Comparison of the AK-47 and M16


Comparison of the AK-47 and M16
M16 and AK-47 length comparison.png
M16 (top) and AK-47 (bottom) assault rifles
Firearm AK-47 M16A1
Manufacturer Izhmash ArmaLite, Colt, FN, H&R
Design year 1947 1957
Weight (with loaded 30 round magazine) 5.22 kg (11.5 lb) 3.6 kg (7.9 lb)[1]
Overall length 87.0 cm (34.3 in) 99.0 cm (39.0 in)
Barrel length 40.6 cm (16.0 in) 50.8 cm (20.0 in)
Height (with magazine) 26.7 cm (10.5 in) 26.7 cm (10.5 in)
Sight radius 37.8 cm (14.9 in) 50.0 cm (19.7 in)
Cartridge (M43) 7.62x39mm (M193) 5.56x45mm
Bullet weight 123 gr (8.0 g) 55 gr (3.6 g)
Velocity 2,400 ft/s 3,280 ft/s
Energy 1,560 ft/lbs 1,314 ft/lbs
Effective range 350 m (380 yd)[2][3] 460 m (500 yd)[4]
Accuracy 3–5 inches @100 yards [5] 1–3 inches @100 yards [5]
Penetration (ballistic Gelatin) ~26 inches @10 meters[6][7] ~15 inches @10 meters[6][7]
Rate of fire 600 rounds/min[8] 700–950 rounds/min[9]
Standard magazine capacity 30 rounds 30 rounds
Designer Mikhail Kalashnikov Eugene Stoner
Numbers made ~100 million AK-47 type rifles[10][11] ~8 million M16 type rifles[12]
Government price (USD), as of 2011 $150 to $160 per unit for a new AK-103[13] $1755 per unit for a new M4 Carbine[14]

Two of the most common assault rifles in the world are the AK-47 and the M16.[15][16] They have faced each other in countless conflicts both large and small, and have spawned comparisons and controversy since the early 1960s.[17][18]

Contents

Background

Influence of World War II

The world's first assault rifle: the German Sturmgewehr 44
A Type 2 AK-47, the first machined receiver variation
An M16A1 with 30 round magazine

The Germans were the first to pioneer the assault rifle concept, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen within 300 meters and that contemporary rifles were over-powered for most small arms combat.[19] The Germans sought to develop a select-fire rifle combining the firepower of a submachine gun with the accuracy and range of an intermediate powered rifle.[19] The result was the Sturmgewehr 44.[19]

The Soviets were influenced by combat experience showing that their soldiers were consistently outgunned by German troops,[20] especially those armed with the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles. The Soviets realized that bolt-action rifles, submachine guns, and semi-auto rifles were obsolete. This lead to development of a 7.62x39mm select-fire rifle to replace the SKS. The result was the AK-47.[19][20]

On the other hand, the U.S. Army's was influenced by combat experience with semi-automatic weapons such as the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine, which enjoyed a significant advantage over enemies armed primarily with bolt-action rifles.[21] Although the U.S. Army’s studies into World War II combat accounts came up with very similar results to that of the Germans and Soviets, the Army maintained its traditional views and preferred powerful accurate semi-auto rifles.[19][22] This culminated in the development of the M14 rifle which was basically an improved M1 Garand with a 20 round magazine. Combat experience in Vietnam showed the M14 was anachronistic. A replacement was needed: a medium between the traditional philosophy of powerful accurate rifles such as the M14 rifle, and the light-weight firepower of the M2 Carbine. The result was the M16.

Development

The development of the AK-47 was rather straightforward. The Soviets simply held a design competition to develop a "Sturmgewehr" or assault rifle of their own and the winner was the AK-47.[19] It was finalized and adopted shortly after World War II and entered widespread service in the Soviet army in the early 1950s.[20] Its firepower, ease of use, low production costs, and reliability was perfectly suited for the Red Army's new mobile warfare doctrines.[20] The AK-47 was widely supplied or sold to nations allied with the USSR and the blueprints were shared with several friendly nations (the People's Republic of China standing out among these).[20]

The development of the M16 was somewhat circuitous. After World War II, the United States Military started looking for a single automatic rifle to replace the M1 Garand, M1/M2 Carbines, M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, M3 Grease Gun and Thompson submachine gun.[19] Early experiments with select-fire versions the M1 Garand proved disappointing. And, combat experience suggested that the .30 Carbine round was underpowered.[23] American weapons designers reached the same conclusion as the Germans and Russians: that an intermediate round was necessary, and recomended a small caliber, high velocity cartridge.[24] However, senior American commanders having faced fanatical enemies and experienced major logistical problems during WWII and the Korean War, insisted that a single powerful cartridge be developed, that could not only be used by the new automatic rifle, but by the new general purpose machine gun (GPMG) in concurrent development. Thus, the U.S. adopted the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge, the M14 rifle and M60 machine gun, while its NATO partners adopted the FN FAL and HK G3 rifles, and the FN MAG and Rheinmetall MG3 general purpose machine guns.

The first confrontations between the AK-47 and the M14 came in the early part of the Vietnam War. Battlefield reports indicated that the M14 was uncontrollable in full-auto and that soldiers could not carry enough ammo to maintain fire superiority over the AK-47.[25] As a result the Army was forced to reconsider a 1957 request by General Willard G. Wyman, commander of the U.S. Continental Army Command (CONARC) to develop a .223 caliber (5.56 mm) select-fire rifle weighing 6 lbs (2.7 kg) when loaded with a 20 round magazine.[19] The 5.56mm round had to penetrate a standard U.S. helmet at 500 yards (460 meters) and retain a velocity in excess of the speed of sound, while equaling or exceeding the wounding ability of the .30 Carbine cartridge.[26] This request ultimately resulted in the development of the ArmaLite AR-15 rifle. However, despite overwhelming evidence that the AR-15 could bring more firepower to bear than the M14, the Army opposed the adoption of the new rifle. In January 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, concluded that the AR-15 was the superior weapon system and ordered a halt to M14 production. At the time, the AR-15 was the only rifle available that could fulfill the requirement of a universal infantry weapon for issue to all services and was subsequently adopted as the M16.

Manufacturing philosophies

M16

A U.S. M16A1 RIFLE (top) is compared to a Soviet AKMS RIFLE.

The M16 was designed above all else to be a light-weight assault rifle, and to fire a new light-weight, small caliber cartridge to allow the soldier to carry more ammunition. It was designed to be manufactured with the extensive use of aluminum and synthetic materials by state of the art Computer Numerical Control (CNC) automated machinery.

The M16 continues to benefit from every advance in the CNC field, which allows more and more small manufacturers to mass produce M16s and semi-automatic AR-15 type rifles. The M16's aluminum receiver may be forged or cast,[27] and made from a variety of other metallic alloys,[28][29] composites[30] and polymers.[31] If necessary, it can be made machined from a billet of steel[32] and fitted with wooden furniture.[33] This makes the M16 ideal for market economy production, spread among many small manufacturers around the country, using a variety of materials and manufacturing methods; this ensures it would be nearly impossible to disrupt U.S. M16 production in the case of a major conflict. The M16 is a Modular Weapon System and it is easy to assemble, modify and repair using nothing more than a few simple hand tools, and a flat surface to work on.

Approximately 8 million M16 type rifles have been made worldwide.[12]

As of 2011, the United States military buys M4 Carbines for $1755 (USD) per unit.[14] The complete M4 system unit cost includes the M68 Close Combat Optic, Blank Firing Attachment and Back-up Iron Sights.[34]

AK-47

A U.S. M16A1 RIFLE (top) is compared to a Soviet AKMS rifle. The two rifless are disassembled into groups.

The AK-47 was designed to be a simple, reliable automatic rifle that could be manufactured quickly and cheaply, using mass production methods that were state of the art in the Soviet Union during the late 1940s. The AK-47's barrel and bolt were milled out of a steel billet and hard chromed. Its receiver was originally designed to be stamped from sheet metal with a milled trunnion insert. However, early production receivers were milled in one piece. In 1959, the sheet metal stamping process was perfected, simplifying manufacture and reducing the weight of the rifle from 4.3 kg (9.5 lb) to 3.14 kg (6.9 lb).[35] The stock was simply made out of wood, which was a non-strategic material, and perfectly fit the Soviet manufacturing philosophy, where large plants could manufacture basic weapons in very large quantities.

Over time, AK-47 descendants have been simplified through the use of spot welding and by further reducing the number of machined parts. The Izhevsk factory can produce around 24,000 units a day. Because of its stamped-steel design it is not possible to manufacture the AK-47 series efficiently in small plants, due to large amount of metal stamping equipment needed for mass production. However, the milled-steel AK-47 has spawned a cottage industry of sort and has been copied and manufactured (one gun at a time) in small shops all around the world.[36][37]

Approximately 100 million AK-47 type rifles have been made worldwide.[11][38]

As of 2011, Izhmash sells the AK-103 at a government price of $150 to $160 (USD) per unit.[13] There are places around the world where an AK-47 type rifle can be purchased on the Black Market "...for as little as $6, or traded for a chicken or sack of grain."[39][40]

Comparison of characteristics

Size and weight

Fixed buttstock models

M16A1 with 30 round magazine.
AK-47 with bayonet.

A Vietnam era M16A1 has a 50.8 cm (20.0 in) barrel, is 26.7 cm (10.5 in) in height (with magazine), 99 cm (39 in) long and weighs 3.6 kg (7.9 lb) with a loaded 30 round magazine.[1] The later models of the M16 weighed more than the original with the addition of heavier (and more accurate) barrels and more rugged components. The M16A2, for example, weighs 3.85 kg (8.5 lb) loaded. A loaded 30 round, M16 magazine weighs .45 kg (0.99 lb) and is made of aluminum.

A Vietnam era AK-47 has a 41.5 cm (16.3 in) barrel, is 26.7 cm (10.5 in) in height (with magazine), 87 cm (34 in) long and weighs 5.22 kg (11.5 lb) with a loaded 30 round magazine. A loaded Vietnam era 30 round AK-47 magazine weighs .92 kg (2.0 lb) and is made of steel.[41] The AK-47 versions in use today are of the lighter AKM variety and weigh 4.34 kg (9.6 lb) loaded.[42] A loaded current issue 30 round steel magazine weighs .82 kg (1.8 lb), because it is made of a thinner gauge steel.[41]

Earlier versions of the AK-47 used wood furniture, the type and density of which causes the AK-47s weight to vary. Whereas, the M16 and current models of the AK-47 use synthetic materials, which have consistent weights.

Collapsible buttstock models

Current issue M4 Carbine.
Current issue AK-103.

A current issue M4 (M16) has a 36.8 cm (14.5 in) barrel, is 26.7 cm (10.5 in) in height (with magazine), 83.8 cm (33.0 in) long with the stock extended and 75.6 cm (29.8 in) with the stock retracted. It weighs 3.33 kg (7.3 lb) with a loaded 30 round magazine.

A current issue AK-103 (AK-47) has a 41.5 cm (16.3 in) barrel, is 26.7 cm (10.5 in) in height (with magazine), 94.3 cm (37.1 in) long with the stock extended and 70 cm (28 in) with the stock folded. It weighs 4.22 kg (9.3 lb) with a loaded 30 round magazine.

Controls

On the M16, the fire selector is located on the left side of the rifle just above the pistol grip and is rotated by the shooters right thumb. When the selector points forward = safe, up = semi-auto and backward = full-auto or burst. To use, the selector is rotated 90 degrees clockwise (down and forward) into the semi-auto position and then rotated an additional 90 degrees clockwise (forward and up) into the full-auto or burst position. To return to safe the selector is then rotated 180 degrees counter-clockwise (down, backward and up).

On the AK-47, the fire selector lever is located on the right side of the rifle, it acts as a dust-cover and prevents the charging handle from being pulled fully to the rear when it is on safe. It is operated by the shooters right fore-fingers. It has 3 stages: up = safe, center = full-auto and down = semi-auto. The reason for this is, under stress a soldier will push the selector lever down with considerable force bypassing the full-auto stage and setting the rifle to semi-auto. To set the AK-47 to full-auto requires the deliberate action of centering the selector lever.

On the M16, the charging handle is located on top of the receiver, below and to the rear of the rear-sight/carrying-handle. To chamber, simply insert a loaded magazine straight into the magazine well, then pull the cocking handle back and release. The M16A1 has a separate forward-assist on the right side to the rear of the receiver.

On the AK-47, the charging handle is located on the right side of the receiver and acts as a forward assist. To chamber, simply rock a loaded magazine into the magazine well in a forward to back motion, then pull the cocking handle back and release.

On the M16, the magazine release is a push button, located on the right side of the receiver in front of the trigger. To reload, the magazine release is pushed in, the empty magazine falls out and a loaded magazine is then inserted straight into the magazine well.

On the AK-47, the magazine release lever is located directly in front of the trigger. To reload push the magazine release lever forward, the empty magazine falls out and a loaded magazine is then rocked into the magazine well in a forward to back motion.

On the M16, the bolt-stop/release is located on the left side of the receiver and the bolt-carrier-assembly locks back after the last shot. After reloading, the bolt-stop is pushed, the bolt-carrier-assembly is released, and the rifle is chambered and ready to fire.

The AK-47 does not have a bolt-stop/release and does not lock back on the last shot. After reloading, simply pull back and release the charging handle, and the rifle is chambered and ready to fire.

The M16 has a spring-loaded dust-cover, which opens when the rifle is fired or chambered. The dust-cover must be closed manually.

Sights

The M16 has a 500mm (19.75 inches) sight radius.[9] The M16 uses an L-type flip, aperture rear sight and it is adjustable with two setting, 0 to 300 meters and 300 to 400 meters.[4] The front sight is a post adjustable for elevation in the field. The rear sight can be adjusted in the field for windage. The sights can be adjusted with a bullet tip and soldiers are trained to zero their own rifles. The sight picture is the same as the M14, M1 Garand, M1 Carbine and the M1917 Enfield. The M16 also has a "Low Light Level Sight System", which includes a front sight post with a small glass vial of (glow-in-the-dark) radioactive Tritium H3 and a larger aperture rear sight.[43] The M16 can mount a scope on the carrying handle. With the advent of the M16A2, a new fully adjustable rear sight was added, allowing the rear sight to be dialed in for specific range settings between 300 and 800 meters and to allow windage adjustments without the need of a tool or cartridge.[44] Modern versions of the M16 use a Picatinny rail which allow for the use of various scopes and sighting devices. The current M4 Carbine is issued with the M68 Close Combat Optic and Back-up Iron Sight.[34]


The AK-47 has a 378mm (14.88 inches) sight radius.[3] The AK-47 uses a notched rear tangent iron sight, it is adjustable and is calibrated in hundreds from 100 to 1000 meters. The front sight is a post adjustable for elevation in the field. Windage adjustment is done by the armory before issue. The battle setting places the round within a few centimeters above or below the point of aim out to about 250 meters. This "point-blank range" setting allows the shooter to fire at close range targets without adjusting the sights. Longer range settings are intended for area suppression. These settings mirror the Mosin-Nagant and SKS rifles which the AK-47 replaced. All current model AK-47's (100 series) have a side rail for mounting a variety of scopes and sighting devices.

Ammunition

A brief comparison between cartridges reveals that the M16's lighter, higher-velocity 5.56x45mm cartridge has much better long range accuracy, and that the AK-47's heavier 7.62x39mm cartridge has much better penetration.[22]

Rifle Cartridge Caliber Cartridge weight Bullet weight Velocity Energy Effective range Accuracy Penetration (Ballistic gelatin)
M16 M193 5.56x45mm 183 gr (11.9 g) 55 gr (3.6 g) 3,280 ft/s 1,314 ft-lbs 460 meters[4] 1–3 inches@100 yards[5] ~15 inches@10 meters[6][7]
AK-47 M43 7.62x39mm 281 gr (18.2 g) 123 gr (8.0 g) 2,400 ft/s 1,560 ft-lbs 350 meters[2][3] 3–5 inches@100 yards[5] ~26 inches@10 meters[6][7]
5.56x45mm Cartridge
7.62x39mm Cartridge
M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round and its environmentally friendly projectile.

The original ammunition for the M16 was the 5.56x45mm M193 round. When fired from a 20″ barrel at ranges of up to 100 meters, the thin-jacketed lead-cored round traveled fast enough (above 2900 ft/s) that the force of striking a human body would cause the round to yaw (or tumble) and fragment into about a dozen pieces of various sizes and thus created wounds that were out of proportion to its caliber.[6][7] These wounds were much larger than those produced by AK-47 and they were so devastating that many considered the M16 to be an inhumane weapon.[45][46] As the 5.56mm round's velocity decreases, so does the number of fragments that it produces.[19] The 5.56mm round does not normally fragment at distances beyond 200 meters or at velocities below 2500 ft/s, and its lethality become largely dependent on shot placement.[19]

The 7.62 x 39mm M43 projectile does not generally fragment and has an unusual tendency to remain intact even after taking unusual deviations upon contact with bone.[47] The 7.62x 39mm round produces significant wounding in cases where the bullet tumbles in tissue,[48] but produces relatively minor wounds in cases where the bullet exits before beginning to yaw.[49][50] In the absence of yaw, the M43 round can pencil through tissue with relatively little injury.[51] The heavier 7.62mm round has superior penetration when compared to the lighter 5.56mm round and is better in circumstances where a soldier has to fire through heavy foliage, walls or a common vehicle's metal body and into an opponent attempting to use these things as cover.

In March 1970, the U.S. stated that all NATO forces should eventually adopt the 5.56x45mm cartridge. This shift represented a change in the philosophy of the military's long-held position about caliber size. By the middle of the 1970s, other armies were looking at M16-style weapons. A NATO standardization effort soon started and tests of various rounds were carried out starting in 1977. The U.S. offered the 5.56x45mm M193 round, but there were concerns about its penetration in the face of the wider introduction of body armor.[19] In the end the Belgian 5.56x45mm SS109 round was chosen (STANAG 4172) in October 1980. The SS109 round was based on the U.S. cartridge but included a new stronger, heavier, 62 grain bullet design, with a small steel tip added to improve penetration (specifically, to consistently penetrate the side of a steel helmet at 600 meters). Due to its lower muzzle velocity (about 3110 ft/s)[9] the Belgian SS109 round is considered more humane because it is less likely to fragment than the U.S. M193 round.[46] The NATO 5.56x45mm standard ammunition produced for U.S. forces is designated M855.

Most, if not all, of the 7.62x39mm ammunition found today is of the upgraded M67 variety. This variety deleted the steel insert, shifting the center of gravity rearward, and allowing the projectile to destabilize (or yaw) nearly 6.7 inches earlier in tissue.[52] There is now relative parity between the wounding capacity of the M67 and the current M855 5.56x45mm round. However, there have been repeated and consistent reports of the M855's inability to wound effectively (i.e. fragment) when fired from the short barreled M4 carbine (even at close ranges). The M4's 14.5" barrel length reduces muzzle velocity to about 2900 ft/s.[53] This reduced wounding ability is one reason that, despite the Army's transition to short-barrel M4's, the Marine Corps has decided to use the M16A4 with the 20″ barrel as the 5.56x45mm M855 is largely dependent upon high velocity in order to wound effectively.[19]

The US Army contended in 2003 that the lack of lethality of the 5.56x45mm was more a matter of perception than fact. With good shot placement to the head and chest, the target was usually defeated without issue. The majority of failures were the result of hitting the target in non-vital areas such as extremities. However, a minority of failures occurred in spite of multiple hits to the chest.[54] A study in 2006 found that 20% of soldiers using the M4 Carbine wanted more lethality or stopping power.[22] In June 2010, the United States Army announced it began shipping its new 5.56mm lead-free Enhanced Performance Round, the M855A1, to active combat zones. This upgrade is designed to maximize performance of the 5.56x45mm round, to improve penetration and to consistently fragment in soft-tissue when fired from the short-barreled M4 carbines and standard length M16s.[55]

It should be noted that during the 1970s the USSR developed the AK-74 and the 5.45x39mm cartridge which has similar characteristics to the U.S. 5.56x45mm cartridge. The current AK-47 export variant, the AK-101 is chambered to fire the 5.56mm NATO cartridge.[56]

Firepower

U.S. Navy LT firing M4 Carbine with Picatinny rails, holographic weapon sight and foregrip
Afghan border police aiming an AK-47 type rifle with Picatinny rails, holographic weapon sight and foregrip

With the proper mind-set, training and practice, both the AK-47 and M16 are quite deadly. The M16's straight-line recoil design, direct impingement gas operation system and smaller caliber gives it less recoil than the AK-47 and makes it easier to control in full-auto.[57] However, the AK-47's heavier weight and slower rate-of-fire do a good job at mitigating any disadvantage.

The single most limiting factor in terms of firepower is the amount of ammo that a soldier can carry. Assuming a maximum 10 kilogram ammo-load...

A soldier armed with an AK-47 can carry 10 additional fully loaded 30 round magazines weighing a total of 9.2 kg (.92 kg per mag)[41] and allow for an additional 300 rounds of ammo. Newer AK magazines are lighter, weighing .82 kg loaded, allowing a soldier to carry 12 additional magazines weighing a total of 9.84 kg and allow for an additional 360 rounds of ammo. The AK-47 has a full-auto cyclical rate-of-fire of 600 rpm, a practical rate-of-fire in full-auto of 100 rpm, and a practical rate-of-fire in semi-auto of 40 rpm.[58]

A soldier armed with an M16 can carry 22 additional fully loaded 30 round magazines weighing a total of 9.9 kg (.45 kg per mag) and allow for an additional 660 rounds of ammo. The M16 has a full-auto cyclical rate-of-fire of 700–950 rpm,[9] a practical rate-of-fire in full-auto of 150 rpm, and a practical rate-of-fire in semi-auto of 45 rpm.[59] The current issue M16A4 and M4 carbine have a practical rate-of-fire of 90 rpm in 3-round-burst.[60]

Both the AK-47 and the M16 will overheat fairly quickly under normal combat conditions and have a sustained rate of fire as low as 12 to 15 rounds per minute (about the same as a bolt-action rifle).

Additional firepower

All current M16 type rifles are capable of launching NATO STANAG type 22mm rifle grenades from their integral flash hiders without the use of an adapter. These 22mm grenade types range from powerful anti-tank rounds to simple finned tubes with a fragmentation hand grenade attached to the end. Some come in the "standard" type which are propelled by a blank cartridge inserted into the chamber of the rifle. Others come in the "bullet trap" and "shoot through" types, as their names imply use live ammunition. The U.S. military does not generally use rifle grenades, however they are used by other nations. Most AK-47 type rifles are unable to launch rifle grenades or require a separate adapter attachment to do so.

The AK-47 can mount a (rarely used) cup-type grenade-launcher that fires standard Soviet hand-grenades. The soup-can shaped launcher is screwed onto to AK-47’s muzzle.[61] To fire…First, insert a standard hand-grenade into the launcher and then remove the safety pin…Second, insert a special blank cartridge into the rifles chamber…Third, place the butt-stock of the rifle on the ground and fire from this position. The maximum effective range is approximately 150 meters.[58] The M16 has a similar device used to launch tear-gas hand-grenades.[62]

All current model M16 and AK-47 rifles can mount under-barrel grenade-launchers such as the M203, M320 and AG36 in the case of the M16, and the GP-25 and 30 for the AK.

It should be noted, that all of these grenades and launchers add additional bulk and weight to the soldiers war-load and as a consequence they reduce the amount rifle ammunition that soldiers can carry. For example, a modern French AC58 "bullet trap" rifle grenade is 380mm long and weighs .5 kg,[63] the equivalent of a loaded M16 magazine.

Accessories

Neither the AK-47 or the M16 were designed to mount accessories, except of course for their respective bayonets and a simple clamp type bipod for the M16. However, with the advent of the Picatinny rail and by sheer happenstance, the M16 has proven itself to be a remarkably adaptable weapon system, capable of mounting a wide range of accessories, including grenade launchers, fore-grips, removable carry handle/rear sight assemblies, bipods, laser systems, electronic sights, night vision, etc. The AK-47 can use picatinny rail mounted accessories, although its design and smaller fore-stock make it less adaptable.

Reliability

Diagram of long-stroke gas operation system

The AK-47 has always enjoyed a reputation of rugged reliability.[64] It is long-stroke gas operated, using the gas from the barrel to push a piston attached to the bolt carrier, thus operating the action. The gas tube is fairly large and is visible above the barrel with ports or vents to allow the excess "dirty" gas to escape without affecting the action. The AK-47 is often built with generous clearances, allowing it to function easily in a dirty environment with little or no maintenance. This makes it reliable but less accurate.[65] It is very simple to disassemble and clean, and easily maintainable.

The M16 uses a direct impingement (DI) gas system and it is similar to normal gas operation in principle, but unique in operation. The gas is sent from the barrel, through the gas tube, directly to the inside of the receiver so it can push on the bolt carrier itself. This means that the gas alone impinges upon the bolt carrier. This design is much lighter and more compact than a gas-piston design. However, this design requires that combustion byproducts from the discharged cartridge to be blown into the receiver as well. This quickly accumulating carbon and vaporized metal build-up within the receiver and bolt-carrier negatively affects reliability and necessitates more intensive maintenance on the part of the individual soldier. The DI operation increases the amount of heat that is deposited in the receiver while firing of the M16 and causing essential lubricant to be "burned off". This requires frequent and generous applications of appropriate lubricant.[19] Lack of proper lubrication is the most common source of weapon stoppages or jams.[19]

The original M16 fared poorly in the jungles of Vietnam and was infamous for reliability problems in the harsh environment. As a result, it became the target of a Congressional investigation.[66] The investigation found that:

  1. The M16 was billed as self-cleaning (when no weapon is or ever has been).
  2. The M16 was issued to troops without cleaning kits or instruction on how to clean the rifle.
  3. The M16 and 5.56x45mm cartridge was tested and approved with the use of a DuPont IMR stick powder, that was switched to standard military ball powder which produced much more fouling, that quickly jammed the action of the M16, unless the gun was cleaned well and often.
  4. The M16 lacked a chromed barrel and chamber, causing corrosion problem, contributing to case swelling and extraction problems.
  5. The M16 lacked a forward assist, rendering the rifle inoperable when it jammed and requiring extreme measures to clear.

When these issues were addressed and corrected by the M16A1, the reliability problems decreased greatly. According to a February 1968 Department of Defense report, the M16A1 rifle achieved widespread acceptance by U.S. troops in Vietnam. Only 38 of 2100 individuals queried wanted to replace the M16A1 with another weapon. Of those 38, 35 wanted the CAR-15 (a shorter version of the M16) instead.[67] In March 1970, the "President’s Blue Ribbon Defense Panel" concluded that the issuance of the M16 saved the lives of 20,000 U.S. servicemen during the Vietnam War, who would have otherwise died had the M14 remained in service.[21]

direct impingement
short-stroke gas piston

The newest version of the M16 in U.S. service is the HK416[68][69] which uses a proprietary gas system derived from the HK G36, replacing the direct impingement gas system used by the standard M16/M4.[70] The HK system uses a short-stroke gas piston driving an operating rod to force the bolt carrier to the rear. This design prevents combustion gases from entering the weapon's interior, a shortcoming with direct impingement systems.[71] The reduction in heat and fouling of the bolt carrier group increases the reliability of the weapon and extends the interval between stoppages.[72] It reduces operator cleaning time and stress on critical components.

Magazines

A major but often overlooked factor in a firearm's reliability is the design of its magazine. The AK-47’s magazine has a pronounced curve which allows it to smoothly feed ammunition into the chamber. Its heavy steel construction makes it highly resistant to damage and its "feed-lips" (the surfaces at the top of the magazine that control the angle at which the cartridge enters the chamber) are machined from a single steel billet, making them extremely resistant to damage. This makes the AK-47 magazine more reliable and much heavier than U.S. and NATO magazines.

The M16 originally used a 20-round magazine which was later replaced by a bent 30-round design. As a result, the magazine follower tends to rock or tilt, causing malfunctions. The M16's magazine is made of light weight pressed/stamped aluminum. Therefore, it is easier to damage than an AK-47 magazine as the feed lips are proportionally weaker when compared to the AK-47. Many U.S. civilian aftermarket magazines have been developed to effectively mitigate these shortcoming (i.e. Magpul's polymer P-MAG, H&K's all-stainless-steel magazine, etc.).[19]

Miscellaneous

  • The M16’s has a flash-hider[73] or flash-suppressor.[74]
  • The AK-47 does not have a flash-hider. However, all AKM and current AK models have a simple slant-type muzzle-brake[75] or compensator.
  • The M16 has a carrying-handle.[74]
  • The AK-47 does not have a carrying-handle.
  • The M16 has variants with telescoping buttstocks.
  • The AK-47 has variants with folding buttstocks.
  • The M16 uses synthetic furniture which is more durable than wood.
  • The AK-47 uses wood furniture which can break, split, crack and rot. Later model AK's use synthetic furniture.
  • The M16 has a large storage compartment in the buttstock[74] that holds the rifle's cleaning kit (or anything else that will fit inside).
  • The AK-47 has a small storage compartment in the buttstock that only holds the rifle's cleaning kit capsule.
  • The AK-47's cleaning rod is located below the barrel and can be easily reached if needed to clear a malfunction.
  • The M16's multi-piece cleaning rod is located in the buttstock[74] (or wherever else the soldier put it), and it cannot be easily reached and assembled if needed to clear a malfunction.
  • The M16's trigger-guard can be lowered to allow the trigger to be pulled while wearing winter mittens.[74]
  • The AK-47's trigger-guard is fixed.
  • The M16 has a large well-insulated fore-stock.
  • The AK-47 has a small poorly-insulated fore-stock that overheats quickly making the AK hard to handle.[76]
  • The AK-47's magazine feed-lips are strong enough to be used as a bottle opener.[77][78]
  • The M16’s bolt carrier group is small enough that an extra group can be carried as a back-up. If necessary a malfunctioning group can be quickly and easily removed, and replaced.[79]
  • The AK-47's (AKM's) bayonet can be used as a multi-purpose knife and wire-cutter.[80]
  • The M16's M9 bayonet can be used as a multi-purpose knife and wire-cutter.
  • The AK-47 has a light machinegun version called the RPK with a longer heavier barrel, stronger receiver, a larger magazine, and an attached bipod.
  • The M16 has a smaller 9mm, closed bolt, blowback operated, submachine gun version called the Colt SMG.
  • The AK-47 type rifles are currently made in three calibers: the AK-103/AK-104 in 7.62x39mm, the AK-74M/AK-105/AK-107 in 5.45x39mm and the AK-101/AK-102/AK-108 in 5.56x45mm NATO.[56]
  • The M16 type rifle is currently made in 5.56x45mm NATO and 6.8x43mm SPC caliber.[81]
  • The M16 magazine has become the unofficial NATO STANAG magazine and is currently used by many Western Nations, in numerous weapon systems.

Rifle evaluation study

The following Summary, has been taken from directly from the "Rifle Evaluation Study, United States Army, Combat Development Command, ADA046961, 20 Dec 1962"[17]

AR-15/M16
M14
AK-47
Factor AR-15 M14 AK-47
Length Superior Acceptable Superior
Weight Superior Acceptable Acceptable
Weight with bipod Superior Unacceptable None
Reliability Unacceptable Superior Acceptable
Durability Acceptable Superior Unknown
Maintenance Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Position disclosure effect Acceptable Acceptable Unacceptable
Grenade launching capability Unacceptable Unacceptable None
Ease of handling Superior Acceptable Superior
Provision for bayonet Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Combat firing Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Automatic rifle mode (0-100m) Superior Unacceptable Superior
Automatic rifle mode (100-400m) Superior Unacceptable Unacceptable
Automatic rifle mode (400-600m) Acceptable Unacceptable Unacceptable
Night firing capability Unacceptable Acceptable Unknown
Semiautomatic fire (0-400m) Superior Acceptable Unacceptable
Semiautomatic fire (400-600m) Acceptable Superior Unacceptable
Penetration (0-400m) Vests Acceptable Superior Acceptable
Penetration (0-400m) Helmets Acceptable Superior Acceptable
Penetration (400-600m) Vests Acceptable Superior Unacceptable
Penetration (400-600m) Helmets Unacceptable Superior Unacceptable
Ammo weight Superior Acceptable Acceptable

Note: This is the first time that the United States Army compared the AR-15/M16 and the AK-47.

Worldwide usage

World wide operators of the AK-47
World wide operators of the AK-47
World wide operators of the M16
World wide operators of the M16
Usage maps

Both weapons have seen extensive use by the nations of the world.

References

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Further information

  • "Tales of the gun: The AK-47", History Channel documentary
  • "Tales of the gun: The M-16", History Channel documentary
  • "Great Battles: AK-47 vs M16", Military Channel documentary
  • Lewis, Jack (2007). The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons. Gun Digest Books; 7 edition. p. 256. ISBN 978-0896894983. 

External links


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