive punch. The 5.56x44 NATO round, on the other hand, utilizes the effects of tumbling and fragmentation in order to inflict massive injury on the target. Still, there have been complaints about the stopping power of the M-16 round and many firearm experts contend that the 7.62x39 round is superior. There is, however, another large body of experts who claim that the 5.56x44 round is superior. Of course, I have not witnessed any complaints concerning the stopping power of the 7.62x39 round but this does not mean that there aren't any. Since the AK-47 is not the weapon of choice for this nation's military its experience with the round, and thus reports concerning its efficiency are greatly limited. One must however realize that both rifles are capable of fully automatic fire (though the M16A2 is only capable of either single shots or 3 round bursts and lacks full auto capability) and thus the lack of stopping power for whatever round the shooter is using can be negated by simply bringing quanitiy into the mix.
The AK-47, though no longer in the armory of any former Communist Bloc nations, is the most common assault rifle in the world and is mainly used by either guerilla forces, or third world nations. This makes perfect sense since the rifle was intended to be used by troops who have very little training and supplies. The AK-47 is not a delicate instrument. It is truly a weapon of war and thus it can "take a beating and keep on ticking" or "shooting" in this case.
The M-16 is slowly being retired by the U.S. military. However, it and its variants remain in service around the world in the armories of either NATO or NATO friendly nations. While taking care of this rifle requires a bit of training, these nations tend to have first-rate military forces that are well-trained, well-disciplined, and well-equipped. Thus, a well-trained force can utilize the M-16 to its full potential, using it to provide devastating accurate fire at considerable distances.