Q&A #23: Kalashnikov Questions w/ Larry Vickers

Today we have a Q&A with Larry Vickers, focussing specifically on the Kalashnikov. The new Vickers Guide book on the AK (volume 1) has just recently been released, and I’m quite proud to have been part of it. I filmed this while visiting with Larry and signing Signature Edition copies of the book with him.

Today’s questions:

02:15 – AK as replacement for PPSh?

03:52 – Benefits of an AK over a M4?

05:52 – What you learned during the process of authoring it together that you didn’t know before hand that you found fascinating.

07:46 – Opinion on the IWI Ace?

09:40 – 5.45 vs 7.62

11:28 – Does the AK still has a place as a “front-line” service rifle in comparison to the AR-15 family and the various other new generation assault rifles and carbines?

12:52 – Of all the countries that made AKM variants, which is actually the best?

14:51 – Has Russia ever attempted to replace the AK platform?

15:47 – Best AK muzzle device?

17:01 – Most significant changes/improvements made to the AK platform over the last decade?

19:08 – Followup, what about the siderail optics?

21:10 – What is your favorite offshoot of the Kalashnikov family?

22:08 – Reasons for continued use of 5.45mm?

24:32 – If you were part of the original development of the AK, what would you change from the beginning with the foresight of future development?

26:29 – AK-specific Vickers Tactical training in 2019?

(Larry’s training class schedule)

27:16 – Underfolder, sidefolder, AR tube adapter, which one and why?

28:33 – Thoughts on the AK prototypes with a recoil reduction counterweight?

30:48 – How does the Russian GP-25 40mm grenade launcher compare to western 40mm launchers like the M203.

31:41 – What do the Russians think about our military rifle?

33:05 – What made the AK platform superior to the SKS?

35:10 – Where do you think the AK’s reputation for poor accuracy came from?

37:40 – Thoughts on the AN-94?

39:46 – Was AK production done with technical aid or reverse engineering?

41:52 – Unique unique features on the prototypes that never made it to production?

42:39 – If I want to own everything within 300m, what’s my optimal barrel length (accuracy/velocity) for a 7.62 or 5.45 gun?


  1. It looks that Mr. Vickers is on his way, if he is not already there, the top man on AK subject. His greatest asset IMO is his hands on experience in Russia; they had him in and treated him with sincerity and openness several times.

    Since I saw him since last time, he visibly matured, but he still throws his signature boxer stance. In your 55 you are still young man, pal!

  2. As they go thru the talk, at around 8:50 Mr. Vickers describes what could be done to AK to make it better, such as hinge butt down. Well yes, this could be done but is would ultimately weaken sheet metal receiver (unless is connected on top, which would also preserve optical rail position repeatability). One other option is obvious – make receiver out of aluminum extrusion (not hogged out from bar like CZUB does); but make it inexpensive and solid at the same time.

    One thing which bothers me with AK is how action is guided – on 1mm/ .04″ ‘thick’ bent sheet metal (look at vz.58!). That is cheap more than needs to be. Yes, you can say that with the long stroke action, gas piston/ cylinder help which is true. But still, that thin sheet metal stuff is just way of past. They should throw it to garbage bin and start fresh. In fact there is some work in progress in that direction; but it will not be called AK

        • As for Russian sales success with AK type weapons (concretely AK103) they have sold and will apparently sell more, to Saudi Arabia. This type is far preferred assault rifle in that country.

          Venezuela is running license production of AK103 and I suspect Cuba will be next.

        • Fresh in the news: India is in process of receiving Russian license to produce AK103. This is a real coup d’grace for Kalashikov concern since India could not decide for last ten years what they actually want to replace failed INSAS with.

          The plan is to deliver first 150k rifles from Izhevsk, with the balance being made domestically. Thus, 7.62×39 is a king among shots for long time.

  3. “How does the Russian GP-25 40mm grenade launcher compare to western 40mm launchers like the M203.”
    There is big difference in ammunition used, Russian is muzzle-loaded and caseless, so no spent case to eject. Also what is important VOG-25P (notice P here!) ammunition is available, which is of jumping type, cf. WW2-era German S-Mine also known as Jumping Jack.

    • IMO, and I have not practical experience with them (the under-barrel types), but did fair bit of reading of tests thru number of years, the Russian g-launchers are superior to western ones. There are two major reasons for it: they are caseless and their loading if far easier. Practical range of use is smaller, but it is plenty sufficient.

  4. “Has Russia ever attempted to replace the AK platform?”
    I must say I see there Complex Question Fallacy, as it imply Russians responsible for armaments developments were so sheer stupid to run competition in form of “we need new avtomat which would have [requirements, requirements, requirements] AND not be Kalashnikov”.
    I doubt anyone clearly thinking would make such conditions, meaning rejection of designs full-filling all but that not Kalashnikov.
    I want to note that competition for new enlightened avtomat which finally resulted in AKM, was competition between various designs, but it surely was NOT competition crafted to only upgrade AK, see for example this competitor:

    • Anyone who has seen what Russian designers have done in earlier years knows that they exploited the “Avtomat” concept to the utmost. Nobody in West comes in that regard even close. Russians are undoubtedly masters of small arms. We have run thru it on FW couple of times.

      However, times are changing and they have to think of something radically different. They have some inroads, it is not very different then western trends, but hopefully for less cost. What ought to be kept on mind is that the military sales are only about 20% of rifles production; civilian sales are (at least in U.S.) far greater. It is a shame that some products such as SCAR rifles are so atrociously expensive. So, there is chance for new innovative designs.

  5. “5.45 vs 7.62”
    I must highlight one very important thing here:
    When Soviets were developing new intermediate cartridge, they considered at least few options, see second photo from top: http://otvaga2004.ru/kaleydoskop/kaleydoskop-ammo/glavnyj-kalibr/ (first from left is 7,62×54 R, second from right is 7,92×33 Kurz, first from right is 7,62×25 Tokarev, rest are experimental cartridge)
    Among them were 6,75 mm and 7,62 mm calibers*, general conclusion was that 6,75 mm was ballistic-wise superior, in 7,62 mm it was easier to create effective AP and tracer bullets, also 7,62 mm means that some existing equipment might be used for barrel production. So they choose 7,62 mm.

    *remember than in Russian understanding caliber is barrel diameter/lands

  6. Amazing interchangeability ‘for a weapon manufactured on this scale.’ There can’t be much competition there. Has ANYTHING been manufactured on such a scale, in so many places, for so many years?

  7. Old man’s been looking a bit less plump, makes me worry about his health. Hopefully its intentional for personal health, and not a side effect of chemo or other medical treatments. I arguably care more about the people than their toys…

    • As I alluded to earlier, I have same observation. I do not want to say he goes down, but he looks different. Hope his health is sound for years to come.

  8. Two remarks about the 5.45 cartridge.

    The rim is VERY robust, especially compared to the one on the 5.56 round. Thus, in adverse conditions, it is less likely to be damaged by the extractor with the result of a case stuck in the chamber.

    The bullet design seems intended to produce major yawing in a “meaty” target. This may explain the early “horror” stories that were heard from Afghanistan about spectacular wounds. This is not unlike the early 5.56 stories emanating from Viet Nam. These can be reasonably put down to the marginally stabilized bullet (1:14″ twist).

    SS109 / M855 has a similar tendency, but generally in targets wearing light body armour or heavy webbing, ammo pouches, etc. Yaw and precession may also explain the bullet “instability” and nasty wounds at short range. On the other hand, in terms of versatility, the good old 7.62 x 39 is a fine cartridge. With correctly constructed 124gn hollow-points and at realistic ranges, it is a pretty good performer on feral pigs, for starters

    • The issue of wound ballistics is also something that surprised analysts some seventy or so years ago as far as rifle cartridges are concerned. Anyone who was directly hit (not grazed, but hit near the center of mass) and yet not killed immediately by 6.5×52 Carcano or 6.5×50 Arisaka at longer ranges suffered horrendously. By horrendous I mean the bullets fragmented while yawing through the victims, causing complicated wounds that were difficult to fix.

    • “bullet design seems intended to produce major yawing in a “meaty” target”
      But it is not so. Bullet has cavity inside, marked as “C” on this drawing:
      but it is here not due to pure evilness, but due to production method, which was from beginning optimized for mass production. Also it should be noted that despite some rumors this bullet’s point of center-of-gravity does not wander under impact, for more data see ‘Center of gravity shifting bullet’ legend section here:

    • Completely agree with your remarks. Perhaps one point to be added is pronouncedly tapered (although not as much as 7.62) casing which significantly adds to reliability of extraction. Overall, as previous British and other developments proved, desirable shape for case is bit chubby in the base and stubbier in length. They work the best; perhaps because how flame progresses.

      • “perhaps because how flame progresses.”
        Although this might sound counter-intuitive gas powder is able to negate even sharp angles, notice that there existed 318 WESTLEY RICHARDS SQUARE SHOULDER XPL cartridge with 90 degree shoulder! See photo here:
        Though this is extreme case, IIRC P.O.Ackley (U.S. wildcatter) made test regarding dependency between effectiveness of powder charge in relation to that angle.
        Anyway cartridge cases for self-loading and machine weapons, should be designed to promote reliable cycling. In case of cartridge designed for already existing weapon platform, case is often effect of overall length limitation and sometimes also bolt face diameter.

  9. A bit about my recent experience with 7.62 M43 shot. This does not relate exclusively to AK since SKS and other rifles were chambered in it, but as it was mentioned by L.V. it may be of interest.

    Last time on my visit to range I took my new CZ527(18.5in bbl) in that caliber and managed to place at 100yards 3 out of 10 right into 2″ bullseye. The group was within 2.25 in, some holes so close together they completely shredded paper in that area. This was with surplus 124gr Chinese ammo with steel jacket an lead core, made in 1970. So the ammo is certainly capable for military use.

    Yeah, I have a degree of confidence in this shot, after all I served with it. It is also lot easier on shoulder when compared with .308.

  10. Then, there was the 5.6 x 39 of the late 1950s. Basically a standard 7.62 x 39 necked down to accommodate a roughly .22 calibre jacketed bullet; it was initially developed as a Biathlon round and fielded in a special bolt-action rifle. This is the case on which Palmisano and Pindell based their rightly famous .22 and 6mm PPC rounds and which inspired the later 6.5mm Grendel.

    The impetus for the appearance of the 5.6 x 39 appears to have been the development of the 5.56 x 45 (M-193) cartridge in the late 1950s. I have handled both ball and soft-point rounds in 5.6 x 39.

    Sadly, centre-fire rifle and pistol shooting have disappeared from the olympics. Soon it will be reduced to air-soft and laser-tag, just before the crazies obliterate it forever.

    • “it was initially developed as a Biathlon round and fielded in a special bolt-action rifle.(…)impetus for the appearance of the 5.6 x 39 appears to have been the development of the 5.56 x 45 (M-193) cartridge in the late 1950s. I have handled both ball and soft-point rounds in 5.6 x 39.”
      Not. 5,6×39 was introduced in 1955 as hunting cartridge to be used where 5,6 (.22) rim-fire was too weak and other available cartridge would be overkill.

      • I mixed companies names… it is Sako, they both belong to Beretta group now. Tikkas are at Cabela Canada starting just at 1k, not cheap by any means.

        • Tikka is in fact just a brand used by Sako. Both come from the same factory, which belongs to the Beretta group like you wrote. Sako still has their own designers and designs separate from Beretta Italy, though.

          By the way, Tikka is actually the more affordable of the two brands, would you believe…

        • The 5.45×39 was one time centre of Czech Lada project, which due to political changes did not materialize. When comes to longevity of barrel and major components for military rifles in 5.56 caliber, like receiver and action, 10k rounds is considered a bare minimum in U.S. and Canada. Canadian made C7 barrel actually became better at that number of shots.

          As far as 6mm PPC goes, this is purely sporting round; I do not know if used for hunting but would doubt its usefulness. The jacket of its bullet I have seen so far, appears to be out of guilding metal. This shot is inherently accurate, excellent for bench rest shooting.

  11. Many thanks Ian 🙂 and Mr Vickers

    Hmmmm yeah, AN94 and two holes in two inches at 20m.

    The military bureaucrats gun for the man who really wanted a .410 (or any other) calibre (or guage) shotgun loaded with 00 buck 😉

    The five point whatever x 39mm. Arguably a much better case and bullet than the 5.56.
    The problem with out to 300m where I live, is not bullet drop. It’s wind deflection.

    What too many (especially American) commentators parrot is the propaganda crap about bullets designed to tumble on impact

    It’s a very similar design to the .303 Mkvii bullet, it’s a low drag design without incurring excessive weight (weight and recoil are proportional). Wind deflection is proportional to bullet drag

    A low drag design drops less and drifts less.

    The other guys have already mentioned the extra durable rim of the 5.45 x 39mm case.

    Cross breeding and AK with the AR 18 sounds like a good idea (and crossing a VZ58 with an AR18 sounds like an even better idea).

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