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- Last updated: 27/01/2017
On numerous occasions in this column I have used the word ‘iconic’ to describe an airsoft replica; and perhaps I do so too glibly. When it comes to one single firearm there is absolutely no doubt that someone with even the most fleeting of interest in shooting will immediately recognise the distinctive angular, some might even say ‘agricultural’ outline of the Automat Kalashnikova or AK 47.
Wherever you look at the moment, for the right or the wrong reasons, you will see the AK on news reports and on the front page of most daily newspapers. From Vietnam in the 1960s to Iraq of the current day the AK will be the weapon of choice for many. And that’s not just the bad guys, as the AK will quite often be the weapon issued in theatre to private military contractors or PMCs.
The AK has been available in vast numbers worldwide since its introduction in 1947, hence the nomenclature. ‘Introduction’ is strictly not the correct word though, as it was only prototypes with the first serial numbers that entered service in that year. It was not until 1948 that the Soviet Army started receiving this remarkable rifle as general issue, but since that date, in one iteration or other, the Kalashnikov machine has continued to roll.
Towards the end of WWII the Russians had managed to capture various models of the German Sturmgewehr, a revolutionary design that had transformed the capabilities of their foes on the Eastern Front. The Stg made use of an intermediate cartridge heavier than that of a submachine gun, but lighter than that of a traditional bolt-action rifle. Looking to the success the Germans were achieving with both the cartridge and the weapons platform utilising it, the Soviets decided that they needed to look in the same direction. In March 1944 the new 7.62 × 39mm M43 intermediate cartridge went into mass production, and at the same time the Soviet planners decided that a whole range of new small arms should use it, including a semi-automatic carbine, a fully automatic rifle, and a light machine gun. Design contests for these new weapons began in earnest in 1944.
Numerous Russian firearms designers immediately jumped on board with the project, including seasoned veterans of the industry such as Tokarev, the inventor of the army pistol already tried and tested in service. It was a relatively new designer that came to the fore however, a former army officer who would give his name to the rifle that would become a symbol to communist inspired nationalists worldwide; that man was Mikhail Kalashnikov.
Whilst wounded and convalescing the young officer had tinkered with plans for various types of infantry weapon, but none of his designs were adopted. It was not until the later 1940s that his designs were given a serious look, and it was not until the trials of 1946 that his design team in Kovrov submitted an entry to the military for appraisal. It was a gas-operated rifle which had a breech-block mechanism similar to Kalashnikovs older designs but that fed from a distinctive curved 30-round magazine.
Kalashnikov’s rifles, AK-1 and -2 proved to be reliable and the weapon was accepted to a second round of trials along with designs by Dementyev and Bulkin. In late 1946 during testing Aleksandr Zaitsev, an assistant to Kalashnikov, suggested a major redesign of the AK-1, already impressive given its milled receiver, to improve reliability. Kalashnikov was persuaded and changes were made. The new rifle proved to be simple and reliable under a wide range of conditions with convenient handling characteristics; prototypes with serial numbers one to three were completed in November 1947. Production of the first army trial series began in early 1948 at the Izhevsk factory and in 1949 it was adopted by the Soviet Army as ‘7.62 mm Kalashnikov Assault Rifle’. And so began the legend of the AK.
Used around the world, and produced under licence by many communist states, the AK47 proved to be a formidable and highly effective battlefield rifle. Unbelievably rugged and durable it was said that the AK would fire even after having been buried in mud for considerable periods. Incredibly easy to maintain, it was the ideal weapon for poorly trained indigenous forces as well as for trained soldiers.
That said, anyone who has ever fired a real AK will tell you that the recoil is also somewhat formidable, and the rifle is hard to control unless you really put your mind to it. Once controlled though it is accurate out to 400 metres which is more than sufficient for most infantrymen. Changing methods of deployment meant that Soviet troops were delivered to the battlefield in vehicles and the AK went through further development to include models with an underfolding, skeletonised stock which dramatically reduced the length of the rifle when used by paratroopers or motorised infantry.
The AK47 also has another couple of unique characteristics. Most assault rifles are manufactured predominantly for the right handed user with the cocking handle on the left hand side so that the dominant right hand can stay in place on the pistol grip when cocking or changing magazines. On the AK it is on the right. The safety mechanism also differs from the traditional ‘safe, semi, auto’ format, becoming instead ‘safe, auto, semi’. This at first seems unusual but given the Soviet preference to engage the enemy with overwhelming force utilising fully automatic fire perhaps it is not actually so.
The AK47 is undoubtedly a fine combat weapon, and initial models were actually very, very well made. Unfortunately this also meant it was expensive and involved to produce, so eventually changes were made and the AKM (Modernised) entered service. Still a solid rifle, the AKM reverted to a stamped metal rather than machined construction, with a parkerised bolt rather than the polished steel version of the AK47. A distinctive slanted muzzle brake was fitted to assist with the barrel rise caused by the excessive recoil mentioned earlier, and a cyclic rate reducer incorporated. There are other minor detail changes such as a ribbed top cover, but essentially the AKM was a logical development of the AK which reduced both cost of production and manufacturing time. Even with the changes, the AKM remains a highly effective combat rifle.
So how does the replica measure up? The team at WE Airsoft Europe are, in my opinion, some of the hardest working guys in UK airsoft right now. They took an initially underperforming brand and transformed it into a model that others should seriously look at. Initially working with existing replicas from the Far East I know for a fact that they have put time, effort, and no little money into developing things forward with new unique European releases, and have worked directly with the factories to ensure that what comes to market is every bit as good as it can be. I also know that they have recently spent a considerable amount of time out in the Far East to ensure that things move forward in the best possible way.
They have some pretty unique models available, and their ‘Katana’ M4 AEGS are being used not only as a great airsoft rifle in their own right, but are being used by custom builders for the base of special builds given their reliability. WE Airsoft Europe are also very well known for their work with gas powered replicas, and it’s to this that I come now. Although many players are happy with the M4 style platform, many of us long for something a little different. In games with a themed scenario where accurate uniform representations separate the sides it’s also useful to be able to reflect that in the choice of rifle replica used.
This of course leads me neatly onto the WE Airsoft Europe AK PMC gas blowback. Summer in the UK is the ideal time to use a gas rifle given that the driving force performs better and more consistently in warmer weather and it’s been my delight to test numerous models of gas powered replica during this period this year. Gas powered replicas are possibly the closest thing you’ll find to their real world counterparts in terms of operation as they have no electrical components, and operate from a bolt similar to the real thing. Power comes in general from the magazine where the gas is. Gas blowback rifles can be field stripped much like the real thing and upgraded with all manner of aftermarket parts; for the airsofter who, like me, also enjoys historical re-enactment a gas replica is the ideal thing. I tried fitting aftermarket pistol grips and furniture and experienced no problem in doing so.
The AK PMC is actually based on a gas blowback AKM rather than an AK47, as it comes fitted with the ridged top cover and the distinctive muzzle brake. A lustrous black full-metal throughout, this is a sturdy beast, feeling solid and durable in the hands. Where this differs immediately from the standard AKM is the furniture fitted. Many friends who have served overseas in a private security capacity have told me that when they have been issued their firearm ‘in country’ it is often an AK of one type or another. Many in the past have carried out with them their own optics and accessories to further enhance operation and control of the rifle.
The PMC reflects that in every way and comes ready fitted with an M4 style buffer tube and ‘crane’ style stock to the rear. This gives great versatility in getting the replica to fit you. There is also an ambidextrous quick detach sling swivel included in this setup. There are standard iron sights fitted, adjustable for windage and elevation, but at the front end rather than the woodwork you might expect to find on an AK there is a polymer setup similar to that offered by US company TAPCO, which offers a quad handguard with rail sections for accessories top, bottom, and both sides. The top rail actually extends forward of the handguard itself for the easy fitting of larger optics should you desire. Taking the advice of friends who have done it for real, I fitted a simple ‘T’ style dot sight that WE Airsoft Europe offer as an accessory. This in itself is a super little bit of kit, coming with both high and low level mounts so that you can co-witness it to the iron sights of virtually any model of replica. In operation the simply adjustable red or green dot is bright and easy to acquire even in strong sunlight. There is also a side rail fitted to the left of the main receiver which means you can fit even bigger optics should you wish to, although you will need to acquire the rail itself as an accessory.
The PMC in operation is a dream, functioning entirely like a real AK model; the only part of readying the replica for firing is that you need to charge the magazine with gas. For testing I used some of WE Airsoft Europes’ own NUPROL 2.0 High Performance Premium Green Gas which functioned superbly in warm weather. NUPROL 3.0 has now been introduced for the cooler months of the year so I look forward to testing this and reporting back in due course. Once the metal 30 round magazine was ready, the chronograph registered a very consistent 300fps using .20g BBs, with only one ‘flier’ going out at 328fps. Once everything was set up BBs were happily sailing out to a good 75 metres with a good, flat trajectory. Searching online I have come across higher velocities being quoted, so it’s probably best to check with the individual retailer so as not to fall foul of site limits.
On semi auto with the selector set on the lowest setting accuracy was spot on, with an empty plastic BB bottle being easy to hit at mid range, and a sandbag at extreme range. Switching to the mid selector point the PMC chugged out at a good rate with the additional pleasure of having the bolt slam back and forward with each shot. The rate of fire is slower than that of an M4 with a really addictive ‘Kalash Clack’ and I can see that in a firefight this would give additional realism.
Overall my time spent with the AK PMC from WE Airsoft Europe was thoroughly enjoyable. If your style of play is more MilSim than Spray and Pray then this fabulously put together replica should be high on your list of primaries to consider, especially if you favour an OPFOR or contractor loadout. As with all gas rifles the cost of additional magazines is going to put up the overall price of things, but in my opinion that extra spend would be well worth it, especially if you make your purchase over time as I do.
Expect to pay iro £390 for the AK PMC. Whether you buy this replica to play airsoft with, to train with, or to use as part of a living history display you can be sure that your money will be well spent!
For further information on the AK PMC or other items in their comprehensive range of replicas and accessories, and for stockist details please visit www.weairsofteurope.com