Kalashnikov Versus M-4
Since we began our studies with the AK-47 series of rifles, the question has been hanging in the air like smoke from a stale cigar. Which rifle is better? Which rifle would you choose? It is hard to answer such questions without running the risk of offending someone. We become very attached to our hardware sometimes, and that attachment increases with the dollar value we place on it.
However, to not look at this question, would be shirking responsibility to those who have asked me. I want to begin by saying I have no axe to grind with any weapon system. A gun is like a tool to me, not an heirloom. If it does not do the job it was intended for well, it is useless to me. Similarly, if there is a better tool that does the same job, I am not attached to any system irrevocably.
Lets look at what these rifles were intended for. First and foremost, they are bred for fighting. They were not designed for sport, nor hunting, nor anything else other than fighting. The concept began in WW2 with the German designed StG-44. Called the “Sturm Gewehr”, or storm gun, the StG-44 was years ahead of its time, and was battle proven in the crucible of the Eastern Front.
There were those who went against established doctrine and knew that the future of combat lay not in the long range engagements of WW1, but rather in close range fights as had been seen at the conclusion of the war in the European Theatre. These forward thinkers knew infantry engagements happened inside of 100 yards, and sought to provide weapons that provided the features needed to prevail in those environments. Namely light weight, capacity for high volume of fire, and an intermediate cartridge.
In the west, the Garand was exchanged for the M-14, and the FAL, both in 7.62x51. Weapons with characteristics similar to the Storm Gun, but firing a full size cartridge. On the other side of the world, Mikhail Kalashnikov developed the AK-47 series of rifles. To make a long story short, the nations of the west saw a need to embrace the Storm gun concept and an air crew survival rifle designed by Gene Stoner, called the Armalite AR-15, was adopted for use as a first line fighting rifle.
Today, partly due to marketing, and partly due to the demise of the liberal’s “Assault Weapon Ban”, we have two very prominent weapon systems available to the American public. On the one end, we have the AR-15/M4 rifles which have undergone a great deal of evolution since their first appearance. And on the other end, we have a plethora of Kalashnikov rifles made up here in the US by firms such as Arsenal, or put together by AK-smiths from US receivers and imported parts.
A head to head comparison is difficult because the weapons represent different fighting philosophies from two different nations. The M4 is an engineering marvel. It is precise as a stiletto. The Kalashnikov has been called a simpleton’s rifle more analogous to a tomahawk than a stiletto. But the question is which rifle will accomplish the mission better.
I am looking at the mission from the eyes of a private citizen. Both the AK and the AR have been proven on the battlefield, so the issue of whether they can serve a modern soldier well enough has been answered.
The private citizen will need a rifle for survival and defense in remote areas of the back country. Recently a student of mine who is also a miner related how his AK rifle had discouraged a group of illegal aliens from robbing him. Similarly a rifle will enhance the survivability in extreme situations such as riots (Los Angeles Korea Town), or during natural disasters (Katrina).
The private citizen needs a super reliable rifle that is not finicky about weather conditions, compact enough to go unseen by gun-grabbing authorities, carries enough ammo to make resupply a moot point, and is not disabled by rough handling. The cartridge should be able to have terminal effects on targets within reasonable distances and behind light cover. It should be able to punch through light cover such as automobiles.
So lets look at these points from the basis of the AR and AK.
Reliability under adverse weather conditions – The gas system of the AK is legendary, and sets the standard for reliability. The same cannot be said about the AR. We can debate how a particular AR may work without fail, but if we were to take a case of ammo and go off into the desert or swamp to shoot, and never clean the rifles, the AK would out distance the AR by a considerable margin. Will you be able to clean your rifle? I hope so. The main problem with the AR system is direct gas feed into the bolt carrier assembly causing greater degree of fouling. Will this be an issue if you can clean the rifle? I don’t think so, but theoretically the AK is more reliable with this.
Compact enough to hide – By now the excesses of certain law enforcement officers during the Katrina disaster have been well discussed. Suffice to say that in my opinion a private citizen now has to watch out for not only looters and criminals, but also for those “Us versus Them” types. The AK can be had in a variety of folding stock configurations where the total length of the folded stock rifle is approximately 25-26 inches. Such a rifle can be carried, “Cocked and Locked” so to speak, stock folded, in a camp Chair bag, or a similar sized container. Such a rifle is ready to use in an eye blink, yet concealed from view. The AR can be had with a collapsible stock, but excluding SBRs (short barreled rifles), it is considerably longer than the comparably folded AK. The AR can be broken down into two pieces to form a very compact package, but it is still just as long as the folded AK stock weapons, and now is not in a ready to use mode. If we can use such a word in regards to rifles, the AK is much more concealable than the AR.