Comparison of the AK-47 and M16

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M16 and AK-47 length comparison.png
M16 (top) and AK-47 (bottom) assault rifles
Firearm AK-47 M16A1
Manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash)[1] ArmaLite, Colt, GM, H&R, FN, Remington[2][3]
Design year 1947 1957
Weight (with loaded 30-round magazine) 4.78 kg (10.5 lb)[4][5] 3.6 kg (7.9 lb)[6]
Overall length 87.0 cm (34.3 in) 99.0 cm (39.0 in)
Barrel length 40.6 cm (16.0 in) 50.8 cm (20.0 in)
Height (with magazine) 26.7 cm (10.5 in) 26.7 cm (10.5 in)
Sight radius 37.8 cm (14.9 in) 50.0 cm (19.7 in)
Cartridge (M43) 7.62x39mm (M193) 5.56x45mm
Bullet weight 122 gr
(7.9 g)[7]
55 gr
(3.6 g)[7]
Velocity 2,330 fps
(710 m/s)[7]
3,250 fps
(990 m/s)[7]
Energy 1,469 ft.lbs
(1,991 j)[7]
1,302 ft.lbs
(1,764 j)[7]
Effective range 380 yd (350 m)[8][9] 500 yd (460 m)[10]
Accuracy @ 100 meters 5.9 in
(15 cm)[11]
4.3 in
(11 cm)[11]
Penetration (ballistic Gelatin) ~29 in (74 cm)[12][13] ~14 in (36 cm)[12]
Rate of fire 600 rounds/min[14] 700–950 rounds/min[15]
Standard magazine capacity 30 rounds 30 rounds
Designer Mikhail Kalashnikov Eugene Stoner
Numbers made ~100 million AK-47 type rifles[16][17] ~8 million M16 type rifles[18]
Government price (USD) $150 to $160 per unit for a new AK-103
[19]
$673 per unit for a new M4A1[20]

The two most common assault rifles in the world are the Russian AK-47 and the American M16.[21][22] These Cold War era rifles 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 will most likely continue to be used for decades to come.[23][24] As a result, they have been the subject of countless comparisons and endless debate.[5][25][26][27]

The AK-47 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. Today, more AK-type weapons have been produced than all other assault rifles combined.[28]

The M16 entered U.S. service in the mid 1960s. Despite its early failures, the M16 proved to be a revolutionary design and stands as the longest continuously serving rifle in American military history. Today, many small arms experts consider the M16 the standard by which all other assault rifles are judged.[29]

History[edit]

The German Sturmgewehr 44
An AK-47 with machined receiver
An M16A1 with 30-round magazine

The Germans were the first to pioneer the assault rifle concept, during World War II, based upon research that showed that most firefights happen within 400 meters and that contemporary rifles were over-powered for most small arms combat.[30][31][32][33][34] They would soon develop a select-fire intermediate powered rifle combining the firepower of a submachine gun with the range and accuracy of a rifle.[30][31][32][33][34]

The result was the Sturmgewehr 44, which the Germans produced in large numbers; approximately half-a-million were made.[31][32][33][34] It fired a new and revolutionary intermediate powered cartridge the 7.92×33mm Kurz.[31][32][33][34][35] This new cartridge was developed by shortening the standard 7.92 x 57mm Mauser round and giving it a lighter 125-grain bullet, that limited range but allowed for more controllable automatic fire[31][32][33][34][36]

The Sturmgewehr 44 features an inexpensive, easy-to-make, stamped steel design and a 30-round detachable box magazine.[37] Unlike previous rifle designs, it introduced an over-the-barrel gas system, straight stock and pistol grip to reduce recoil and improve handling characteristics.[38] "The principle of this weapon...was probably the most important advance in small arms since the invention of smokeless powder."[39]

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.[40][41][42][43][44][45] On July 15, 1943, a Sturmgewehr was demonstrated before the People's Commissariat of Arms of the USSR.[46] The Soviets were so impressed with the Sturmgewehr, that they immediately set about developing an intermediate caliber automatic rifle of their own, to replace the badly outdated Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles and PPSh-41 submachine guns that armed most of the Soviet Army.[42][46][47][48][49][50]

The Soviets soon developed the 7.62x39mm M43 cartridge, the semi-automatic SKS carbine and the RPD light machine gun.[51] Shortly after World War II, the Soviets developed the AK-47 assault rifle, which would quickly replace the SKS in Soviet service.[52][53] The AK-47 was finalized, adopted and entered widespread service in the Soviet army in the early 1950s.[44] Its firepower, ease of use, low production costs, and reliability was perfectly suited for the Red Army's new mobile warfare doctrines.[44] In the 1960s, the Soviets introduced the RPK light machine gun, itself an AK-47 type weapon with a stronger receiver, a longer heavy barrel, and a bipod, that would eventually replace the RPD light machine gun.[51]

The AK-47 was widely supplied or sold to nations allied with the USSR, and the blueprints were shared with several friendly nations (the People's Republic of China standing out among these with the Type 56).[44] As a result, more AK-type weapons have been produced than all other assault rifles combined.[28] "Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s."[28]

The U.S. 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.[54] Although U.S. Army studies of World War II combat accounts had very similar results to that of the Germans and Soviets, the U.S. Army failed to recognize the importance of the assault rifle concept,[30] and instead maintained its traditional views and preference for high-powered semi-automatic rifles.[30][34][55]

After World War II, 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.[34][56] However, early experiments with select-fire versions of the M1 Garand proved disappointing.[57] During the Korean War, the select-fire M2 Carbine largely replaced submachine guns in US service.[58] Although, combat experience suggested that the .30 Carbine round was underpowered.[59] American weapons designers reached the same conclusion as the Germans and Soviets: an intermediate round was necessary, and recommended a small-caliber, high-velocity cartridge.[60]

However, senior American commanders having faced fanatical enemies and experienced major logistical problems during WWII and the Korean War,[61][62][63][64][65] 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.[66][67] This culminated in the development of the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge and the M14 rifle[66] which was basically an improved select-fire M1 Garand with a 20-round magazine.[68][69] The U.S. also adopted the M60 GPMG.[66] 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.[70] A replacement was needed: A medium between the traditional preference for high-powered 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 Willard G. Wyman, commander of the U.S. Continental Army Command (CONARC) to develop a .223 caliber (5.56 mm) select-fire rifle weighing 6 lbs (2.7 kg) when loaded with a 20-round magazine.[34] The 5.56mm round had to penetrate a standard U.S. helmet at 500 yards (460 meters) and retain a velocity in excess of the speed of sound, while matching or exceeding the wounding ability of the .30 Carbine cartridge.[71]

This request ultimately resulted in the development of a scaled-down version of the Armalite AR-10, called AR-15 rifle.[29][72][73] However, despite overwhelming evidence that the AR-15 could bring more firepower to bear than the M14, the Army opposed the adoption of the new rifle.[29] In January 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concluded that the AR-15 was the superior weapon system and ordered a halt to M14 production.[29] 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 modifications (Most notably: the charging handle was re-located from under the carrying handle like AR-10 to the rear of the receiver),[72] the new redesigned rifle was subsequently adopted as the M16 Rifle.[29][74] "The (M16) was much lighter compared to the M14 it replaced, ultimately allowing Soldiers to carry more ammunition....The (M16) initially did not respond well to wet and dirty conditions, sometimes even jamming in combat. After a few minor modifications, the weapon gained in popularity among troops on the battlefield."[75][76]

Despite its early failures the M16 proved to be a revolutionary design and stands as the longest continuously serving rifle in American military history.[29][74] It has been adopted by many U.S. allies and the 5.56x45mm cartridge has become not only the NATO standard, but "the standard assault-rifle cartridge in much of the world."[29][77][78] It also led to the development of small-caliber high-velocity service rifles by every major army in the world, including the USSR and People's Republic of China.[29] Today, many small arms experts consider the M16 the standard by which all other assault rifles are judged.[29][79][80]

Manufacturing philosophies[edit]

M16[edit]

Main article: M16 rifle
A U.S. M16A1 rifle (top) is compared to a Soviet AKMS rifle.

The M16 is a select-fire, 5.56x45mm, air-cooled, direct impingement gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle, with a rotating bolt and straight-line recoil design. It 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.[29] It was designed to be manufactured with the extensive use of aluminium and synthetic materials by state of the art Computer Numerical Control (CNC) automated machinery.[29]

At peak production, Colt's manufacturing capacity was approximately 333,000 units per year [81] The M16 continues to benefit from every advance in the CNC field,[82] which allows more and more small manufacturers to mass-produce M16s and semi-automatic AR-15 type rifles.[83][84][85][notes 1] The M16's aluminum lower receivers may be forged or cast.[86] Their receivers may also be made from titanium and a variety of other metallic alloys,[87][88][89] composites[90] or polymers.[91] If necessary, the M16 can be machined from a billet of steel[92] and fitted with wooden furniture.[93] The M16's internal components such as the bolt carrier group and charging handle may also be made of titanium.[94][95] This makes the M16 ideal for market economy production, spread among many small manufacturers around the country, using a variety of materials and manufacturing methods; this ensures it would be nearly impossible to disrupt U.S. M16 production in the case of a major conflict. The M16 is a Modular Weapon System.[96] 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 United States military buys M4 Carbines for $673 (USD) per unit.[20] Approximately 8 million M16 type rifles have been made worldwide.[18]

AK-47[edit]

Main article: AK-47
A U.S. M16A1 rifle (top) is compared to a Soviet AKMS rifle. The two rifles are disassembled into groups.

The AK-47 is a select-fire, 7.62x39mm, air-cooled, long-stroke-piston gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle, with a rotating bolt. It 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, there were many difficulties during the initial phase of production causing high rejection rates due to faulty receivers.[97] Instead of halting production, a heavy forged steel machined receiver was substituted for the sheet metal receiver.[97][98] This was a more costly and time consuming process, but advanced the programs development and accelerated production.[97][98] The AK's furniture was simply made out of wood, which was a non-strategic material, and perfectly fits the Soviet manufacturing philosophy, where large manufacturing plants produce basic weapons in very large quantities.

In 1959, the sheet metal stamping process was perfected, simplifying production and reducing the weight of the rifle from 3.87 kg (8.5 lb) to 2.93 kg (6.5 lb) without magazine.[99] Most of the AK type rifles in use today are of this lighter stamped-steel AKM variety. Over time, AK production has been simplified through the use of rivets,[100] spot welding and by further reducing the number of machined parts.[101]

Current model AK's are made using modern manufacturing processes and have many component parts produced by investment casting.[101] This method gives a detailed and accurate product with excellent metallurgical properties.[101] They come in 7.62x39mm (AK-103), 5.45x39mm (AK-74M) and 5.56x45mm (AK-101),[102] with cold hammer forged barrels.[101] They are also made with the use of synthetic/plastic furniture, such as folding stocks, handguards and pistol-grips.[101]

At peak production, Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash)[1] can produce around 95 units per hour (about 832,000 units per year).[103] 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.[104][105]

As of 2011, Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash)[1] sells the AK-103 at a government price of $150 to $160 (USD) per unit.[19] 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 a sack of grain."[106][107][108] Approximately 100 million AK-47 type rifles have been made worldwide.[17][109]

Comparison of characteristics[edit]

Size and weight[edit]

AK-47 M16A1 AKM * M16A2 ** AK-103 M4
Barrel length 41.5 cm (16.3 in) 50.8 cm (20.0 in) 41.5 cm (16.3 in) 50.8 cm (20.0 in) 41.5 cm (16.3 in) 36.8 cm (14.5 in)
Overall length 87 cm (34 in) 99 cm (39 in) 87 cm (34 in) 100.64 cm (39.62 in)[110] 94.3 cm (37.1 in) 83.8 cm (33.0 in)
Length with
shortened stock
NA NA NA NA 70.5 cm (27.8 in)
side-folding
stock
75.6 cm (29.8 in)
telescoping
stock
Weight of rifle with
loaded magazine ***
4.78 kg (10.5 lb)[4][5] 3.6 kg (7.9 lb)[6] 3.75 kg (8.3 lb)[111] 3.99 kg (8.8 lb)[110] 4.1 kg (9.0 lb)[112] 3.33 kg (7.3 lb)[113]
Weight of loaded
30-round magazine
slab-sided steel
magazine
.92 kg (2.0 lb).[5][111][114]
aluminum
magazine
.45 kg (0.99 lb)[113]
stamped-steel
magazine
.82 kg (1.8 lb)[115]
aluminum
magazine
.45 kg (0.99 lb)[113]
steel-reinforced
plastic magazine
.74 kg (1.6 lb)[112]
aluminum
magazine
.45 kg (0.99 lb)[113]

Note *: Most of the AK type rifles in use today are of the lighter stamped-steel AKM variety.
Note **: The M16A2 weighs more and is slightly longer than the original, with the addition of heavier (and more accurate) barrels, improved sights and more rugged furniture.
Note ***: Earlier versions of the AK used wood furniture, the type and density of which causes the AKs weight to vary. Whereas, the M16 and current models of the AK use synthetic materials, which have consistent weights.

Ergonomics[edit]

The M16 is ergonomically superior to the AK-47 in most respects.[116][117][118] It is much easier and faster to change magazines and get the M16 back into action than with the AK-47.[116][117] The ability to simply insert the magazine into the M16 in a conventional manner, rather than the “rock and lock” method required with the AK-47.[116][117] In addition, it is easier for an M16 users to keep the strong hand on the pistol-grip and sights on target while performing magazine changes than with the AK-47.[116]

The M16 has a well designed safety lever located on the left side of the weapon that is easily manipulated by the users thumb while maintaining a strong hold the pistol-grip.[116][118][119] With the AK-47 the safety is a large lever on the right side of the weapon that is not at all easy to manipulate.[116][118][117] For most users, the hand must come off the pistol-grip to either apply or disengage the safety.[116][118]

In addition, both M16 and the AK-47 get extremely hot when fired for prolong periods.[116] However, the AK-47 has a small poorly-insulated fore-stock that overheats quickly making the AK hard to handle.[120][121] The AK-47s wooden fore-stocks have even been known to catch fire if magazines are shot quickly enough on full-auto.[122]

M16 AK-47
Carrying handle
The M16's most distinctive ergonomic feature is the carrying handle and rear sight assembly on top of the receiver.[123] Current issue M16A4s and M4s have detachable carrying handles and use Picatinny rails which allow for the use of various scopes and sighting devices.[124] The AK-47 does not have a carrying-handle.
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.[125] Some AK-47 type rifles also have a small vertical selector lever on the left side of the receiver just above the pistol grip.[125] This lever is operated by the shooter's right thumb and has three settings: forward = safe, center = full-auto and backwards = semi-auto.[125]
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 does not reciprocate while firing. 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. The charging handle reciprocates while firing.
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 and just below the trigger guard. 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 which is operated by pushing it forward. The charging handle also acts as a forward assist which is operated by pushing 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".
Trigger-pull
pull weight of 5.5 to 9.0 pounds;
creep of .04 to .05 inches;
mechanical energy of .22 to .45 inch pounds[126]
pull weight of 3.0 to 7.0 pounds;
creep of .15 inches;
mechanical energy of .45 to 1.05 inch pounds[126]
Trigger-guard
The M16s trigger-guard can be lowered to allow the trigger to be pulled while wearing winter mittens.[123] The AK-47s trigger-guard is fixed and “does not lend itself well to trigger operation wearing heavy gloves.”[122]
Cartridge deflector
To prevent hot shell casings from hitting a left handed shooters face. Older M16's had a plastic cartridge deflector attachment that is mounted in the carrying handle.[127] Current model M16's have a cartridge deflector bump built into the upper receiver.[128] The AK-47 has no need for cartridge deflector
Collapsing buttstocks
The M16 has variants with shortened barrels and adjustable telescoping buttstocks.[129] The AK-47 has variants with both standard and shortened barrels, and both under and side folding buttstocks.[112]

Sights[edit]

The M16 has a 500mm (19.75 inches) sight radius.[15] The M16 uses an L-type flip, aperture rear sight and it is adjustable with two setting, 0 to 300 meters and 300 to 400 meters.[10] The front sight is a post adjustable for 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.[130] The M16 can 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.[131] Current issue M16A4s and M4s have detachable carrying handles and use Picatinny rails which allow for the use of various scopes and sighting devices.[124] The current United States Army and Air Force issue M4 Carbine comes with the M68 Close Combat Optic and Back-up Iron Sight.[132][133] The United States Marine Corps uses the ACOG Rifle Combat Optic[134][135] and the United States Navy uses EOTech Holographic Weapon Sight.[136]

The AK-47 has a 378mm (14.88 inches) sight radius.[9] The AK-47 uses a notched rear tangent iron sight, it is adjustable and is calibrated in hundreds from 100 to 800 meters (100 to 1000 meters for AKM models).[120] 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.[120][137] This "point-blank range" setting marked "П",[137] allows the shooter to fire at close range targets without 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 with a flip-up luminous dot that is calibrated at 50 meters, for improved night fighting.[120] All current AK-47s (100 series), have a side rail for mounting a variety of scopes and sighting devices, such as the PSO-1 Optical Sniper Sight.[112] However, their side folding stocks cannot be folded with the optics mounted.[138]

Range and accuracy[edit]

A brief comparison between cartridges reveals that the M16's lighter, higher-velocity 5.56×45mm cartridge has much better range and accuracy than the AK-47's heavier 7.62×39mm cartridge.[55][139][140]

Rifle Caliber Cartridge Cartridge
weight
Bullet
weight
Velocity Energy Accuracy Range
10 shot group
@ 100 meters
10 shot group
@ 300 meters
Effective* Horizontal** Lethal*** Maximum****
M16 5.56×45mm M193 184 gr
(11.9 g)
[11]
55 gr
(3.6 g)
[7]
3,250 fps
(990 m/s)
[7]
1,302 ft/lbs
(1,764 j)
[7]
4.3 in
(11 cm)
[11]
12.6 in
(32 cm)
[141]
500 yds
(460 m)
[10]
711 yds
(650 m)
[11]
984 yds
(900 m)
[11]
3000 yds
(2700 m)
[11]
AK-47 7.62×39mm M43 255 gr
(16.5 g)
[11]
122 gr
(7.9 g)
[7]
2,330 fps
(710 m/s)
[7]
1,468 ft/lbs
(1,991 j)
[7]
5.9 in
(15 cm)
[11]
17.5 in
(44 cm)
[141]
380 yds
(350 m)
[8][9]
580 yds
(530 m)
[11]
1640 yds
(1500 m)
[11]
2500 yds
(2300 m)
[11]

Note *: The effective range of a firearm is the maximum distance at which a weapon may be expected to be accurate and achieve the desired effect.[142]
Note **: The horizontal range is the distance traveled by a bullet, fired from the rifle at a height of 1.6 meters and 0° elevation, until the bullet hits the ground.[143]
Note ***: The lethal range is the maximum range of a small-arms projectile, while still maintaining the minimum energy required to put a man out of action, which is generally believed to be 15 kilogram-meters (108 ft.-Ibs.).[11] This is the equivalent of the muzzle energy of a .22LR handgun.[144]
Note ****: The maximum range of a small-arms projectile is attained at about 30° elevation. This maximum range is only of safety interest, not for combat firing.[11]

The M16 has always enjoyed a reputation for excellent accuracy.[145][146] Newer M16s use the newer M855 cartridge increasing their effective range to 600 meters.[113] They are also more accurate than their predecessors and are capable of shooting 1–3 inch groups at 100 yards.[147][148] The M16s light recoil, high-velocity and flat trajectory allow shooters to take head shots out to 300 meters.[145][149] "In Fallujah, Marines with ACOG-equipped M16A4s created a stir by taking so many head shots that until the wounds were closely examined, some observers thought the insurgents had been executed."[150] The newest M855A1 EPR cartridge is even more accurate and during testing "...has shown that, on average, 95 percent of the rounds will hit within an 8 x 8-inch target at 600 meters."[151]

The AK-47's accuracy has always been considered to be "good enough" to hit an adult male torso out to about 300 meters.[146][147][152] "At 300 meters, expert shooters (firing AK-47s) at prone or at bench rest positions had difficulty putting ten consecutive rounds on target."[153] Despite the Soviet engineers best efforts and "no matter the changes, the AK-47's accuracy could not be significantly improved; when it came to precise shooting, it was a stubbornly mediocre arm."[154] Curiously, the newer stamped steel receiver AKM models are actually less accurate than their predecessors.[147] "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 having metal fatigue under heavy usage."[147] As a result, the milled AK-47's are capable of shooting 3–5 inch groups at 100 yards, whereas the stamped AKM's are capable of shooting 4–6 inch groups at 100 yards.[147][155] The best shooters are able to hit a man-sized target at 800 metres within five shots (firing from prone or supported position) or ten shots (standing).[156]

Terminal ballistics[edit]

A brief comparison between cartridges reveals that the AK-47's heavier 7.62×39mm cartridge has much better penetration than the M16's lighter, higher-velocity 5.56×45mm cartridge.[12][13][157][158][159] However, it also reveals that the M16's lighter, higher-velocity 5.56mm bullet has a tendency to fragment on impact causing larger wounds than the AK-47's heavier 7.62mm bullet, which does not fragment on impact.[12][13][157]

Rifle Caliber Cartridge Penetration
Ballistic gelatin
@ 10 meters
Sandbags
@ 100 meters
3/4" pine boards
@ 100 meters
Concrete building block
(one center rib)
Steel helmet 1.9mm steel
(14 gauge)
@ 100 meters
4mm steel
(8 gauge)
+ layers of Kevlar-29
AK-47 7.62×39mm M43 ~29 in (74 cm)
(bullet does
not fragment)
[12][13][157]
13 in (33 cm)
(bullet did
not fragment)
[158]
19 boards
(bullet did
not tumble)
[158]
both sides to 200 m
one side to 400 m
[158]
both sides to 200 m
one side to 400 m
[158]
3 layers[158] 33 layers of Kevlar[159]
M16 5.56×45mm M193 ~14 in (36 cm)
(bullet fragments
into smaller pieces)
[12][157]
4 in (10 cm)
(complete bullet
disintegration
[158]
8 boards
(bullet tumbled)
[158]
one side to 200 m
[158]
both sides to 300 m
one side to 500 m
[158]
2 layers[158] 31 layers of Kevlar[159]

Wound profiles in ballistic gelatin
Note: images are not to same scale

AK-47 7.62x39mm wound ballistics
AK-47 7.62x39mm
M16 5.56x45mm wound ballistics
M16 5.56x45mm

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 soldier has to shoot through heavy foliage, walls or a common vehicle's metal body and into an opponent attempting to use these things as 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,[160] but produces relatively minor wounds in cases where the bullet exits before beginning to yaw.[157][161][162] In the absence of yaw, the M43 round can pencil through tissue with relatively little injury and it's wounding potential is limited to the small permanent wound channel the bullet itself makes.[157][163]

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 ft/s) that the force of striking a human body would cause the round to yaw (or tumble) and fragment into about a dozen pieces of various sizes thus created wounds that were out of proportion to its caliber.[12][157] These wounds were much larger than those produced by AK-47 and they were so devastating that many considered the M16 to be an inhumane weapon.[164][165][166] As the 5.56mm round's velocity decreases, so does the number of fragments that it produces.[34] The 5.56mm round does not normally fragment at distances beyond 200 meters or at velocities below 2500 ft/s, and its lethality becomes largely dependent on shot placement.[34][157]

In March 1970, the U.S. recommended that all NATO forces adopt the 5.56x45mm cartridge.[78] This shift represented a change in the philosophy of the military's long-held position about caliber size. By the mid 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.[78] The U.S. offered the 5.56x45mm M193 round, but there were concerns about its penetration in the face of the wider introduction of body armor.[34] In the end the Belgian 5.56x45mm SS109 round was chosen (STANAG 4172) in October 1980.[78] The SS109 round was based on the U.S. cartridge but included a new stronger, heavier, 62 grain bullet design, with better long range performance and improved penetration (specifically, to consistently penetrate the side of a steel helmet at 600 meters).[34] Due to its design and lower muzzle velocity (about 3110 ft/s)[15] the Belgian SS109 round is considered more humane because it is less likely to fragment than the U.S. M193 round.[165] The NATO 5.56x45mm standard ammunition produced for U.S. 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, shifting the center of gravity rearward and allowing the projectile to destabilize (or yaw) at about 3.3 in (8.4 cm), nearly 6.7 in (17 cm) earlier in tissue than the M43 round.[167] This change also reduces penetration in ballistic gelatin to ~25 in (64 cm) for the newer M67 round verses ~29 in (74 cm) for the older M43 round.[13][167] However, like the M43, the wounding potential of M67 is mostly limited to the small permanent wound channel the bullet itself makes, especially when the bullet yaws (tumbles).[167]

There is now 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).[34] The M4's 14.5" barrel length reduces muzzle velocity to about 2900 ft/s.[168] This reduced wounding ability is one reason that, despite the Army's transition to short-barrel M4's, the Marine Corps has decided to continue using the M16A4 with its 20″ barrel as the 5.56x45mm M855 is largely dependent upon high velocity in order to wound effectively.[34]

In 2003, the U.S. Army contended that the lack of lethality of the 5.56x45mm was more a matter of perception than fact.[169][170] With good shot placement to the head and chest, the target was usually defeated without issue.[169][171] The majority of failures were the result of hitting the target in non-vital areas such as extremities.[169] However, a minority of failures occurred in spite of multiple hits to the chest.[169] In 2006, a study found that 20% of soldiers using the M4 Carbine wanted more lethality or stopping power.[55] In June 2010, the United States Army announced it began shipping its new 5.56mm, lead-free, M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round to active combat zones.[172] This upgrade is designed to maximize performance of the 5.56x45mm round, to extend range, improve accuracy, increase penetration and to consistently fragment in soft-tissue when fired from not only standard length M16s, but also the short-barreled M4 carbines.[151][172] The U.S. Army has been so impressed with the new M855A1 EPR round that they’re now developing a 7.62 NATO variant.[173][174]

"The AK-74 assault rifle was a Soviet answer to the US M16."[175] The Russians realized that the M16 had better range and accuracy over the AKM, and that its lighter cartridge allows soldiers to carry more ammunition. Therefore, in 1966, the USSR issued an official requirement to replace the AKM and the 7.62x39mm cartridge.[175] They soon began to develop the AK-74 and the 5.45x39mm cartridge.[29][176] In 1979, AK-74 saw combat for the first time in Afghanistan.[177] It offers improved range and accuracy over the AKM.[178] However, the AK-74s range and accuracy is still "inferior to most Western weapons," including current issue M16 type rifles.[179] The 5.45mm round offers better penetration over the U.S. round.[13][180] Although, unlike its counterpart the 5.45mm round “does not deform or fragment when striking soft tissues.”[13][180] Nevertheless, during the Afghan war the Mujahedeen called the 5.45x39mm round the "Poison Bullet" due to the severe wounds it produced to extremities and the resulting need to amputate.[181][182][183]

During the 1990s, the Russians developed the AK-101 in 5.56x45mm NATO for the world export market.[184][185] In addition, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia) have also rechambered their locally produced AK variants to 5.56mm NATO.[186][187] And, Finland, Israel, South Africa and Sweden have made AK type rifles in 5.56x45mm since the 1970s.[188]

Firepower[edit]

Rates Of Fire

Both the AK-47 and the M16 are select-fire weapons capable of firing in semi-automatic and full-auto, or semi-auto and 3-round-burst for the later model M16s. However, the semi-auto and 3-round-burst capability of the M16A2 and M4 models have less combat capability than their predecessors or AK-47 type rifles.[189] This is due to the elimination of full-auto mode of fire[190] In addition, the burst mechanism does not recycle; if one or two rounds are fired because the trigger is not held long enough, the next pull of the trigger will not result in a three-round burst, but will result in one or two shots being fired.[191] The latest versions of the M16 rifle are the M4A1 and HK416 which have abandoned the 3-round-burst capability and returned to the more traditional semi-automatic and full-auto modes of fire.[192][193]

Rifle Rate Of Fire
Full-auto cyclical Full-auto practical 3-round-burst practical * Semi-auto practical Sustained **
AK-47 600 rpm[194] 100 rpm[194] NA 40 rpm[194] 12 to 15 rpm
M16 700-950 rpm[15][195][196] 150 rpm[195] 90 rpm[197] 45 rpm[198] 12 to 15 rpm

Note *: The AK-47 does not have a three-round burst capability. The M16A2 and M4 models have replaced the full-auto mode of fire with a three-round burst capability.[199]
Note **: Both the AK-47 and the M16 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).[200][201][202]

Available firepower

The standard magazine capacity for both the AK-47 and M16 type rifles is 30 rounds. Although, lower and higher capacity magazines are available for both systems. However, the single most limiting factor in terms of firepower is the amount of ammunition that a soldier can carry.[203][204][205][206] A soldier armed with an M16 can carry far more ammo than a soldier armed with an AK-47.[158][207] Assuming a maximum 10 kilogram ammo-load...

Magazine Weight of loaded
30-round magazine
Max. 10 kg (22 lb)
ammunition load *
Total available
firepower
AK-47 slab-sided steel magazine .92 kg (2.0 lb)[114] 11 magazines @ 10.12 kg (22.3 lb) 330 rounds
AKM ribbed stamped-steel magazine .82 kg (1.8 lb)[208] 12 magazines @ 9.84 kg (21.7 lb) 360 rounds
AK-103 steel-reinforced plastic magazine .74 kg (1.6 lb)[208] 13 magazines @ 9.62 kg (21.2 lb) 390 rounds

M16 aluminum magazine .46 kg (1.0 lb)[113] 22 magazines @ 9.9 kg (22 lb) 660 rounds

Note *: 10 kg (22 lb) is the maximum amount of ammo that the average soldier can comfortably carry... it also allows for best comparison of the three most common AK-47 magazines to the standard USGI M16 magazine.

Additional firepower

Additional firepower
M16 AK-47
All current M16 type rifles are capable of launching NATO STANAG type 22mm rifle grenades from their integral flash hiders without the use of an adapter.[209] These 22mm rifle grenade types range from powerful anti-tank rounds to simple finned tubes with a fragmentation hand grenade attached to the end.[209] 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 U.S. military does not generally use rifle grenades,[notes 2] however they are used by other nations. Some AK-47 type rifles like the Zastava M70's are also capable of launching 22mm 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.[210] To launch rifle-grenades a 22mm adapter is screwed on in place of the slant brake or other muzzle device.[210][211]
All current M16 type rifles can mount under-barrel grenade-launchers such as the M203 and M320 All current AK-47 type rifles can mount under-barrel grenade-launchers such as the GP-25 series
All current M16 type rifles can mount under-barrel 12 gauge shotguns such as KAC Masterkey or the M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System
All M16 type rifles can mount a cup-type launcher used to launch tear-gas hand-grenades.[212][213] All AK-47 type rifles can mount a (rarely used) cup-type grenade-launcher that fires standard RGD-5 Soviet hand-grenades. The soup-can shaped launcher is screwed onto to AK-47’s muzzle.[214] 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 rifles 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.[194] This cup-type launcher can also be used to launch tear-gas grenades.
The M16 can mount the M234 Riot Control Launcher, which uses blank cartridges to launch either the M734 64 mm Kinetic Riot Control or the M742 64 mm CSI Riot Control Ring Airfoil Projectiles.[215] The latter produces a 4 to 5 foot Tear Gas cloud on impact.[215]

Note: All of these grenades, launchers and shotguns add additional bulk and weight to the soldiers war-load and as a result, they reduce the amount rifle ammunition that soldiers can carry. For example, a modern French AC58 "bullet trap" rifle grenade is 380mm long and weighs .5 kg (1.1 lb),[216] the equivalent of a loaded M16 magazine.[113] An M203 grenade launcher adds 1.4 kg (3 lb) to an M16's weight[217] and 40x46mm High Explosive (HE) grenades weigh .24 kg (0.53 lb),[218] about half the weight of a loaded M16 magazine.[113]

Recoil[edit]

With the proper mind-set, training and practice, soldiers armed with both the AK-47 and M16 are quite deadly. However, the M16's direct impingement gas operation system, straight-line recoil design and smaller caliber gives it less recoil than the AK-47 and makes it easier to control in full-auto.[219]

"The (M16's) Stoner system provides a very symmetric design that allows straight line movement of the operating components. This allows recoil forces to drive straight to the rear. Instead of connecting or other mechanical parts driving the system, high pressure gas performs this function, reducing the weight of moving parts and the rifle as a whole."[220] The M16's straight-line recoil design, where the recoil spring is located in the stock directly behind the action,[219] and serves the dual function of operating spring and recoil buffer.[219] 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. Also, current model M16 flash-suppressors also act as compensators to reduce recoil further.[221]

With the AK-47's long-stroke piston gas system, the piston is mechanically fixed to the bolt group and moves through the entire operating cycle. The primary disadvantage to this system is the disruption of the point of aim due to the center of mass changing during the action cycle and energetic and abrupt stops at the beginning and end of bolt carrier travel. 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.[112] And, some AK type rifles also have vertical foregrips to improve handling characteristics and to counter the effects of recoil.[222][223]

Free Recoil[224]
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 mathematical equation calculated by using the rifle weight, bullet weight, muzzle velocity and charge weight.[224] It is that which would be measured if the rifle were fired suspended from strings, free to recoil.[224] As mentioned above, a rifles perceived recoil is also dependent on many other factors which are not readily quantified.[224]

Accessories[edit]

Neither the AK-47 nor the M16 were designed to mount accessories, except of course for their respective bayonets and a simple clamp type bipod for the M16.[225][226] However, with the advent of the Picatinny rail and by sheer happenstance, the M16 has proven itself to be a remarkably adaptable weapon system, capable of mounting a wide range of accessories, including grenade launchers, fore-grips, removable carry handle/rear sight assemblies, bipods, laser systems, electronic sights, night vision, tactical lights, etc.[96] The AK-47 can also use Picatinny rail mounted accessories, although its design and smaller fore-stock make it less adaptable. Some older AK type rifles have vertical foregrips which make it easier to control and cooler to the touch making the AK easier to handle as it overheats.[222][223]

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 configuration.[96][227] 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 an variety of accessories.[228] This is accomplished by simply pushing in two pins, removing the A2 upper receiver/barrel and replacing it with an A4 upper receiver/barrel.[228] 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.[228] As such, the M16 can be easily converted into different calibers and different types of weapons.[229][230] The AK-47 has no such capability.

Bayonets[edit]

Today, bayonets are rarely used in combat.[231][232][233] However, both the AK-47 and M16 retain bayonet lugs and bayonets are still issued. Also, bayonets are still used for controlling prisoners and as a weapon of "last resort".[231] In addition, some authorities have concluded that bayonets serves as useful training aids in building morale and increasing desired aggressiveness in troops.[234][235]

The M16 is 44.25 inches (1124mm) long with an M7 bayonet attached.[10] 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 saw teeth 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 is 40.15 inches (1020mm) long with an AKM type bayonet attached.[236] The AK-47 has an adequate but unremarkable bayonet. However, the AKM Type I bayonet (introduced in 1959) was a revolutionary design.[237] 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 its steel scabbard.[120][237][238] This designed was copied by other Nations and formed the basis of the US M9 bayonet.[237][239] 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.[237] The blade has a new spear point and an improved one-piece molded plastic grip making it a more effective fighting knife.[237] It also has saw-teeth on the false edge and the usual hole for use as a wire-cutter.[237] Some Chinese AK type rifles such as the Type 56 include an integral folding spike bayonet, similar to the SKS rifle.[120][239][240]

Reliability[edit]

Diagram of long-stroke gas operation system

The AK-47 has always enjoyed a reputation for rugged reliability and has a malfunction rate of one per 1000 rounds fired.[241][242] It uses a long-stroke gas system, where the gas is sent 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 ports 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.[243]

The M16 has always had a reputation for poor reliability and has a malfunction rate of two per 1000 rounds fired.[241] The M16 uses a unique gas powered operating system. "This gas operating system works by passing high pressure propellant gasses tapped from the barrel down a tube and into the carrier group within the upper receiver, and is commonly but incorrectly referred to as a "direct impingement gas system" system. The gas expands within a donut shaped gas cylinder within the carrier. Because the bolt is prevented from moving forward by the barrel, the carrier is driven to the rear by the expanding gasses and thus converts the energy of the gas to movement of the rifle’s parts. The bolt bears a piston head and the cavity in the bolt carrier is the piston sleeve. It is more correct to call it an “internal piston” system."[244] 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 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.[34] Lack of proper lubrication is the most common source of weapon stoppages or jams.[34]

The original M16 fared poorly in the jungles of Vietnam and was infamous for reliability problems in the harsh environment. As a result, it became the target of a Congressional investigation.[245] The investigation found that:[74]

  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 instruction 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 it jammed).
  5. The M16 lacked a chromed barrel and chamber, causing corrosion problem, contributing to case swelling and extraction failures. (This was considered the most severe problem and required extreme measures to clear, such as inserting the cleaning-rod down the barrel and knocking the spent cartridge out.)

When these issues were addressed and corrected by the M16A1, the reliability problems decreased greatly.[246] According to a 1968 Department of Army report, the M16A1 rifle achieved widespread acceptance by U.S. troops in Vietnam.[76] "Most men armed with the M16 in Vietnam rated this rifle's performance high, however, many men entertained some misgivings about the M16's reliability. When asked what weapon they preferred to carry in combat, 85 percent indicated that they wanted either the M16 or its submachine gun version, the XM177E2. (The M14 was preferred by 15 percent, while less than one percent wished to carry either the Stoner rifle, the AK-47, the carbine or a pistol.)"[76] In March 1970, the "President’s Blue Ribbon Defense Panel" concluded that the issuance of the M16 saved the lives of 20,000 U.S. servicemen during the Vietnam War, who would have otherwise died had the M14 remained in service.[54] However the M16 rifle's reputation continues to suffer.[246]

After the introduction of the M4 Carbine, it was found that the shorter barrel length of 14.5 inches also has a negative effect on reliability, as the gas port is located closer to the chamber than the gas port of the standard length M16 rifle: 7.5 inches instead of the 13 inches.[247] This affects the M4’s timing and increases the amount of stress and heat on the critical components, thereby reducing reliability.[247] In a 2002 assessment the USMC found that the M4 malfunctioned three times more often than the M16A4 (the M4 failed 186 times for 69,000 rounds fired, while the M16A4 failed 61 times).[248] Thereafter, the Army and Colt worked to make modifications to the M4s and M16A4s in order to address the problems found.[248] In tests conducted in 2005 and 2006 the Army found that on average, the new M4s and M16s fired approximately 5,000 rounds between stoppages.[248][249] In 2010, U.S. Marines operating in Afghanistan reported no reliability problems with their M16 rifles and M4 carbines.[250] "This is more so given the account of Chief Warrant Officer Joshua S. Smith, the Marine responsible for weapons training and performance in the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which is engaged in daily fighting in Marja. “We’ve had nil in the way of problems; we’ve had no issues,” he said of the M-4s and M-16s. The battalion has about 350 M-16s and 700 M-4s, he said."[250]

Direct impingement gas system
Short-stroke gas piston

The newest version of the M16 in U.S. service is the HK416 (a.k.a. the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle)[251][252][253][254][255] which uses a proprietary gas system derived from the HK G36, replacing the direct impingement gas system used by the standard M16/M4.[256] The HK system uses a short-stroke gas piston driving an operating rod to force the bolt carrier to the rear. This design prevents combustion gases from entering the weapon's interior, a shortcoming with direct impingement systems.[257][258] The reduction in heat and fouling of the bolt carrier group increases the reliability of the weapon and extends the interval between stoppages.[258][259] The short-stroke gas piston require less maintenance and cleaning.[258] It reduces operator cleaning time and stress on critical components.[258] "Improving the service interval requirements provides a major benefit to soldiers that may not have the ability or opportunity to thoroughly clean their rifle. Also, the design of the external gas piston system is less susceptible to build up of other contaminants in extreme environments."[258] During factory tests the HK416 fired 10,000 rounds in full-auto without malfunctioning.[260]

Magazines[edit]

"Magazines are one of the most important elements of any firearm design. They are responsible for the feeding portion of the cycle of operation. Even in the most proven arm that reliably extracts and ejects, the magazine has to be 100-percent reliable for it to consistently feed properly."[261]

The AK-47’s 30-round magazines have a pronounced curve that allows them to smoothly 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 resistant to damage. These magazines are so strong that "Soldiers have been known to use their mags as hammers, and even bottle openers."[262][263] This makes the AK-47 magazine more reliable, although heavier than U.S. and NATO magazines. The early slab-sided steel AK-47 magazines weigh .43 kg (0.95 lb) empty.[115] The later steel AKM magazines had lighter sheet-metal bodies with prominent reinforcing ribs weighing .33 kg (0.73 lb) empty.[111][115] The current issue steel-reinforced plastic magazines are even lighter, weighing .25 kg (0.55 lb) empty.[225] Early steel AK-47 magazines are 9.75 inches long, and the later ribbed steel AKM and newer plastic magazines are about an inch shorter.[5][264]

The M16's magazine was meant to be a lightweight, disposable item.[96][261] As such, it is made of pressed/stamped aluminum and was not designed to be durable.[96] Therefore, it is easier to damage than an AK-47 magazine and the feed lips are proportionally weaker when compared to the AK-47.[261] The M16 originally used a 20-round magazine which was later replaced by a bent 30-round design.[261] As a result, the magazine follower tends to rock or tilt, causing malfunctions.[261] Many non-U.S. and commercial magazines have been developed to effectively mitigate these shortcomings (e.g. H&K's all-stainless-steel magazine, Magpul's polymer P-MAG, etc.).[34][261] In 2009, the U.S. Military began fielding an "improved magazine" identified by a tan-colored follower.[265][266] "The new follower incorporates an extended rear leg and modified bullet protrusion for improved round stacking and orientation. The self-leveling/anti-tilt follower minimizes jamming while a wider spring coil profile creates even force distribution. The performance gains have not added weight or cost to the magazines."[266] Standard USGI aluminum 30-round M16 magazines weigh .11 kg (0.24 lb) empty and are 7.1 inches long.[267][268] The newer plastic magazines are about a half inch longer. [269] And, the newer steel magazines are about a half inch longer and 4 ounces heavier.[270] The M16s magazine has become the unofficial NATO STANAG magazine and is currently used by many Western Nations, in numerous weapon systems.[271][272]

Service life[edit]

The AK-47 and its variants are made in dozens of countries, with “quality ranging from finely engineered weapons to pieces of questionable workmanship.” [273] As a result, the AK-47 has a service/system life of approximately 6,000,[274] to 10,000,[275] to 15,000[276] rounds.[42] The AK-47 was designed to be a cheap, simple, easy to manufacture assault rifle,[277] perfectly matching Soviet military doctrine that treats equipment and weapons as disposable items.[278] As units are often deployed without adequate logistical support and dependent on “battlefield cannibalization” for resupply, it is actually more cost-effective to replace rather than repair weapons.[278]

Both the AK-47 and the M16 have small parts and springs that need to be replaced every few thousand rounds.[96][279] However..."Every time (an AK) is disassembled beyond the field stripping stage, it will take some time for some parts to regain their fit, some parts may tend to shake loose and fall out when firing the weapon. Some parts of the AK-47 line are riveted together. Repairing these can be quite a hassle, since the end of the rivet has to be ground off and a new one set after the part is replaced."[280]

The M16 and its variants are made by dozens of manufactures around the world, to the highest standards "the goal of which is to ensure that products designed for military use meet the necessary requirements with regard to quality, durability, ruggedness, commonality, interchangeability, total cost of ownership, logistics and other military and defense-related objectives."[281] The M16's barrel life is approximately 15,000 rounds for standard issue M16A4s and M4s.[282] Cold hammer forged steel barrels such as those used on the HK416 have service life of 20,000 to 50,000 rounds depending on the intensity of use.[279][283][284] A badly worn M16 barrel will cause the bullets to tumble in flight.[285] 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.[286][287][288] The M16 was designed to be a serviceable assault rifle,[289] 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.[278] As such, American units are well supplied and are quickly provided with whatever spare-parts they need by their logistical support systems.[278] Also, any M16 rifle that have been declared non-serviceable may be sent to a Small Arms Repair Facility, where it is overhauled and returned to service.[290]

Miscellaneous[edit]

M16 AK-47
Technical
The M16 has a chamber pressure of 52,000 psi[289] The AK-47 has a chamber pressure of 50,000 psi[291]
Rifling:
early models have 4 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 14 inches (355.6 mm);
later models have 6 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 12 inches (304.8 mm);
most current models have 6 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 7 inches (177.8 mm);
some current models have 6 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 9 inches (228.6 mm) [289][292][293][294][295]
Rifling:
4 grooves, right hand twist, 1 turn in 9.25 inches (235 mm)[296]
Features
The M16 has a flash-hider[297] or flash-suppressor.[123] Also, current M16 flash-suppressors also act as compensators.[221] The AK-47 does not have a flash-hider. However, all AKM and current AK models have a simple slant-type muzzle-brake[112] or compensator.
The M16 can mount several types of silencers and sound suppressors[298] The AK-47 can mount PBS-1 silencer (sound suppressor)[299]
The M16 uses synthetic furniture which is more durable than wood. The AK-47 uses wood furniture which can break, split, crack and rot. However, later model AK's use synthetic furniture.
The M16 can be field stripped without tools The AK-47 can be field stripped without tools
The M16 has a large storage compartment in the buttstock[123] that holds the rifle's cleaning kit (or anything else that will fit inside). The AK-47 has a small storage compartment in the buttstock that only holds the rifle's cleaning kit capsule.
The M16s multi-piece cleaning rod is located in the buttstock[123] (or wherever else the soldier put it), and it cannot be easily reached and assembled if needed to clear a malfunction. The AK-47s one-piece cleaning rod is located below the barrel and can be easily reached if needed to clear a malfunction.
The M16 can be disassembled into upper and lower halves, shortening the overall length for ease of storage and transport.[300]
The M16s 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.[301]
Shortcomings
Early model M16 barrels could bend under rough handling or while firing as the barrel overheats.[302] However, this shortcoming was corrected by the M16A2.[303]
Early model M16 furniture could be damaged by rough handing.[304] However, this shortcoming was corrected by the M16A2.[305]
The AK-47s receiver top-cover may fall off under rough handling or while firing.[306][307]
The AK-47s exposed gas cylinder is easily dented by rough handling, sometimes causing malfunctions.[308]
Variants
M16 type rifles are currently made in 5.56×45mm NATO and 6.8×43mm SPC caliber.[309] AK-47 type rifles are currently made in 7.62×39mm, 5.45×39mm and 5.56×45mm NATO.[184]
The 7.62mm NATO SR-25 and M110 are based on the original AR-10, but feature additional refinements to maximize parts commonality with the M16.[310] Zastava Arms makes 7.62×51mm NATO, 7.62×54mmR and 7.92×57mm AK versions, and the IMI Galil is also made in 7.62mm NATO.
The M16 has a smaller 9mm, closed bolt, blowback operated, submachine gun version called the Colt SMG. The AK-47 has smaller 9mm, submachine gun versions called the Vityaz-SN.[311] and the Bizon[312]
The M16 has an open-bolt light machine gun version called the Colt Light Machine Gun with 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-mags.[313] The AK-47 has a widely used closed-bolt light machine gun version called the RPK with a stronger receiver, longer heavier barrel, an attached bipod and can use larger 40-round box and 75-round drum magazines.[314]
The M16 has belt-fed light machine gun versions made by several manufactures.[315][316][317]
The AK-47 has shotgun versions; the Saiga-12 and KSK[318]
Additional
Sound level:
for shooter = 155 (dB)[319]
1 m to side = 163 (dB)[319]
10 m to side = 141 (dB)[319]
Sound level:
for shooter = 159 (dB)[319]
1 m to side = 163 (dB)[319]
10 m to side = 141 (dB)[319]
The M16s sling is not only used to carry the rifle, but also to help support and stabilize the rifle while shooting, to allow for more accurate fire.[320] "When the rifle sling is adjusted properly, it will provide maximum stability for the weapon and help reduce the effects of the rifle's recoil. There are three basic types of rifle sling adjustments: the loop sling, the hasty sling, and the three-point sling."[320]

Rifle evaluation study[edit]

The following Summary has been taken directly from the "Rifle Evaluation Study", United States Army, Combat Development Command, ADA046961, 20 Dec 1962.[5] Additional information can be found in "Rifle Evaluation Study", United States Army, Infantry Combat Developments Agency, ADA050268, 10 Dec 1962".[158]

Note: This is the first time that the United States Army compared the AR-15/M16 and the AK-47.

From Rifle Evaluation Study, United States Army, Combat Development Command, ADA046961, 20 Dec 1962.[5]
Factor AR-15/M16 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 firing

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 use in the AK-47. As a result, the night firing capability of the 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.[158]

From "Rifle Evaluation Study", United States Army
Infantry Combat Developments Agency
ADA050268, 10 Dec 1962[158]
Method Visual range (m)
AR-15/M16 M14 AK-47
Unaided eye 75-100 100-125 225-250
6x30 binoculars 200-225 225-250 350-375

Worldwide usage[edit]

Worldwide usage

Worldwide operators of the AK-47
AK-47
Numbers made: ~100 million.[17]
Worldwide operators of the M16
M16
Numbers made: ~8 million.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c http://www.janes.com/article/25839/izhmash-formally-renamed-kalashnikov As of August 2013, Izhmash has been formally renamed Kalashnikov Concern
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  110. ^ a b http://larcpistolandrifleclub.com/pdfs/army_tm_9_1005_319_10.pdf ARMY TM 9-1005-319-10 AIR FORCE TO.11W3-55-41 NAVY SW 370-BUJ-OPl-010 Supersedes copy dated August 1986. See page i for details. OPERATOR’S MANUAL FOR RIFLE, 5.66 MM, M16A2 W/E (1005-01-128-9936) (EIC:4GM) RIFLE, 5.56 MM, M16A3 (1005-01-367-5112) RIFLE, 5.56 MM, M16A4 (1005-01-383-2872)( EIC:4F9) CARBINE, 5.56 MM, M4 W/E (1005-01-231-0973) (EIC:4FJ) CARBINE, 5.56 MM, M4A1 (1005-01-382-0953) (EIC:4GC)
    • See inside cover for distribution statement.
    HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY OCTOBER 1998
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  149. ^ http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2006-07-29-iraq-sniper_x.htm "During a large-scale attack on Easter Sunday, Wilson says, he spotted six gunmen on a rooftop about 400 yards away. In about 8 seconds he squeezed off five rounds — hitting five gunmen in the head. The sixth man dived off a 3-story building just as Wilson got him in his sights, and counts as a probable death. "You could tell he didn't know where it was coming from. He just wanted to get away," Wilson said."
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    • After being issued the round, testing it on ranges and finally taking it into combat, not a single negative review has followed
    • Soldiers rave about it—its “stopping power” is amazing say most soldiers
    • I have spoken to TF Bastogne snipers that say they have killed enemy combatants at 700m with this new round
    • I have personally hit targets on known distance ranges at 600m
    • There is no question that this round has increased accuracy at greater distances and much improved through and through issues
    The M855A1 EPR may be green, and reports are still pretty thin, but it very well could be the ammo the Army was asking for all along. It is more effective all around, with improved penetration through Kevlar, mild steel, concrete, and vehicle components like doors and auto glass and even helicopters bodies, to name a few, and better accuracy, higher velocities, less wind sensitivity and more precision complementing its superior terminal results."
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Cite error: A list-defined reference named "FOOTNOTE.22Both_weapons_were_then_subjected_to_a_.E2.80.9Climited.E2.80.9D_endurance_test_by_firing_six_magazines_as_fast_as_they_could_be_loaded_into_the_weapon.3B_this_was_to_mimic_what_would_be_the_worst-case_patrol_usage._As_expected.2C_neither_weapon_exhibited_any_problems.2C_feeding_and_firing_every_round_without_issue._It_was.2C_however.2C_during_this_portion_of_the_test_that_one_of_the_AR_system.E2.80.99s_true_advantages_came_into_sharp_focus.E2.80.94superior_ergonomics..0A.0AThe_AR-15_is_without_a_doubt_one_of_the_most_ergonomic_weapon_designs_to_ever_be_fielded_in_large_numbers._During_the_six_magazine_endurance_test.2C_which_admittedly_was_not_a_true_endurance_test_but_rather_a_proof_of_ability_test.2C_all_evaluators_found_that_it_was_much_easier_to_change_magazines_and_get_the_weapon_back_into_action_quickly_with_the_AR-15_design_than_with_the_AK47_design..0A.0AThis_enhanced_performance_was_due_to_several_factors.2C_not_the_least_of_which_is_the_ability_to_simply_insert_the_magazine_into_the_AR_in_a_conventional_manner_rather_than_the_.E2.80.9Crock_and_lock.E2.80.9D_method_required_with_the_AK_platform._Also_noted_here_was_ability_of_the_AR_users_to_leave_their_strong_hand_on_the_weapon_and_in_control_while_performing_magazine_changes_and_charging_the_weapon._Users_of_the_AK_found_that_while_some_people_are_capable_of_doing_so.2C_this_was_a_much_more_cumbersome_operation_with_this_platform_than_with_the_AR_design..0A.0AAlso_in_the_realm_of_ergonomics_is_the_placement_of_the_manual_safety._With_the_AR.2C_this_is_a_very_well_designed_lever_located_on_the_left_side_of_the_weapon_that_is_capable_of_being_manipulated_with_the_thumb_of_the_strong_hand_while_still_retaining_a_grip_on_the_weapon._With_the_AK.E2.80.94on_most_variants.E2.80.94the_safety_is_a_large_lever_on_the_right_side_of_the_weapon_that_is_not_at_all_easy_to_manipulate._With_most_people.2C_the_strong_hand_must_come_completely_out_of_the_firing_grip_to_either_apply_or_disengage_the_safety..0A.0ABoth_weapon_designs_have_been_thoroughly_tested_in_every_climate_on_the_planet_and_have_proven_themselves_in_combat_for_the_past_three_and_a_half_decades.E2.80.94so_further.2C_.E2.80.9Cendurance.E2.80.9D_testing_would_be_pointless._What_this_test_did_is_allow_for_the_weapons_to_get_extremely_hot_and_provided_for_the_operators_to_judge_the_now-hot_weapon_based_on_how_well_they_could_use_it_without_gloved_hands._In_each_case.2C_both_weapons_were_judged_to_be_very_usable_but_the_AR_clearly_got_the_nod_as_the_most_desirable_weapon._This_again_was_due_to_the_ergonomic_placement_of_controls.2C_which_keeps_the_hands_away_from_any_part_of_the_weapon_that_is_susceptible_to_heat_transfer..22" is not used in the content (see the help page).

Notes
  1. ^ List of M16/AR-15 type rifles: Adcor Defense, Alberta Tactical Rifle Supply, Alexander Arms, American Spirit Arms, American Weapon Systems, ArmaLite, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Black Rain Ordnance, Bushmaster Firearms International, Bravo company manufacturing, C3 Defense, Charles Daly firearms, Colt's Manufacturing Company, CORE15 Rifle Systems, CMMG, Crusader Weaponry, Daniel Defense, Del-Ton, Diemaco/Colt Canada, Doublestar Corp, DPMS Panther Arms, DSA/DS arms inc, Franklin Armory, LAR Grizzly manufacturing, Heckler and Koch, High Standard Manufacturing Company, Hogan guns, Huldra Arms, JP Enterprises, Izhmash/Molot Russia (rumored), Knight's Armament Company, LaRue Tactical, Legion Firearms, Les Baer, Lewis Machine and Tool Company, LWRCI /Land Warfare Resources Corporation International, North East Arms, Next Generation Arms, Norinco (China), Oberland Arms, Olympic Arms, Palmetto State Armory, Palmetto State Defense, Para-USA/Para-Ordnance, Patriot Defense Arms, POF-USA Patriot ordnance factory, Remington Arms, Rock River Arms, Sabre Defence/Manroy USA, Seekins Precision, Sharps Rifle Company/Sharps rifle, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Special Ops Tactical, Spikes Tactical, Stag Arms, Sturm Ruger, Vulcan Armament, Wilson Combat, Windham Weaponry, Yankee Hill Machine, Z-M Weapons,
  2. ^ The USMC is currently seeking to purchase commercial off-the-shelf bullet-trap or shoot-through rifle-grenades. These grenades will provide individual Marines additional firepower and will allow indirect fire against targets in defilade, behind walls and buildings or rooftops and elevated positions at ranges between 30 and 150 meters. [2]

Further information[edit]

  • "Tales of the gun: The AK-47", History Channel documentary
  • "Tales of the gun: The M-16", History Channel documentary
  • "Great Battles: AK-47 vs M16", Military Channel documentary
  • Lewis, Jack (2007). The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons. Gun Digest Books; 7 edition. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-89689-498-3. 

External links[edit]