Why the AK-47 is the World’s Most Feared Firearm (75 Million Guns in Nearly 100 Nations)

Blake Franko

Security, Asia

There is nothing like it. 

Why the AK-47 is the World’s Most Feared Firearm (75 Million Guns in Nearly 100 Nations)

The AK first saw widespread military use in Vietnam. American soldiers saw its effectiveness firsthand, as farmers armed with the rifle proved a tenacious foe. Washington would take this experience to heart and go on to design the AR-15 (what would become the M-16) with such lessons in mind. In doing so, the United States ended up arming its troops with a rifle that was lighter and capable of suppressing fire as well. In effect, America was saying goodbye to large-caliber rifles like the M-14 as standard infantry rifles, moving closer to the Soviet model. The reach of the AK and weapons inspired by it would go on to provide the fuel for much of the violent encounters of the Cold War.

Last year, fighters from the Free Syrian Army ran American special-operations forces out of a town near the Turkish border, hurling insults like “infidels,” “crusaders,” “dogs” and “pigs.” These fighters, who are actively benefiting from U.S. support, brandished the most recognizable gun of all time, the Kalashnikov. The power of this image cannot be understated.

Thanks in no small part to the film, television and video-game industries, most people associate the AK-47 with tyrannical terrorists, depraved drug cartels and rabid rebels. Indeed, the high profile use of Kalashnikovs in the Dallas police shooting and the Islamic State’s Paris attack reinforces this link. Originally built for the Soviet Army and as a tool for spreading communism around the globe, there are now over 75 million Kalashnikovs and variants in circulation, produced by nearly one hundred nations. The rifle is easy to produce, easy to use and reliable, which makes it so effective at. The AK has made its mark on countless conflicts on nearly every continent. The story of this weapon is one of battlefield utility, market saturation and ill-advised arms shipments.

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To understand how the AK became as important as it is, ones must revisit the context in which it was designed. Mikhail Kalashnikov incorporated lessons learned from the Second World War in creating his namesake. During the war, the Soviets found that the intermediate…

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