AK-47 OPERATOR - THE SAFETY
I taught a Rifle course in Texas a few years ago and all attendees except for four men were using one or another version of the AR-15. Of the non-AR students we had two lawyers with Kalashnikovs. And they did fairly well with them, giving nothing up to the more refined and expensive AR-15/M4 rifles. Often after a firing drill, one of them would jokingly point out that when 10 million ignorant peasants prefer the AK, they can't be wrong. indeed!
The AK series of rifles is a very interesting animal. It is compared to the AR/M4 series rifles as a battle axe is compared to a rapier. In my ever-so-humble opinion, the Kalashnikov rifle can sustain more abuse and more damage (while remaining operational) than the AR-15. Its manual of arms can be made very simple. And with the availability of high quality ammunition, it can give any M4 a run for its money.
Most recently we see the AK in the hands of american "contractors" in the middle east. In the last few years I, and many of my colleagues, have been asked about developing a manual of arms and a teaching package for the AK series. Our friend Paul Gomez of OPS has done quite a bit of work in that respect and we expect a book on the subject from him very soon.
One of the immediate things noted by an AR-trained operator using the AK for the first time is simply that it does not work like an AR. The charging handle, magazine release, and perhaps most importantly, the safety are all in different places than on the AR. A mistake, and in my opinion it is definitely a mistake, often made by trainers is attempting to force AR-15 manual of arms onto the AK platform. Some guys go as far as to customize the AK to conform to AR-15 manipulation norms. Perhaps, rather than dragging the horse into a field he does not belong, we would be better served by looking at this weapon with a fresh eye and learning to use it in its as-issued state.
I spent a few weeks with the weapon and noted some things that seemed obvious to me. I have many contacts around the world and solicited their help in one particular point - the manipulation of the safety. I spoke (over the internet) with former military personnel from Finland and the Russian countries with regards to the safety. This is what they told me:
The weapon is carried to the fight, or administratively, with the safety ON. As soon as a contact is made, or an ambush is set, the safety is disengaged to OFF. The weapon remains with the safety OFF until business is concluded, relying on trigger finger discipline. Once the fight is over, the safety is re-engaged to ON.
It is interesting to note that the first step in disengaging the safety puts it at full auto on a true AK, but that is food for another article. Immediately missing, we see is the American notion of muzzle up-safety off, muzzle down-safety on. This is easily done with a 1911 or an AR-15, but a moot point with a Glock and difficult at best with an AK.
The arguement against this method is that teammates will shoot themselves and their partners. Well, I suppose that can be a problem, but do we then eschew the Glock and label it "unsafe" because of its inability to be "safed"? Hardly. I asked my contacts about unintentional shots as a result of weapons handled in this manner. They said they were not aware of any such incidences. Hmmmm.
Many of my contacts working with AKs in Irq and other places tell me that is the way they handle their AKs.
While this is not intended as an arguement about the use of a safety lever, the issue will come up in this discussion. One school says to always use the safety and that any weapon that cannot be operated as an AR-15/1911 is unsatisfactory. Well, I differ on that point. Another arguement is that special operations people must use a manual safety lest they commit fratricide and shoot a teammate. I differ on that point as well. I can point out to my own SWAT days, and to the training we received from the most experienced entry team in the country (LASD-SEB). Their, and subsequently our, SOP with regards to the safety levers on the MP5 was to move the safety/selector lever to full auto "in the stack" and remain on full auto until the event concluded. None of our guys ever shot anyone but the bad guy. My Finnish and Russian contacts reported the same thing. Double - Hmmmm.
While a spec-ops guy might be tempted to say that mere cop work pales in comparison to spec-ops work, I would submit that going through a door to get in a gunfight with armed men is the same in Los Angeles, Medellin, Brussels, or Baghdad, and rather than denigrate what brave men do when the time comes, we should look at the problem with an honest eye. I would humbly submit that these incidents of good guy shooting good guy may be as a result of excessively risky tactics, separating elements, and things other than mere the safety manipulation issue. If an event of good guys shooting good guys occurred, that Off Safe rifle merely contributed to a tactical situation that had gone wrong from the start. The arguement will remain, and one will have to do what he feels best with, but those are my two cents on the issue.
Try this on the range with your AK. At Ready leave your thumb around the pistol grip, but extend the fingers toward the safety lever shelf. As you raise the rifle, lower the fingers. This should get the safety lever clear and the weapon ready to fire. Once the event is concluded, reverse the procedure.