I recently posted a review of the Arsenal SAM7SF forged and milled receiver AK on the Military Arms Channel. In reading through the comments section of the video I noticed a number of posters saying they would never pay over $1k for an AK regardless of the quality since AK’s are meant to be “cheap”.
I have never understood where this mindset evolved from. The AK, like most modern military weapons, was designed to be efficiently manufactured to save precious resources. The original AK47 was intended to be made mostly from stampings like the current AKM’s, however due to manufacturing issues the rifle went into mass production using a milled receiver until the kinks could be worked out of the stamping/welding processes.
Prior to the AK47 being designed, Nazi Germany had been perfecting stampings for use in the construction of military small arms throughout WWII. Other countries were also beginning to produce small arms constructed primarily from stampings including the U.S., England, Australia and others. The German MP40 sub-machine gun made use of stampings as did the MG-42. Then we have the grandfather of the modern assault rifle, the StG-44, which also made extensive use of stampings in its construction. Interestingly, most of these German made firearms had predecessors that were made mostly of machined components, but by wars end they had began using stampings for major components like the receiver.
I mention the use of stampings because I’m confident that the belief AK’s are “cheap” comes from their use of stampings for the construction of the receiver and other miscellaneous parts.
Now lets talk about the AR15. When this rifle hit the market in the 1960′s it was disparaged as being cheap and/or low quality by the firearms elite of the era due to its use of polymers and lightweight aluminum in its construction. The aluminum alloy and plastics were cheap and easy to work with, plus they were light weight. Eugene Stoner was all about keeping the price low and reducing the weight of the rifle, the same reasons stampings were used in the construction of other contemporary designs of the era.
Somehow the AR15 went from being viewed as a cheaply made, bare minimum quality rifle, intended for mass production in the 1960′s to now being seen as the gold standard for quality in modern military rifles. Ironically, nothing significant has changed in the construction of the major AR15/M16/M4 components over the years. The mil-spec standards established in the 1960′s are still applied to the current production rifles. The only thing that has changed is the way the rifle is viewed by modern shooters.
So why is it that many American shooters view the AR as a high quality rifle while viewing the AK as cheaply made junk? First, many will automatically equate stampings with low quality. However, the view that stampings make a rifle “cheap” isn’t applied evenly across the spectrum of modern military rifles. Take the HK91 (G3) as an example. Many who view the AK as being cheaply made see the HK 90 series of firearms as being high-quality and modern designs, despite the fact they’re made primarily of stampings. The Swiss made 550 is another rifle mostly constructed of low cost stampings, however you would be hard pressed to find anyone who will call it “cheap” or assert it’s poorly made. Then we have the SCAR, which people are more than happy to pay over $2k for, that features a low cost extruded alloy receiver and other major components fabricated from injection molded polymers.
The same people that deride the AK as being a cheap rifle that should never cost more than $400 will have no qualms about paying $1,500 to $2,500 for a “high quality” AR15 or one of the new plastic-fantastics like the SCAR or ACR. If you show them a rifle like the new SAM7SF AK, which is machined from forged steel (higher quality than any AR15 receiver I’ve seen in recent history) and features a fit and finish that would rival the best $1,500 AR15 on the market, they’ll scoff and tell you it’s a waste of money.
Making matters worse, many believe that the AK was designed for a poorly trained “peasant” army. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the Cold War the Russians maintained one of the best trained and equipped militaries in the world. To this day Russian military small arms are in high demand and are viewed as being among the best weapons available on the global small arms market. It’s only the hoity-toity American AR fans that seem to think the AK is little more than a low quality second class rifle.
I disagree with those that contend the AK is “cheap” or poorly made and firmly believe the AK is one of the best, if not the best, military service rifle of the 20th century at any price.