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M16 and AK-47 length comparison

M16 (top) and AK-47 (bottom) assault rifles.

The two most common assault rifles in the world are the Russian AK-47 and the American M16. These Cold War rivals have faced each other in conflicts both large and small since the early 1960s. They are used by military, police, security forces, revolutionaries, terrorists, criminals, and civilians alike. And, they will most likely continue to be used for decades to come. As a result, they have been the subject of endless controversy and countless comparisons. This article explores the history, philosophies and the issues behind these debates in a chronological, measure vs. countermeasure format.


HistoryEdit

The Germans were the first to pioneer the assault rifle concept, during WWII, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen within 400 meters and that contemporary rifles were over-powered for most small arms combat. The Germans sought to develop a select-fire intermediate powered rifle combining the firepower of a submachine gun with the accuracy and range of a rifle. This was done by shortening the standard 7.92x57mm cartridge to 7.92x33mm and giving it a lighter 125-grain bullet, that limited range but allowed for more controllable automatic fire. The result was the Sturmgewehr 44.

AK-47 type II Part DM-ST-89-01131

An AK-47 with machined receiver.

Like the Germans, the Soviets were influenced by experience showing most combat happens within 400 meters and that their soldiers were consistently outgunned by heavily armed German troops, especially those armed with the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles. The Soviets were so impressed with the StG. 44 that after WWII, they held a design competition to develop an assault rifle of their own. The winner was the AK-47. It was finalized, adopted, and entered widespread service in the Soviet Army in the early 1950s. Its firepower, ease of use, low production costs, and reliability was perfectly suited for the Red Army's new mobile warfare doctrines. The AK-47 was widely supplied or sold to nations allied with the USSR and the blueprints were shared with several friendly nations.
M16A1 brimob

An M16A1 with 30 round magazine.

The US Army was influenced by combat experience with semi-automatic weapons such as the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine, which enjoyed a significant advantage over enemies armed primarily with bolt-action rifles. Although US Army studies of WWII combat accounts had very similar results to that of the Germans and Soviets, the US Army maintained its traditional views and preference for powerful semi-automatic rifles.

After WWII, the United States military started looking for a single automatic rifle to replace the M1 Garand, M1/M2 Carbines, M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, M3 "Grease Gun", and Thompson submachine gun. Early experiments with select-fire versions of the M1 Garand proved disappointing. Also, combat experience suggested that the .30 Carbine round was underpowered. American weapons designers reached the same conclusion as the Soviets and Germans: an intermediate round was necessary, and recommended a small caliber, high velocity cartridge.

However, senior American commanders having faced fanatical enemies and experienced major logistical problems during WWII and Korea, insisted that a single powerful .30 caliber cartridge be developed, that could not only be used by the new automatic rifle, but by the new general purpose machine gun (GPMG) in concurrent development. This culminated in the development of the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge and the M14 Rifle which was basically an improved select-fire M1 Garand with a 20 round magazine. The US also adopted the M60 GPMG. Its NATO partners adopted the FN FAL and HK G3 rifles, as well as the FN MAG and Rheinmetall MG3 GPMGs.

The first confrontations between the AK-47 and the M14 came in the early part of the Vietnam War. Battlefield reports indicated that the M14 was uncontrollable in full-auto and that soldiers could not carry enough ammo to maintain fire superiority over the AK-47. A replacement was needed: A medium between the traditional preference for powerful accurate rifles such as the M14, and the lightweight firepower of the M2 Carbine.

As a result, the Army was forced to reconsider a 1957 request by General William G. Wyman, commander of the US Continental Army Command to develop a .223 caliber (5.56mm) select-fre rifle weighing 6 lbs when loaded with a 20-round magazine. The 5.56mm round had to penetrate a standard US helmet at 500 yds and retain a velocity in excess of the speed of sound, while matching or exceeding the wound ability of the .30 Carbine cartridge.

This request ultimately resulted in the development of a scaled-down version of the Armalite AR-10, called the AR-15 rifle. However, despite overwhelming evidence that the AR-15 could bring more firepower to bear than the M14, the Army opposed the adoption of the rifle. In Jan. 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concluded that the AR-15 was the superior weapon system and ordered a halt to M14 production. At the time, the AR-15 was the only rifle available that could fulfill the requirement of a universal infantry weapon for issue to all services. After modifcations, the new redesigned rifle was subsequently adopted as the M16.

Manufacturing philosophiesEdit

M16Edit

220px-AKMS and M16 DM-SN-82-07698

A US M16A1 rifle (top) is compared to a Soviet AKMS rifle.

The M16 was designed above all else to be a lightweight assault rifle, and to fire a new lightweight high velocity small caliber cartridge to allow the soldier to carry more ammunition. It was designed to be manufactured with the extensive use of aluminum and synthetic materials by state of the art Computer Numerical Control automated machinery.

At peak production, Colt's manufacturing capacity was approximately 333,000 units per year. The M16 continues to benefint from every advance in the CNC field, which allows more and more small manufactureres to mass produce M16s and semi-automatic AR-15 type rifles. The M16's aluminum receiver may be forged or cast, or made from a variety of other metallic alloys, composites, and polymers. If necessary, it can be machined from a billet of steel, and fitted with wooden furniture. This makes the M16 ideal for market economy production spread among many small manufacterers around the country, using a variety of materials and manufacturing methods; this ensures it would be nearly impossible to disrupt US M16 production in the case of a major conflict. The M16 is a Modular Weapons System. It is easy to assemble, modify and repair using a few simple hand tools, and a flat surface to work on.

As of 2012, the US military buys M4 Carbines for $673 (USD) per unit. Approximately 8 million M16 type rifles have been made world wide.

AK-47Edit

220px-AK-47 and M16 DM-SN-82-07699

A U.S. M16A1 rifle (top) is compared to a Soviet AKMS rifle. The two rifles are disassembled into groups.

The AK-47 was designed to be a simple, reliable automatic rifle that could be manufactured quickly and cheaply, using mass production methods that were state of the art in the Soviet Union during the late 1940s. The AK-47's barrel and bolt were milled out of a steel billet and hard chromed. Its receiver was originally designed to be stamped from sheet metal with a milled trunnion insert. However, early production receivers were milled in one piece. in 1959, the sheet metal stamping process was perfected, simplifying manufacture and reducing the weight of the rifle from 3.87 kg to 2.93 kg without magazine. The stock was simply made out of wook, which was a non-strategic material, and perfectly fits the Soviet manufacturing philosophy, where large manufacturing plants could manufacture basic weapons in very large quantities.

At peak production, Izhmash can produce around 95 units per hour. Over time, AK-47 descendents have been simplified through the use of spot welding and by further reducing the number of machined parts. Because of its stamped-steel design it is not possible to manufacture the AK-47 series efficiently in small plants, due to the large amount of metal stamping equipment needed for mass production. However, the milled-steel AK-47 has spawned a cottage industry of sorts and has been copied and manufactured (one gun at a time) in small shops around the world.

As of 2011, Izhmash sells the AK-103 at a government price of $150 to $160 per unit. There are places around the world where an AK-47 type rifle can be purchased on the Black Market for as little as $6, or traded for a chicken or sack of grain. Approximately 100 million AK-47 type rifles have been made worldwide.

Comparison of characteristicsEdit

Size and weightEdit

Fixed buttstock modelsEdit

A Vietnam era M16A1 has a 50.8 cm barrel, is 26.7 cm in height (with magazine), 99 cm long and weighs 3.6 kg with loaded 30 round magazine. The later models of the M16 weighed more than the original with the addition of heavier (and more accurate) barrels and more rugged components. The M16A2, for example, weighs 3.85 kg loaded. A loaded M16 aluminum magazine weighs .45 kg.

A Vietnam era AK-47 has a 41.5 cm barrel, is 26.7 cm in height (with magazine), 87 cm long and wights 4.78 kg with a loaded 30 round magazine. A loaded early Vietnam era slab-sided steel AK-47 magazine weighs .92 kg. The AK-47 versions in use today are of the lighter AKM variety and weigh 3.75 kg loaded. A loaded stamped-steel ribbed AKM magazine is also lighter and weighs .82 kg. A loaded current issue steel-reinforced plastic magazine is even lighter, weighing .74 kg.

Earlier versions of the AK-47 used wood furniture, the type and density of which causes the AK-47's weight to vary. Whereas, the M16 and current models of the AK-47 use synthetic materials, which have consistent weights.

Collapsible buttstock modelsEdit

A current issue M4 carbine (M16) has a 36.8 cm barrel, is 26.7 cm tall (with magazine), 83.8 cm long with the stock extended and 75.6 cm with the stock retracted. It weighs 3.33 kg with a loaded 30-round steel-reinforced plastic magazine weighing .74 kg.

A current issue AK-103 (AK-47) has a 41.5 cm barrel, is 26.7 cm in height (with magazine), 94.3 cm long with stock extended and 70.5 cm with the stock folded, and weighs 4.1 kg with a loaded 30-round steel-reinforced plastic magazine weighing .74 kg.

ControlsEdit

M16 AK-47
Fire selector
The fire selector is located on the left side of the rifle just above the pistol grip and is rotated by the shooter's right thumb. When the selector points forward = safe, up = semi-auto and backward = full-auto or burst. To use, the selector is rotated 90 degrees clockwise (down and forward) into the semi-auto position and then rotated an additional 90 degrees clockwise (forward and up) into the full-auto or burst position. To return to safe the selector is then rotated 180 degrees counter-clockwise (down, backward and up). Some M16 type rifles also have an ambidextrous fire selector on the right side of the receiver, designed to be operated by a left-handed shooter's thumb. This selector mirrors its opposite and functions as describe above. The fire selector is a large lever located on the right side of the rifle, it acts as a dust-cover and prevents the charging handle from being pulled fully to the rear when it is on safe. It is operated by the shooter's right fore-fingers and it has 3 settings: up = safe, center = full-auto and down = semi-auto. The reason for this is, under stress a soldier will push the selector lever down with considerable force bypassing the full-auto stage and setting the rifle to semi-auto. To set the AK-47 to full-auto requires the deliberate action of centering the selector lever. Some AK-47 type rifles also have a small vertical selector lever on the left side of the receiver just above the pistol grip. This lever is operated by the shooter's right thumb and has three settings: forward = safe, center = full-auto and backwards = semi-auto.
Charging handle
The charging handle is located on top of the receiver, below and to the rear of the rear-sight/carrying-handle. To chamber, simply insert a loaded magazine straight into the magazine well, then pull the cocking handle back and release. The charging handle is located on the right side of the receiver. To chamber, simply rock a loaded magazine into the magazine well in a forward to back motion, then pull the cocking handle back and release.
Magazine release
The magazine release is a push button, located on the right side of the receiver in front of the trigger. To reload, the magazine release is pushed in, the empty magazine falls out and a loaded magazine is then inserted straight into the magazine well. The magazine release is a lever located directly in front of the trigger. To reload push the magazine release lever forward, the empty magazine is removed and a loaded magazine is then rocked into the magazine well in a forward to back motion.
Bolt-stop/release
The bolt-stop/release is located on the left side of the receiver and the bolt-carrier-assembly locks back after the last shot. After reloading, the bolt-stop is pushed, the bolt-carrier-assembly is released, and the rifle is chambered and ready to fire. Does not have a bolt-stop/release and does not lock back on the last shot. After reloading, simply pull back and release the charging handle, and the rifle is chambered and ready to fire.
Forward-assist
The M16A1 and later models have a separate forward-assist on the right side to the rear of the receiver. To use...push it forward. The charging handle also acts as a forward assist. To use...push it forward.
Dust cover
Has a spring-loaded dust-cover, which opens when the rifle is fired or chambered. The dust-cover must be closed manually. The fire selector doubles as a dust-cover when set to "safe".

SightsEdit

The M16 has a 500mm sight radius. The M16 uses an L-type flip, aperture rear sight and it is adjustable with two settings, 0 to 300 meters, and 300 to 400 meters. The fromt sight is a post adjustable of elevation in the field. The rear sight can be adjusted in the field for windage. The sights can be adjusted with a bullet tip and soldiers are trained to zero their own rifles. The sight picture is the same as the M14, M1 Garand, M1 Carbine and the M1917 Enfield. The M16 also has a "Low Light Level Sight System", which includes a front sight post with a small glass vial of (glow in the dark) radioactive Tritium H3 and a larger aperture rear sight. The M16 cannot mount a scope on the carrying handle. With the advent of the M16A2, a new fully adjustable rear sight was added, allowing the rear sight to be dialed in for specific range settings between 300 and 800 meters and to allow windage adjustments without the need of a tool or cartridge. Modern versions of the M16 use a Picatinny rail which allows for the use of various scopes and sighting devices.

The AK-47 has a 378mm sight radius. The AK-47 uses a notched rear tangent iron sight, it is adjustable and is calibrated in hundreds from 100 to 800 meters. The front sight is a post adjustable for elevation in the field. Windage adjustment is done by the armory before issue. The "fixed" battle setting can be used for all ranges up to 300 meters. This "point blank range" setting allows the shooter to fire at close range targets withough adjusting the sights. Longer range settings are intended for area suppression. These settings mirror the Mosin Nagant and SKS rifles which the AK-47 replaced. Some AK type rifles have a front sight flip-up luminous dot that is calibrated at 50 meters, for improved night fighting. All current AK-47s (100 series) have a side rail for mounting a variety of scopes and sighting devices.









AmmunitionEdit

A brief comparison between cartridges reveals that the M16's lighter, higher-velocity 5.56x45mm cartridge has much better long range accuracy, and that the AK-47's heavier 7.62x39mm cartridge has much better penetration.


Rifle Cartridge Caliber Cartridge weight Bullet weight Velocity Energy Effective

range

Lethal

range

Maximum

range

Accuracy at 100 yards(10 shot group) Penetration
Ballistic gelatin @ 10 meters 4mm steel + layers Kevlar-29 Sandbags @ 100 meters 3/4" pine boards @ 100 meters
M16 M193 5.56×45mm 184 gr (11.9 g)

[10]

55 gr (3.6 g)

[6]

3,250 fps

(990 m/s) [6]

1,302 ft/lbs

(1,764 j) [6]

500 yds

(460 m) [9]

900 m

[10]

3000 yds

(2700 m) [10]

4.3 in (11 cm)

[10]

~15 inches

[11][85]

31 layers

[86]

4 inches

(complete bullet disintegration)[87]

8 boards

(bullet tumbled) [87]

AK-47 M43 7.62×39mm 255 gr (16.5 g)

[10]

122 gr (7.9 g)

[6]

2,330 fps

(710 m/s) [6]

1,468 ft/lbs

(1,991 j) [6]

380 yds

(350 m) [7] [8]

1500 m

[10]

2500 yds

(2300 m) [10]

5.9 in (15 cm)

[10]

~26 inches

[11][85]

33 layers

[86]

13 inches

[87]

19 boards

(bullet did not tumble) [87]

The M16 has always enjoyed a reputation for excellent accuracy. Its light recoil, high-velocity and flat trajectory allow shooters to take head shots out to 300 meters. In Fallujah, Marines with ACOG-equipped M16A4s created a stir by taking so many head shots that until the woulds were closely examined, some observers thought the insurgents had been executed. Whereas, the AK-47's accuracy has never been considered "good enough".

The newer M16 models are more accurate than their predecessors and are capable of shooting 1-3 inch groups at 100 yards. Curiously, the newer stamped steel receiver AKM models are actually less acurate than their predecessors. There are advantages and disadvantages in both forged/milled receivers and stamped receivers. Milled/Forged receivers are much more rigid, flexing less as the rifle is fired, thus not hindering accuracy as much as stamped receivers. Stamped receivers on the other hand are a bit more rugged since it has some give in it and have less chances of havine metal fatigue under heavy usage. As a result, the milled AK-47's are capable of shooting 3-5 inch groups at 100 yds, whereas the stamped AKM's are capable of shooting 4-6 inch groups at 100 yds.

The AK-47's heavier 7.62x39mm round has superior penetration when compared to the M16's lighter 5.56x45mm round and is better in circumstances where a solder has to shoot through heavy foliage, walls, or a common vehicle's metal body and into an opponent attempting to use these things for cover. The 7.62x39mm M43 projectile does not generally fragment and has an unusual tendency to remain intact even after making contact with bone. The 7.62x39mm round produces significant wounding in cases where the bullet tumbles in tissue, but produces relatively minor woulds in cases where the bullet exits before beginning to yaw. In the abscence of yaw, the M43 round can pencil through tissue with relatively little injury.

The original ammunition for the M16 was the 5.56x45mm M193 round. When fired from a 20" barrel at ranges of up to 100 meters, the thin-jacketed lead-cored round traveled fast enough (above 2900 fps) that the force of striking a human body would cause the round to yaw (tumble) and fragments into about a dozen pieces of various sizes thus created wounds that were out of proportion to its caliber. These wounds were much larger than those produced by an AK-47 and they were so devastation that many considered the M16 to be an inhumane weapon. As the 5.56mm round's velocity decreases, so does the number of fragments that it produces. The 5.56mm round does not normally fragment at distances beyond 200m or at velocities below 2500 ft/s, and its lethality becomes largely dependent on shot placement.

In March 1970, the US recommended that all NATO forces adopt the 5.56x45mm cartridge. This shift represented a change in the philosophy of the military's long held position about caliber size. By the middle of the 1970s, other armies were looking at M16-style weapons. A NATO standardization effort soon started and tests of various rounds were carried out starting in 1977. The US offered the 5.56x45mm M193 round, but there were concerns about its penetration in the face of the wider introduction of body armor. In the end the Belgian 5.56x45mm SS109 round was chosen (STANAG 4172) in October 1980. The SS109 round was based on the US cartridge but included a new, stronger, heavier, 62 grain bullet design, with better long range performance and improve penetration (specifically, to consistently penetrate the side of a steel helmet at 600 meters). Due to its design and lower muzzle velocity (about 3110 ft/s) the Belgian SS109 round is considered more humane because it is less likely to fragment than the US M193 round. The NATO 5.56x45mm standard ammunition produced for US forces is designated M855.

Most, if not all, of the 7.62x39mm ammunition found today is of the upgraded M67 variety. This variety deleted the steel insert, shifiting the center of gravity rearward, and allowing the projectile to destabilize (or yaw) at about 3.3 in, nearly 6.7 in earlier in tissue than the M43 round. There is now a relative parity between the wounding capacity of the M67 and the current M855 5.56x45mm round. However, there have been repeated and consistent reports of the M855's inability to wound effectively (i.e. fragment) when fired from the short barreled M4 carbine (even at close ranges). The M4's 14.5" barrel length reduces muzzle velocity to about 2900 ft/s. This reduced wounding ability is one reason that, despite the Army's transition to short-barrel M4's, the Marine Corps has decided to use the M16A4 with the 20" barrel as the 5.56x45mm M855 round is largely dependent upon high velocity in order to wound effectively.


The original ammunition for the M16 was the 5.56x45mm M193 round. When fired from a 20" barrel at ranges of up to 100 meters, the thin-jacketed lead-cored round traveled fast enough (above 2900 fps) that the force of striking a human body would cause the round to yaw (tumble) and fragments into about a dozen pieces of various sizes thus created wounds that were out of proportion to its caliber. These wounds were much larger than those produced by an AK-47 and they were so devastation that many considered the M16 to be an inhumane weapon. As the 5.56mm round's velocity decreases, so does the number of fragments that it produces. The 5.56mm round does not normally fragment at distances beyond 200m or at velocities below 2500 ft/s, and its lethality becomes largely dependent on shot placement.

In March 1970, the US recommended that all NATO forces adopt the 5.56x45mm cartridge. This shift represented a change in the philosophy of the military's long held position about caliber size. By the middle of the 1970s, other armies were looking at M16-style weapons. A NATO standardization effort soon started and tests of various rounds were carried out starting in 1977. The US offered the 5.56x45mm M193 round, but there were concerns about its penetration in the face of the wider introduction of body armor. In the end the Belgian 5.56x45mm SS109 round was chosen (STANAG 4172) in October 1980. The SS109 round was based on the US cartridge but included a new, stronger, heavier, 62 grain bullet design, with better long range performance and improve penetration (specifically, to consistently penetrate the side of a steel helmet at 600 meters). Due to its design and lower muzzle velocity (about 3110 ft/s) the Belgian SS109 round is considered more humane because it is less likely to fragment than the US M193 round. The NATO 5.56x45mm standard ammunition produced for US forces is designated M855.

Most, if not all, of the 7.62x39mm ammunition found today is of the upgraded M67 variety. This variety deleted the steel insert, shifiting the center of gravity rearward, and allowing the projectile to destabilize (or yaw) at about 3.3 in, nearly 6.7 in earlier in tissue than the M43 round. There is now a relative parity between the wounding capacity of the M67 and the current M855 5.56x45mm round. However, there have been repeated and consistent reports of the M855's inability to wound effectively (i.e. fragment) when fired from the short barreled M4 carbine (even at close ranges). The M4's 14.5" barrel length reduces muzzle velocity to about 2900 ft/s. This reduced wounding ability is one reason that, despite the Army's transition to short-barrel M4's, the Marine Corps has decided to use the M16A4 with the 20" barrel as the 5.56x45mm M855 round is largely dependent upon high velocity in order to wound effectively.

The US Army contended in 2003 that the lack of lethality of the 5.56x45mm was more of a perception than fact. With good shot placement to the head or chest, the target was usually defeated without issue. The majority of failures were the result of hitting the target in non-vital areas such as extremities. However, a minority of failures occured in spite of multiple hits to the chest. A study in 2006 found that 20% of soldiers using the M4 carbine wanted more lethality or stopping power. In June 2010, the US Army announced in began shipping its new 5.56mm lead free Enhanced Performance Round, the M855A1, to active combat zones. This upgrade is designed to maximize performance of the 5.56x45mm round, to improve penetration and to consistently fragment in soft-tissue when fired from the short-barreled M4 carbines and standard length M16s.

During the 1970s, the USSR developed the AK-74 and the 5.45x39mm cartridge, which has similar characteristics to the US 5.56x45mm cartridge, although it does not deform or fragment when striking soft tissue. A current AK-47 export variant, the AK-101, is chambered to fire the 5.56mm NATO cartridge.

FirepowerEdit

The single most limiting factor in terms of firepower is the amount of ammo that a soldier can carry. Assuming a maximum 10 kg ammo load...

A soldier armed with an AK-47 can carry 10 additional fully loaded 30 round steel magazines weighing a total of 9.2 kg and allow for an additional 300 rounds of ammo. Newer plastic AK magazines are lighter, weighing .74 kg loaded, allowing a soldier to carry 13 additional magazines weighing a total of 9.62 kg and allow for an additional 390 rounds of ammo. The AK-47 has a full-auto cyclic rate-of-fire of 600 rpm, a practical fire rate in full-auto of 150 rpm, and a practical rate of fire in semi-auto of 40 rpm.

A soldier armed with an M16 can carry 22 additional fully loaded 30 round steel magazines weighing a total of 9.9 kg and allow for an additional 660 rounds of ammo. The M16 has a full-auto cyclic rate of fire of 700-950 rpm, a practical RoF of 150 rpm, and a practical RoF in semi-automatic mode of 45 rpm. The current issue M16a4 and M4 carbine have a practical RoF of 90 rpm in 3-round-burst.

Both the AK-47 and the 16 will overheat fairly quickly under normal combat conditions and have a sustained rate of fire as low as 12 to 15 rounds per minute (about the same as a bolt-action rifle.)

Additional firepowerEdit

All current M16 rifle types are capable of launching NATO STANAG-type 22mm rifle grenades from their integral flash hiders withough the use of an adapter. These 22mm rifle grenade types range from powerful anti-tank rounds to simple finned tupes with a fragmentation hand grenade attached to the end. The "standard" type rifle grenade is propelled by a blank cartridge inserted into the chamber of the rifle. The "bullet trap" and "shoot through" types, as their names imply, use live ammunition. The US military does not generally use rifle grenades, hoewver they are used by other nations.

Some AK-47 type rifles like the Zastava M70 are also capable of launching rifle grenades and have a grenade-launching ladder-type sight and gas cut-off, attached to the front end of the gas cylinder and coupled to the gas regulator. To launch rifle grenades, a 22mm adapter is screwed on in place of the slant brake or other muzzle device.

The AK-47 can mount a (rarely used) cup-type grenade launcher that fires the standard RGD-5 Soviet hand grenade. The soup-can shaped launcher is screwed onto the AK-47's muzzle. To fire, first insert a standard RGD-5 hand grenade into the launcher and then remove the safety pin. Second, insert a special blank cartridge into the rifle's chamber. Third, place the butt-stock of the rifle on the ground and fire from this position. The maximum effective range is approximately 150 meters. The M16 has a similar device used to launch tear-gas grenades.

All current model M16 and AK-47 rifles can mount underbarrel grenade launchers such as the M203, M320, and AG36 in the case of the M16, and the GP-25, GP-30, and GP-34 for the AK-47. The M16 can also mount under-barrel 12 guage shotguns such as the KAC Masterkey or the M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System.

All of these grenades, launchers and shotguns add additional bulk and weight to the soldier's war-load and as a result, they reduce the amount of rifle ammunition that soldiers can carry. For exapmle, a modern French AC58 "bullet trap" rifle grenade is 380mm long and weighs .5 kg, the equivalent of a loaded M16 magazine. An M203 grenade launcher adds 1.4 kg to an M16's weight, and 40x46mm High Explosive (HE) grenades weigh .24 kg, about half the weight of a loaded M16 magazine.

RecoilEdit

With the proper mindset, training, and practice, soldiers armed with both the AK-47 and M16 are quite deadly. The M16's straight-line recoil design, direct-impingement gas operation system and smaller caliber gives it less recoil than the AK-47 and makes it easier to control in full-auto. The M16's straight-line recoil design, where the recoil spring is located in the stock directly behind the action, and serves the dual function of operating spring and recoil buffer. The stock being in line with the bore also reduces muzzle rise, especially during automatic fire. Because recoil does not significantly shift the point of aim, faster follow-up shots are possible and user fatigue is reduced. However, the AK-47's heavier weight and slower rate of fire do a good job at mitigating any disadvantage. In addition, newer AK-47 type rifles use a muzzle brake or compensator to reduce recoil. And, some AK type rifles also have vertical foregrips to improve handling characteristics and to counter the effects of recoil.


Free Recoil
M16 AK-47
momentum 40.4 ft-lbs 54.3 ft-lbs
velocity 5.1 fps 5.2 fps
energy 3.2 ft-lbs 4.4 ft-lbs

Notes: Free Recoil is a mathematical equation calculated by taking the rifle weight, bullet weight, muzzle velocity, and charge weight. It is that which would be measured if the rifle were fired suspended from strings, free to recoil. As mentioned above, a rifle's percieved recoil is also dependent on many other factors which are not readily quantified.

AccessoriesEdit

SOPMOD 2-2005

M4 Modular Weapons System shown with various accessories

Neither the M16 nor AK-47 were designed to mount accessories, except of course their respective bayonets and a simple clamp type bipod for the M16. However, with the advent of the Picatinny rail and by sheer happenstance, the M16 has proven itself to be a remarkably adaptable weapons system, capable of mounting a wide range of accessores. The AK-47 can also use Picatinny rail mounted accessores, although its design and smaller fore-stock make it less adaptable.
220px-Afghan border police aiming a weapon

Afghan border police aiming an AK-47 type rifle with Picatinny rails, holographic sight and foregrip.

In addition, the M16 is "the Swiss Army knife of rifles", a modular weapon system whose components can be arranged in a variety of different configurations. For example, an M16A2 with its standard iron sights and a standard fore-stock can be easily converted, in a matter of seconds and without the use of tools to an M16A4 with Picatinny rails, optical sights and a variety of accessories, simply by pushing in two pins, removing the A2 upper receiver/barrel and replacing with with an A4 upper receiver/barrel. Or, an M16A4 rifle can be converted to an M4 carbine in a few minutes by replacing the upper receiver/barrel and using simple hand tools to replace the fixed buttstock with a telescoping buttstock. As such, the M16 can be easily converted into different calibers and different types of weapons. The AK-47 has no such capability.

ReliabilityEdit

The AK-47 has always enjoyed a reputation of rugged reliability. It is long-stoke gas operated, using the gas from the barrel to push a piston attached to the bolt carrier, thus operating the action. The gas tube is fairly large and is visible above the barrel with points or vents to allow the excess "dirty" gas to escape without affecting the action. The AK-47 is often built with generous clearances, allowing it to function easily in a dirty environment with little or no maintenance. This makes it reliable but less accurate. It is very simple to disassemble and clean, and easy to maintain.

The M16 uses a direct impingement (DI) gas system, similar to normal gas operation in principle, but unique in operation. The gas is sent from the barrel, through the gas tube, directly to the inside of the receiver so it can push on the bolt carrier itself. This means that the gas alone impinges upon the bolt carrier. This design is much lighter and more compact than a gas-piston design. However, this design requires that combustion byproducts from the discharged cartridge be blown into the receiver as well. This quickly accumulating carbon and vaporized metal build-up within the receiver and bolt-carrier negatively affects reliability and necessitates more intensive maintenance on the part of the individual soldier. The DI operation increases the amount of heat that is deposited in the receiver while firing the M16 and causes essential lubricant to be burned off. This requires frequent and generous applications of appropriate lubricant. Lack of proper lubrication is the most common source of weapon stoppages or jams.

The original M16 fared poorly in the jungles of Vietnam and was infamous for reliability problems in the harsh enviroment. As a result, it became the target of a Congressional investigation. The investigation found that:

  1. The M16 was billed as self-cleaning (when no weapon is or ever has been).
  2. The M16 was issued to troops without cleaning kits or instructions on how to clean the rifle.
  3. The M16 and 5.56x45mm cartridge was tested and approved with the use of a DuPont IMR8208M stick powder, that was switched to Olin Mathieson WC846 ball powder which produced much more fouling, that quickly jammed the action of the M16 (unless the gun was cleaned well and often).
  4. The M16 lacked a forward assist (rendering the rifle inoperable when jammed).
  5. The M16 lacked a chromed barrel and chamber, causing a corrosion problem, contributed to case swelling and extraction failures.

When these issues were addressed and corrected by the M16A1, the reliability problems decreased greatly. According to a February 1968 Department of Defense report, the M16A1 rifle achieved widespread acceptance by US troops in Vietnam. Only 38 of 2100 individuals quieried wanted to replace the M16A1 with another weapon. Of these 38, 35 wanted the CAR-15 (a shortened version of the M16) instead.

MagazinesEdit

The AK-47's 30-round magazines have a pronounced curve that allows them to feed ammunition into the chamber. Their heavy steel construction combined with "feed lips" (the surfaces at the top of the magazine that control the angle at which the cartridge enters the chamber) machined from a single steel billet makes them highly resistent to damage. These magazines are so strong that soldiers have been known to use their mags as hammers, and even bottle openers. This makes the AK-47 magazine more reliable, although heavier than NATO and US magazines. The early slab-sided steel AK-47 magazines weigh .43 kg empty. The later steel AKM magazines had lighter sheet-metal bodies, with prominent reinforcing ribs weighing .33 kg empty. The current issue steel reinforced plastic magazines are even lighter, weighing .25 kg empty.

The M16's magazine was meant to be lightweight and disposable. As such, it is made of pressed/stamped aluminum and was not designed to be durable. Therefore, it is easier to damage than the AK-47 magazine, and the feed lips are proportionally weaker when compared to the AK-47. The M16 originally used a 20-round magazine which was replaced by a bent 30-round design. As a result, the magazine follower tends to rock or tilt, causing malfunctions. In 2009, the US Military began fielding an "improved magazine" identified by a tan-colored follower. Standard USGI aluminum M16 magazines weigh .11 kg empty and are 7.1 in long. The newer plastic magazines are about a half inch longer. And, the newer steel magazines are about a half inch longer and 4 ounces heavier.

Service lifeEdit

The AK-47 has a service life of approximaely 6,000 to 15,000 rounds. The AK-47 was designed to be a cheap, simple, easy to manufacture assault rifle, perfectly matching Soviet military doctrine that treats equipment, weapons, and soldiers as disposable items. As units are often deployed without logistical support and dependent on "battlefield cannibalization" for resupply, it is actually more cost-effective to replace rather than repair weapons.

The M16's barrel life is approximately 20,000 to 50,000 rounds depending on the intensity of use. A badly worn M16 barrel will cause the bullets to tumble in flight. However, the M16's upper receiver/barrel may be swapped out in a matter of seconds, without the use of tools, simply by pushing out two pins. The M16 was designed to be a serviceable assault rifle, perfectly matching American military doctrine where units are resupplied on a continuous basis and are expected to perform most of their own maintenance and repairs in the field. As such, American units are well supplied and are quickly provided with whatever spare parts they need by their logistical support systems.

Both the AK-47 and the M16 have small parts and springs that need to be replaced every few thousand rounds.

MiscellaneousEdit

M16 AK-47
Technical
Chamber pressure: 52,000 psi Chamber pressure: 50,000 psi
Trigger: pull weight 5.5# – 9.0#, creep .04” -.05”, mechanical energy .22”# - .45”# Trigger: pull weight 3.0# – 7.0#, creep .15”, mechanical energy .45”# - 1.05”#
Rifling: early models have 4 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 355.6 mm (14 inches); later models have 6 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 304.8 mm (12 inches); current models have 6 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 177.8 mm (7 inches) Rifling: 4 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 235 mm (9.25 inches)
Features
Flash-hider or flash-suppressor. Current M16 flash-suppressors also act as compensators. No flash-hider. However, all AKM and current AK models have a simple slant-type muzzle-brake or compensator.
Can mount several types of silencers and sound suppressors Can mount PBS-1 silencer (sound suppresser)
Carrying-handle. No carrying-handle.
Older M16's had a plastic cartridge deflector attachment that is mounted in the carrying handle for left handed shooters. Current M16's have a cartridge deflector bump built into the upper receiver. No need for cartridge deflector
Synthetic furniture which is more durable than wood. Wood furniture which can break, split, crack and rot. Later model AK's use synthetic furniture.
Large storage compartment in the buttstock that holds the rifle's cleaning kit (or anything else that will fit inside). Small storage compartment in the buttstock that only holds the rifle's cleaning kit capsule.
Cleaning rod is located in the buttstock (or wherever else the soldier put it), and it cannot be easily reached and assembled if needed to clear a malfunction. Cleaning rod is located below the barrel and can be easily reached if needed to clear a malfunction.
Trigger-guard can be lowered to allow the trigger to be pulled while wearing winter mittens. The trigger-guard is fixed and “does not lend itself well to trigger operation wearing heavy gloves.”
Can be disassembled into upper and lower halves, shortening the overall length for ease of storage and transport.
Bolt carrier group is small enough that an extra group can be carried as a back-up. If necessary a malfunctioning group can be quickly and easily removed, and replaced.
Shortcomings
Early model M16 barrels could bend under rough handling or while firing as the barrel overheats.
Early model M16 furniture could be damaged by rough handing.
Receiver top-cover may fall off under rough handling or while firing.
The exposed gas cylinder is easily dented by rough handling, sometimes causing malfunctions.
Small poorly-insulated fore-stock that overheats quickly making the AK hard to handle.The wooden fore-stocks have been known to catch fire if magazines are shot quickly enough on full-auto. Although, some AK type rifles also have vertical foregrips which are further away from the barrel than a standard forestock, and are therefore cooler to the touch making the AK easier to handle as it overheats.
Variants
Variants with shorten barrels and telescoping buttstocks. Variants with shorten barrels and folding buttstocks.
Currently made in 5.56×45mm NATO and 6.8x43 SPC caliber. Currently made in three calibers: the AK-103/AK-104 in 7.62×39mm, the AK-74M/AK-105 in 5.45×39mm and the AK-101/AK-102 in 5.56×45mm NATO.
Has a smaller 9mm, closed bolt, blowback operated, submachine gun version called the Colt SMG. Has smaller 9mm, submachine gun versions called the Vityaz-SN. and the Bizon.
Has a open-bolt light machinegun version called the Colt Light Machine Gunith a heavier barrel and integrated bipod. It has a distinctive squared shaped hand-guard with forward pistol grip and carrying handle. It can also use larger MWG 90-round "snail drum" and 100 round Beta C-Mag Has a closed-bolt light machinegun version called the RPK with a stronger receiver, longer heavier barrel, an attached bipod and can use larger 75 round drum magazines.
Has 7.62×51mm sniper rifle versions; SR-25 and M110. Has 7.62×54mm, 7.62×51mm and 7.92×57mm sniper rifle versions: PSL, M76, M91, Galatz and SR-99.
Has shotgun versions; the Saiga-12 and KSK[210]
Additional
Sound level: for shooter = 155 (dB)
Sound level: 1 m to side = 163 (dB)
Sound level: 10 m to side = 141 (dB)
Sound level: for shooter = 159 (dB)
Sound level: 1 m to side = 163 (dB)
Sound level: 10 m to side = 141 (dB)
The M7 bayonet is based on earlier designs such as the M4, M5, & M6 bayonets. All of which are direct descendants of the M3 Fighting Knife and have spear-point blade with a half sharpened secondary edge. The newer M9 bayonet has a clip-point blade with sawteeth along the spine, and can be used as a multi-purpose knife and wire-cutter when combined with its scabbard. The current USMC OKC-3S bayonet bears a resemblance to the Marines' iconic Ka-Bar fighting knife with serrations near the handle. The AK-47 has an adequate unremarkable bayonet. However, the AKM Type I bayonet (introduced in 1959) was a revolutionary design. It has a Bowie style (clip-point) blade with sawteeth along the spine, and can be used as a multi-purpose knife and wire-cutter when combined with it's steel scabbard.[This designed was copied by other Nations and formed the basis of the US M9 bayonet. The AK-74 bayonet (introduced in 1983) represents a further refinement of the AKM bayonet. "It introduced a radical blade cross-section, that has a flat milled on one side near the edge and a corresponding flat milled on the opposite side near the false edge.The blade has a new spear point and an improved one-piece molded plastic grip making it a more effective fighting knife.. It also has saw-teeth on the false edge and the usual hole for use as a wire-cutter..Some Chinese AK type rifles include an integral folding spike bayonet.
Magazine has become the unofficial NATOSTANAG magazine and is currently used by many Western Nations, in numerous weapon systems.
Can mount the M234 Riot Control Launcher which uses a blank cartridge to launch 64mm Ring Airfoil Projectiles.

Rifle evaluations studyEdit

The following summary has been taken directly from the "Rifle Evaluation Study"-US Army.

Note: This is the first time the US Army has compared the AR-15/M16 to the AK-47.


From Rifle Evaluation Study, United States Army, Combat Development Command, ADA046961, 20 Dec 1962.[4]
Factor AR-15 M14 AK-47
Length Superior Acceptable Superior
Weight Superior Acceptable Acceptable
Weight with bipod Superior Unacceptable None
Reliability Unacceptable Superior Acceptable
Durability Acceptable Superior Unknown
Maintenance Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Position disclosure effect Acceptable Acceptable Unacceptable
Grenade launching capability Unacceptable Unacceptable None
Ease of handling Superior Acceptable Superior
Provision for bayonet Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Combat firing Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable
Night firing capability Unacceptable Acceptable Unknown
Ammo weight Superior Acceptable Acceptable
Automatic rifle mode
0–100 m Superior Unacceptable Superior
100–400 m Superior Unacceptable Unacceptable
400–600 m Acceptable Unacceptable Unacceptable
Semiautomatic fire
0–400 m Superior Acceptable Unacceptable
400–600 m Acceptable Superior Unacceptable
Penetration: Helmets
0–400 m Acceptable Superior Acceptable
400–600 m Unacceptable Superior Unacceptable
Penetration: Vests
0–400 m Acceptable Superior Acceptable
400–600 m Acceptable Superior Unacceptable

Night firingEdit

The AR-15 was not equipped with any flash suppressor during the conduct of this test. Also, there was only a small amount of ammunition available for the AK-47. As a result, the night firing capability of both the AR-15 and AK-47 were not properly tested. In a subsequent test at Fort Benning an AR-15 equipped with a flash suppressor was tested against both the M14 and the AK-47. The AK-47 was not equipped with a flash suppressor.


From "Rifle Evaluation Study", United States Army Infantry Combat Developments Agency ADA050268, 10 Dec 1962
Method Range (m)
AR-15 M14 AK-47
Unaided eye 75-100 100-125 225-250
6x30 binoculars 200-225 225-250 350-375
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