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Mikhail Kalashnikov: Inventor of AK-47 Dies At 94 283

Posted by samzenpus
from the gone-away dept.
necro81 writes "Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, an arms designer for the Soviet Union, creator of the AK-47, passed away today at age 94. Kalashnikov was born a peasant and entered the Soviet Army as a conscript. However, the self-taught tinkerer had an aptitude that took him far. The AK-47, his best-known creation, was praised for its reliability and low cost; attributes that have made it the most successful firearm ever, seeing use in homeland defense, rebellion, terrorism, and untold massacres. The inventor was himself ambivalent about the uses his creation had seen, but was nevertheless proud of his contribution to his country, where he is praised as a hero."
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Mikhail Kalashnikov: Inventor of AK-47 Dies At 94

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  • by Chas (5144) on Monday December 23, 2013 @02:53PM (#45768505) Homepage Journal

    You can bury an AK-47 for a long period of time and it'll continue to remain operation after you dig it up.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Have to take your word for it I guess, afterall, the inventor already ceased operation so it is very hard to test. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest you would have been correct; even if he were still alive.

    • You can bury an AK-47 for a long period of time and it'll continue to remain operation after you dig it up.

      Two words: Zombie Kalashnikov.

    • It works (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know where I heard it but I think there is a saying in regards to the AK. "Its like a hammer, you pick it up, it works"

    • by mTor (18585) on Monday December 23, 2013 @05:35PM (#45769923)

      You can bury an AK-47 for a long period of time and it'll continue to remain operation after you dig it up.

      Absolutely true. Here's an AK that was buried for 18 years and was dug up:

      You can't kill an AK-47: Works after 18 years of being buried in ground [youtube.com]

  • In celebration (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval@NOSPam.gmail.com> on Monday December 23, 2013 @02:58PM (#45768553) Journal

    BUILD YOUR OWN!

    This is a steampunk variant.
    http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/politics-The%20Steampunk%20AK47.html [michaelzwilliamson.com]

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      As seen in this T-shirt: The Revolution Will Not Be Telegraphed [topatoco.com].

      OK, not really, but it should be!
  • by Chas (5144) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:01PM (#45768571) Homepage Journal

    Politics aside, Kalashnikov was something of a genius. Or at least a commonsense visionary.
    He only had access to relatively crude manufacturing processes and a basic idea of what he wanted.
    And he managed to turn out a product that is, by any stretch of the imagination, RIDICULOUSLY successful.
    Things that'd be considered weaknesses or defects in other weapons systems are some of the very things that are considered strengths in the Kalashnikov rifles.

    • by dmbasso (1052166)

      Things that'd be considered weaknesses or defects in other weapons systems are some of the very things that are considered strengths in the Kalashnikov rifles.

      Can you explain what you mean by that?

      • by FuegoFuerte (247200) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:18PM (#45768687)

        One good example is relatively sloppy tolerances - In most rifles, these are rather frowned upon, but it's also one of the reasons the AK can go through mud, snow, sand, etc. and keep firing. The loose tolerances keep it from running through hot, cold, lack of oil and cleaning, and other abuses long after most rifles (most certainly including the AR/M-16) have jammed up.

        In a general-issue military weapon, reliability is far more important than accuracy, so this tradeoff works well for the AK. It's not something you'd want in a hunting or sniper rifle, but for the intended purpose it works great.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:19PM (#45768699)

        Things that'd be considered weaknesses or defects in other weapons systems are some of the very things that are considered strengths in the Kalashnikov rifles.

        Can you explain what you mean by that?

        Cheap, stamped metal parts with loose tolerances that create inaccuracy at range, but allow for much rougher handling of the firearm as well as a higher tolerance for a lack of maintenance. Fill it with sand, water, or mud and it will still fire. To quote Lord of War (I love that opening sequence) "A weapon so simple a child could use it, and they often do". Essentially it is the perfect weapon for what it is: a firearm that untrained, uneducated civilians can pick up and fire (think of it in context of World War II, where Red Army training was not exactly the world's best).

        • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:45PM (#45768983)

          tolerances that create inaccuracy at range

          Frankly, I was impressed with the AK's accuracy at ~50yds for such a short barrel (I was probably shooting a milled version). A 4" group at 100 yds is still plenty deadly [wikipedia.org]. AK-47's are capable of shooting 3-5 inch groups at 100 yards, whereas the stamped AKMs are capable of shooting 4-6 inch groups at 100 yards

          • by ihtoit (3393327)

            Speaking as a rifle owner, it's as much, if not more, down to the skill of the shooter than the quality of the firearm.

            I cut my teeth on a .223 semi, and upgraded to a Browning Safari Mk. II .308 Winchester. Best move I ever made in powdercharge. Making the move to air was the second best move I ever made. Ammo is lighter, there's zero flash, and the discharge is a LOT quieter and comes with a LOT less kick. OK the ammo being lighter means that it might not cut it when war be declared, but damn, I can drop

      • by Spy Handler (822350) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:24PM (#45768741) Homepage Journal

        Loose tolerances of internal parts, usually only specified if manufacturing is really crappy. However Kalashnikov did this on purpose -- even though Russia had decent manufacturing capabilities -- knowing that this will lead to much greater reliability in the presence of dirt. American guns such as AR-15s are built to much more precise tolerances, and while they are more accurate than the AK, they are much less tolerant of sand/dirt/grime/powder residue. The AK's reliability is legendary.

        • by jamstar7 (694492) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:55PM (#45769083)

          Loose tolerances of internal parts, usually only specified if manufacturing is really crappy. However Kalashnikov did this on purpose -- even though Russia had decent manufacturing capabilities -- knowing that this will lead to much greater reliability in the presence of dirt. American guns such as AR-15s are built to much more precise tolerances, and while they are more accurate than the AK, they are much less tolerant of sand/dirt/grime/powder residue. The AK's reliability is legendary.

          You can usually get a 2 to 3 inch group at 150 meters with an AK and some training in its use. You'll get a 2 inch or less group with an M16/AR15 with the same amount of training. The big selling point of the AK is, only 8 moving parts. And yeah, the tolerances are sloppy as hell compared to the highly machined AR15, which has more moving parts. Less moving parts means less things can go wrong. Looser tolerances means it won't jam up when it gets dirty, and while regular cleaning is a Good Thing to keep it from wearing out, lack of cleaning WON'T stop it dead in its tracks like an AR15. They're ridiculously easy to make, easy to repair in the field, and they keep on shooting. Kalashnikov was a genius.

          • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:20PM (#45769349)

            Precisely! Kalashnikov realized (or at least correctly guessed) that accuracy is less important than reliability. US Army studies have shown that most engagements are within 50m, and that the primary determinant in victory is "number of bullets fired". This was part of their justification for moving from the M14 (essentially a magazine-fed M1 Garand with a useless full-auto hacked on) to the M16 - less power at range, less ability to kill in one shot, but capable of firing 30 rounds at automatic in a somewhat-controlled manner, rather than the "two round burst before it turns into an anti-aircraft gun" of the M14.

            The AK47 did it earlier, and arguably better, because it made more tradeoffs. The M16 was a good weapon in the lab, but early models in particular failed in the field (even today jams are extremely common after decades of improvement). Too bad for them, almost zero battles have taken place in military laboratories.

            The AK47 scored worse on any "benchmark" (for lack of a better term). Less accurate, slower firing, heavier, and so on. But because it's basically the most reliable (and cheap) assault rifle ever made, it's the weapon (or at least weapon design) of choice for almost everyone not wed to the NATO military-industrial complex. Even then, there's a reason there's AK-style weapons chambered in 5.56mm NATO. It's almost become the Linux of the assault-rifle world - you've got variants from the simple (the AK-74, the RPK, the Galil or the dozens of bullpup variants) to the crazy (the Saiga-12 shotgun, various Russian suppressed rifles, even a sniper rifle).

            Was Mikhail Kalashnikov a genius? I don't think so, because nothing about it was itself revolutionary, but he was a damn good engineer because he knew what the users actually needed and gave it to them, rather than letting marketing decide on which features to produce.

            • by rahvin112 (446269)

              Let me start of saying I like the AK, but frankly you are talking it up way beyond it's capabilities.

              It's a popular and widely used weapon worldwide for one reason and one reason alone. It's cheap. I can be had in black markets in Africa for less than $200 used, and when Ukraine offloaded it's stockpiles of old AK's to Russian arms merchants in the 90's there was a time period where you could buy them for $50. That puts them in the price range that even rural subsistence farmers can buy them. Because of the

      • by Deadstick (535032)

        The Kalashnikov is designed to loose manufacturing tolerances, instead of precision fits. That results in some loss of accuracy, which isn't a big problem because military small arms are seldom used for precision fire anyway...in return, it's easy to clean; it continues to work with an impressive amount of dirt and corrosion; and it's easy for a very lightly trained soldier to operate. It's also very cheap to manufacture.

        In other words, the ideal product for cashing in on Third World conflicts.

        • by jamstar7 (694492)

          The Kalashnikov is designed to loose manufacturing tolerances, instead of precision fits. That results in some loss of accuracy, which isn't a big problem because military small arms are seldom used for precision fire anyway...in return, it's easy to clean; it continues to work with an impressive amount of dirt and corrosion; and it's easy for a very lightly trained soldier to operate. It's also very cheap to manufacture.

          In other words, the ideal product for cashing in on Third World conflicts.

          Back in The Day, Soviet designers usually came up with two designs for any particular weapon system, the full tilt all the bells & whistles version and the stripped down idiot-proof 'export version' that they'd flood the Third World with. They'd make the damned thing work to prove the concept, THEN they'd rework it so it would stand up to indifferent maintanance at the hands of some Khazak mechanic without falling to pieces. A MiG, for example, would be made of cold rolled steel rather than spendy tit

          • by Deadstick (535032)

            the stripped down idiot-proof 'export version' that they'd flood the Third World with

            In reference to the Scud missile, they used a much less delicate term...

    • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:24PM (#45768735)

      Politics aside, Kalashnikov was something of a genius. Or at least a commonsense visionary.
      He only had access to relatively crude manufacturing processes and a basic idea of what he wanted.
      And he managed to turn out a product that is, by any stretch of the imagination, RIDICULOUSLY successful.
      Things that'd be considered weaknesses or defects in other weapons systems are some of the very things that are considered strengths in the Kalashnikov rifles.

      My favourite AK-47 related escapade ever, forge an AK-47 receiver out of an old shovel:
      http://www.northeastshooters.com/vbulletin/threads/179192-DIY-Shovel-AK-photo-tsunami-warning [northeastshooters.com]!

      Challenge: Do the same with a Colt M4 (and yes, it has to fire)

    • He only had access to relatively crude manufacturing processes and a basic idea of what he wanted.

      Oh, he knew exactly what he wanted: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StG_44 [wikipedia.org]

      The Germans didn't file an Intellectual Property lawsuit, for obvious reasons.

      • The only similarities is that the look roughly the same and both fire intermediate rounds. The article you link even mentions that mechanically they are very different.
        • The only similarities is that the look roughly the same and both fire intermediate rounds. The article you link even mentions that mechanically they are very different.

          The similarity you missed is that they perform about the same - the StG-44 was the first "assault rifle", the AK was intended to do what the StG did, never mind the differences in how the AK did it compared to the StG.

          • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:59PM (#45769667) Journal

            StG-44 was the first rifle produced en masse, but it was certainly not the first assault rifle produced or even used in battle. Avtomat Fedorova [wikipedia.org] is generally considered the first such thing - it was a fully automatic rifle, with detachable magazines, that used an intermediate round (6.5 Arisaka - which is only about 25% more powerful than 7.62x39).

            Also, if you read about the history of AK, it was never designed to "copy what StG did". In fact, the Soviets didn't truly understood the benefit of having a single universal infantry rifle even after the end of WW2, which is why they had two separate competitions, one for carbine (which SKS had won), and one for a "submachine gun" (which AK had won). That is also why the Russian word for assault rifle is "avtomat" - before AK, it was actually a word for submachine guns, e.g. PPSh was an avtomat; and so the competition in question was for a "new avtomat" - and so the winning Kalashnikov's design became "avtomat Kalashnikova".

            The only new thing there was that both carbine and SMG were supposed to be using the same round, the newly designed intermediate M43 (which, by the way, was designed before Soviets even saw StG 44), but that was largely for the sake of simplifying logistics. It took them almost another decade, both SKS and AK in service, to finally realize that AK can actually fill both niches just fine - which is what the "assault rifle" concept is really all about.

      • It's an old myth, actually. The STG-44 is more similar to the VZ-58 rifle that the Czechs used. And yes, VZ-58 and AK47 are very different despite the apperances.

        But to clarify the original topic: the similarities end when you put the two weapons apart (even putting apart is different). The locking systems between the AK and the StG44 are completely two different designs. The StG44 has a modular trigger pack design whereas the AK does not. The original AK47 had a machined receiver (although early prototypes

        • There is a good German documentary about Kalashnikov, that I need to watch again, titled "Automat Kalaschnikow": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0254151/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2 [imdb.com]

          I guess all the technical details you mentioned are probably in there. The film is really interesting to watch because it has interviews with the man himself. He comes across as a quite humorous fellow. When they it is announced during the filming that his pension has just been increased, he says, "Bring out the vodka!"

    • Guns don't kill people children behind the gun kill people.

      The AK matches the philosophy of it's designers country and the majority of those that adopted it: don't waste money on rifles when people themselves are cheap. Its crude but if you are training a bunch of troops for a warlord via a magazine of ammo and a few targets in a desert you don't exactly need the best tech because you aren't going to be getting the best troops either. Good enough that a idiot won't break it then lots of idiots that is the

      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        Guns don't kill people children behind the gun kill people.

        The AK matches the philosophy of it's designers country and the majority of those that adopted it: don't waste money on rifles when people themselves are cheap. Its crude but if you are training a bunch of troops for a warlord via a magazine of ammo and a few targets in a desert you don't exactly need the best tech because you aren't going to be getting the best troops either. Good enough that a idiot won't break it then lots of idiots that is the key to success.

        It was designed with the memory of the Battles of Stalingrad and Leningrad freshly in mind. An easy to manufacture battle rifle that would stand up in combat conditions with limited or nonexistant support. The design worked.

    • by savuporo (658486)

      What would modern Africa look like, if not for his great invention ?

  • by swschrad (312009) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:12PM (#45768651) Homepage Journal

    bringing down 72 helicopters, ten planes, and falling lead took out 200 weddings.

  • Kalashnikov's Legacy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:28PM (#45768797)

    "Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer ... I always wanted to construct agriculture machinery."
    --Mikhail Kalashnikov

    If not for the Nazis, he might have invented an inexpensive, reliable machine that helps feed people around the world. Russia in particular seems to frequently have issues with wheat due to drought and/or wildfires, and this has an impact on global food prices. But coming from a rural area he might never have been exposed to the resources needed to achieve his inventions. He might not have been in a position where anyone with those resources would take him seriously. Sometimes bad things happen and deflect our lives in directions other than those we intended, but sometimes that results in putting us right where we need to be. His conscription exposed him to complex machines he might never have worked with otherwise. His war wounds landed him in the hospital where he overheard others talking about what was wrong with the existing Russian rifles. His hospital stay gave him time away from his job as a tank commander to work on his designs. His first attempts at small arms design were rejected, but they got him noticed, and got him transferred out of the tank division to work on rifle design.

    I saw a bumper sticker on the freeway the other day that read: "Remember who you wanted to be." Kalashnikov was haunted by the fact that his design had become a symbol of war and terrorism, but the real tragedy of Kalashnikov's life is that AFAIK he never used his success in his unintended profession to go back and do what he really wanted.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      He lived in the Soviet Union. He either did what he was told or he would be sent to a Gulag. He could have been sent to a Gulag anyways.

      Short of defecting, he really didn't have much say in his own destiny.

      • He lived in the Soviet Union. He either did what he was told or he would be sent to a Gulag. He could have been sent to a Gulag anyways.

        Do you seriously believe that in the USSR, people were rounded up and told to go design guns at a gunpoint?

        The guy's biography makes it abundantly clear that he actually enjoyed firearm engineering. It's true that, in Stalin's USSR, not delivering on schedule could mean some nasty and personal consequences, but it doesn't mean that the guy hated his job.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by happyhamster (134378)

        You are a typical brainwashed Western idiot. There was much more to life in the Soviet Union than dictatorship. As a matter of fact, you had more freedom there as you did not need the money to get decent education, unlike the U.S. Poor but talented kids from the countryside would routinely come to big cities and enroll in major universities to have great careers.

        Before someone jumps up with "counterexample," I am sure you could dig up a few such cases in the U.S. These cases are few and far between, and req

    • by CheezburgerBrown . (3417019) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:33PM (#45769475)

      Implying the AK-47 is not an inexpensive, reliable machine that helps feed people?

  • I hear that, instead of the usual 21 gun salute, the crowd will just fire in the air on full automatic.

    Too soon?

  • There was never an assault riffle called "AK 47". There was only "AK" ( ). The suffix "47" (having nothing to do with either invention, or introduction to the red army) was given to it later on, when AK-74 (and that's their proper name) were introduced- they were, most significantly, using the smaller caliber ammo (5.45 mm vs 7.62 used by the older generation). And no, so callled "AK47" wasn't really good riffle- heavy, with a crap accuracy. It was (relatively) quickly replaced by AKM and AKMS.
  • by sandbagger (654585) on Monday December 23, 2013 @06:06PM (#45770107)

    Of course, one would then be presented with the image of men in ski masks with flags depicting cars behind them as they read their demands.

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