In a globally connected world, gun nuts of all types can ogle the latest and greatest firearms from anywhere in the world. Oddly, the world of Russian firearms seems to be one of the more mysterious. Beyond the cultural limitations created by the language barrier, the Russians seem to adopt and create new rifles all the time. By the time the a new rifle has finally made it to be the general issue weapon of the Russian armed forces, an even newer model has already made its way into production and usurped its rifle-supremacy. Trying to keep up with Russian rifle platforms just naturally led me down the rabbit hole all the way to their most recent general infantry rifle, the AK-12.
The AK-12 entered service in 2018 after a long production, testing, and prototyping phase. This latest rifle has already been delivered in the thousands to numerous Russian military units. The United States and the Russian military have always traded blows in terms of who could field the most potent modern infantry rifles. In 1947, the Soviet’s pulled ahead of us with the AK-47, but we quickly overtook them with various iterations of the modern M16, and ever since, they’ve been chasing us down.
The AK-12 represents the Russian military entrance into the realm of the modern carbine. Think of the AK-12 as a modernized variant of the AK 74 rifle. It’s very much a modern variant of the classic AK series, while adopting some of the modularity of the M4 to push the old design forward.
Breaking the AK-12 Down
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” could describe most AK variants. Inside the AK-12 lies the same long-stroke, gas-operated system that has long made the AK such a doll on the battlefield. It’s an effective close bolt, air-cooled system that’s not fancy, but it’s effective. The AK-12 also keeps the AK’s classic paddle magazine release, the right-side charging handle, and big safety.
At its core, it’s still just another AK series rifle. This is great for Russian forces because training between the two platforms will be identical. No one in the Russian infantry won’t know how to wield an AK-12 when they turn in their AK 74 series rifle for the latest gear. Predictably, the AK-12 also uses the same Russian 5.45x39mm ammunition as its AK 74 successor. While the rifles feature a lot of the same internals, the new AK-12 has some design changes worth noting.
AK-12 Internal Changes
First, interestingly enough, the gas block is now one piece with the front sight. This was a change we saw on some older short-barreled AKs in the 100 series rifles. The gas tube is also permanently attached to the gun.
Kalashnikov changed the fire controls to institute a 2 round burst, giving the soldier what’s essentially a button for ‘double taps.’ Russian soldiers will now have options for semi-auto, full auto, and 2 round burst. The 2 round burst concept was experimented with in the prototype AN-94 series rifle of yesteryear.
Burst functions complicate a trigger group and often degrade the trigger pull. Instead of a smooth trigger pull, you often get a heavier, grittier pull. This makes the 2-round burst an interesting change, since accuracy seemed to be a larger consideration with the AK series than in previous service weapons. A longer or more inconsistent trigger pull can negatively effect accuracy, especially at long ranges.
As part of that effort to improve accuracy, the AK-12 is the first AK series to feature a free-floated barrel. The handguard has no interaction with the barrel, and this traditionally improves accuracy in service rifles. Nothing the user does to the handguard of the rifle can influence the rifle’s zero, making it much more forgiving during the rigors of combat.
At the end of that barrel sits a muzzle device system that allows the user to remove or add accessories. Soldiers can add suppressors or muzzle brakes, depending on their mission profile.
Improving the AK’s Ergonomics
Kalashnikov outfitted the AK-12 with modern polymer furniture. The addition of a telescoping stock ensures the rifle can fit users of different sizes, much like the modern M4 stock. Users also have the option of a folding stock for storage and transport. A small compartment in the standard stock allows Russian soldiers to store a cleaning kit inside.
The old AK series famously features nub-like grips that are quite small. The modern polymer grip is much larger and more comfortable for users who measure in a bit bigger than manlet sized. Above it sits a slightly redesigned safety with a thumb notch that makes it easier to activate than on many previous AK platforms..
The AK-12 wears modern polymer handguards that accommodate Picatinny rails for mounting accessories like vertical grips, optics, lasers, lights, and more. The new handguard design keeps them tight to the gun, and this allows users to zero IR lasers more reliably for firing at night.
A loose handguard results in a lost zero with a laser. Since the handguard no longer touches the barrel, they tend to stay cooler as well. Full auto AK variants have been known to ignite or melt handguards when fired for a long periods of time in the past.
The new AK-12 magazine is polymer and textured for a good grip. It’s super modern and reminiscent of the Magpul AK magazines. The bevel cut on the bottom of the magazine is yet another change intended for improved long-range accuracy. It allows the AK to rest on the ground as a monopod, keeping the weapon stable when firing in the prone position..
Modern Sighting Solutions
The AK-12 dust cover has been turned into a sight mounting platform. A rail runs the length of the dust cover and provides plenty of room for optics. Previous incarnations of the AK made mounting optics on the dust cover problematic or worse. The old dust covers tended to be loose and rattled around, making zeroing practically impossible at times.
AKs used to utilize a side-mounted optic when an optic was necessary. The modern AK-12 dust cover eliminates the need for a side optic mount. Kalashnikov Concern mounts the top cover in a completely new way. It’s now tightly affixed to the rifle at the front and rear to remove slack and keep it stable.
In a very smart move, Kalashnikov Concern pushed the rear sight as far back as possible on the receiver. The new rear sight is also a peep sight versus the standard AK open sights. The increased sight radius and peep sights increase the shooter’s precision at more distant ranges.
What About Optics?
The U.S. Military has long fielded a variety of optics on their infantry rifles and Russian Special Operations troops are known to as well, leveraging a dizzying variety of side-mounted red dots and similar items on their AK rifles. Russian military forces at large field a variety of red dots, and it seems that the 1P87 Holographic Optic is the most common and popular among their conventional forces.
This holographic optic provides a rapid, close-quarter’s aiming option for combat purposes. It’s seemingly a tough optic and does feature an interesting reticle: a 60 MOA circle made of small dots. In the middle sits a dot, and below the dot is a hash mark.
The bottom hash mark provides a close-quarters zero for handling mechanical offset, and optics like this often work well out to 200 to 300 yards. Some Russian soldiers have been seen fielding an AK-12 with the 1P87 optic and the ZT310 magnifier, which provides a three-power magnified addition to the optic.
The Little Thunker
Russians have long fielded under-barrel grenade launchers, much like American forces. They utilize 40mm grenade launchers to provide a force multiplier for infantry encounters. Guys in my squad utilized the 40mm launchers quite well, and I imagine the Russians do the same.
They utilize the GP-34 mounted to the AK-12 rifles. These grenade launchers can put out fragmentation grenades, fragmentation bounding grenades, and smoke grenades. On top of that, there are CS gas grenades and baton grenades for less lethal applications.
How does the AK-12 stack up against the M4?
Is the AK-12 better than the M4? That’s a hard question to answer without looking at all the variables. It would take an entire article to discuss that. I think it’s obvious the M4 and M16 series of rifles lead the way for modern firearms design and stressed modularity as a concept. It’s clear the AK-12 took some inspiration from its western equivalent as a result. The AK-12 certainly helps professionalize the Russian military, and I’m expecting it to have a rather successful service life.