Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Evolution & Variants of the AK-47: Part III - Civilian Semi-Automatic Variants

by Mishaco (Originally posted on The Firing Range 14-Jan-2010)

This article is part of a series:
Part I - Development and History
Part II - Military Variants and Accessories
Part IV - Frequently Asked Questions

Part III - Civilian Semi-Automatic Variants

Beginning in the 1970s, AK type rifles have been imported into the USA from many different nations and in many different configurations. In 1989, the AK was banned from import by name as it was declared non-sporting. Soon after importers installed thumbhole stocks and limited the rifles to 10 round magazines, in order that they might be allowed in again. In 1994, this loop hole was plugged and after that any AK brought in had to have no more than a set number of foreign made parts. Also in 1994, the Assault Weapons Ban passed which outlawed bayonet lugs, threaded barrels, folding stocks, high-cap magazines, pistol grips, and barrel shrouds. To be exact, what the AWB did was say that no civilian firearm would have more than any 2 of those 'evil' features. In most cases, the two features put on AKs were pistol grips and the ability to accept double stack (high-cap) magazines. If a gun had a thumbhole stock and only could take 10 round magazines, then it would have been ok to have a bayonet lug or flash hider. In 2004, the AWB was allowed to Sunset and once more AKs could be allowed un-nutered, but in 2005, the BATF ruled that barrels of a non-sporting nature were no longer importable. As a result parts kits, created from demilled machineguns by cutting the receiver, now also had to have their barrels cut up.

Today the AK has become a popular civilian platform in America and comes in two general types. The first type is Imported Rifles. These are rifles brought into the country with no bayonet lugs or threaded barrels and with thumbhole stocks. Once in the US they are modified by installation of a normal fixed or folding stock, pistol grip, bayonet lug, and threads on the barrel. These rifles have original foreign made barrels and receivers. The second type is that of Parts Guns. These are built from demilled military assault rifles on US made semi-auto receivers. As mentioned before, in recent years parts guns also have had to be made with US made barrels due to the 2005 BATF ruling. Generally speaking, imported guns are more desirable and collectable because they are all original. On the other hand, parts guns are normally just as reliable and accurate and some times are less expensive by a good bit. for example, you could pay $2,000.00 for an original Zastava M70 imported by Mitchell back in the 1980s, or pay $500 for a parts gun made from a military M70 kit with US made barrel and receiver.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular designs in the country today. For the most part i won't talk about pre-89 AK imports because they are not commonly encountered and are of high pricing when found. Most of the time pre-89'ers are just like their military counterparts, only with receivers which can not easily be modified to fire in full-auto.

Arsenal USA
Arsenal USA of Las Vegas is related to but not the same as Arsenal of Bulgaria. For legal reasons each is a separate company, though in reality they use the same machinery, blue prints, materials, and offer much of the same firearms. Arsenal of Bulgaria primarily sells select-fire weapons on the international market, where as Arsenal USA sells semi-auto only models for the civilian market.

Two basic lines of arsenals are offered (please note that the SLR-95 and SLR-100 series do not hold):

1) SAM series: These are rifles in 7.62x39 or 5.56x45 and have US made milled receivers. These come in any number of configurations: standard AK-47, M1, MA1, AKS-47, even in AK-102 and AKS-74U lengths. Barrels can either have 14mm or 24mm threads and stocks can either be fixed, underfolding, or right-hand side-folding. They can accept all standard double stack magazines. Most models come with polymer furniture, though some limited edition ones have blonde wood.
SA M-7 = 7.62x39 fixed stock
SAS M-7 = 7.62x39 underfolding stock
SA M-5 = 5.56x45 fixed stock

2) SLR series: These rifles are in either 7.62x39, 5.56x45, or 5.45x39 and have stamped imported receivers with Bulgarian made barrels. Most often they are in AK-101/102/103/104 configurations with left-hand side-folding stocks and 24mm threaded barrels. All models come with polymer furniture. Please note that some models come with solid side-folding stocks, while others have metal triangular ones. Most Arsenal rifles come with a sling, cleaning kit, and either a 5,10, or 30 round polymer magazine.

SLR-107 = 7.62x39
SLR-106 = 5.56
SLR-105 = 5.45
FR = AK-101/103 style
CR = AK-102/104 style
UR = AKSU style

Saiga (EAA & RAA)
The Saiga is a wholly Russian made rifle, assembled in the original Izhmash factory and modified into a sporting/hunting configuration. Trigger group is moved rearward and hunting forearm and stock are added. No bayonet lug, no threaded barrel, and rarely with a muzzle brake. For a brief time in 2004, versions were imported with standard military pistol grip, buttstock, and muzzle brake, but no longer. These rifles are commonly chambered in 7.62x39, .223, .308, 12 g, 20 g, and .410. A whole industry has sprang up around converting these rifles into many different layouts and for diverse usages. In the beginning EAA imported the Saiga, but now RAA has taken over the duties. Saigas come with a cleaning kit and low-cap magazine.

Beginning in 2008, a partnership was created between Arsenal and Izhmash to bring Russian Saigas into the USA in military configurations and with proper military rather than sporting markings. These rifles are still wholly made in Russia, with the exception of their required US made parts: stock set (3) trigger group (3) and muzzle brake (1). Receivers are Russian made, as are the chrome-lined barrels, bolts, carriers, trunnions, front sight and gas blocks, and rear sight base. These rifles accept standard furniture and magazines. SGLs come with just a 10 round magazine (in the case of SGL-41, its a 4 round mag).

SGL-20/21 = 7.62x39
SGL-31 = 5.45x39
SGL-41 = .410 shotgun.

Currently no folding stock version or carbine version is offered.

SGL-31 with 30 round magazine and Russian sling. 
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SGL-41 with birdcage flash hider and recoilless stock.
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So so so very much can be said about these rifles, some good and some bad. Their import began in 2003, after the discontinuation of the SAR series. From the factory the WASR accepts low-cap single stack magazines of 10 rounds. This is why its receiver has no dimples on each side of the magwell. WASRs can be fitted with standard AKM furniture as well as most AK-74 sets. Barrels are chrome-lined and of 16" and are Romanian made, just as the receivers are. Century Arms is the main importer of this series and offers the rifle in many configurations.

After the AWB sunset, the GP-WASR was released. This is a WASR with threaded barrel, slant style brake, and bayonet lug. The WASR comes with 2-30 round magazines, sling, cleaning kit, bayonet (for modles with a lug), and some times a mag pouch.

WASR-10 = 7.62x39
WASR-2 = 5.45x39 (currently not imported)
WASR-3 = .223 (currently not imported)
WASR-22 = .22 LR (limited numbers)

Stock Types: fixed (either of woode or plastic), Galil style side-folder of plastic, Romanian style side-folder of metal, Russian style under folder (either stamped or milled), M4 style collapsible
Handguard Types: Standard wood (with or without palm-swells), Galil style plastic, wooden with vertical pistol grip, tri-rail.

GP-WASR-10/63 with Underfolding stock and wooden handguards.
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The AES-10 is basically a WASR-10 with 22" barrel and bipod located behind the gasblock. It also has an RPK style buttstock but standard handguards. This rifle generally comes with 2-30 round magazines and has been discontinued.

The AES-10B is almost identical to the military RPK, but with a semi-auto receiver. It has a 22" heavy barrel with bipod located behind the front sight, RPK furniture, windage adjustable rear sight, 1.6mm thick receiver, thicker dustcover, and carry handle. it generally comes with 2-40 round magazines and is currently not being imported.

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Draco/Champion 2007 Pistol
The Draco is a semi-auto version of the Romanian M90 Short Rifle, without a forearm pistol grip or buttstock. These changes legally make it a pistol, and thus importable as a complete gun not requiring any US made parts. It is chambered in 7.62x39 and comes with 2-30 round magazines and a cleaning kit. It has a 12" barrel with 14mm threads under a muzzle nut. A rifle version is also available with metal folding stock and extended barrel: the GP-WASR-10/63 KR.

The Champion 2007, is the same gun but in .223 or .22LR. It comes with 2-30 round proprietary magazines. 

 Draco Pistol
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Beginning in the 1990s, Romania started importing the Romak series. This was an AKM limited to semi-automatic fire only and complying with the AWB: NO threaded barrel, bayonet lug, or folding stock. IN 1999, the Romak switched to the SAR. Both types could accept standard magazines and came with 1-10 round mag, 1-30 round mag, sling, and cleaning kit. Importation of the SAR ended in 2003. Generally speaking these rifles have a good reputation for worksmanship and a great one for reliability. All models came with wooden furniture with a plastic pistol grip.

Romak I/1 SAR-1 = 7.62x39
Romak II/2 SAR-2 =5.45x39
SAR-3 = 5.56x45.

PSL-54c/Romak III
The civilian legal PSL is identical to Romania's military version, except that its receiver is missing the 3rd axis pin, which the ATF ruled made it a machinegun, even though all PSLss are limited to semi-auto fire from the factory. For importation the bayonet lug is also ground off, but can be reinstalled once in USA, though then its a question of 922(r).

The rifle has been imported under many names but is the same: Romak III, FPK, SSR-97, and PSL-54c. It comes with 2-10 round magazines, sling, cleaning kit, mag pouch, and 4x scope with cover. furniture is always of wood. No 7.62x51 NATO version is imported.
PSL-54c with LPS scope
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Romie 'G' Kit Builds
What is commonly known as a Romie-G in America today, is actually the Romanian Guarda PM.63. This is a standard PM.63 limited to semi-auto only and intended for their version of the National Guard. Many of these guns have been demilled into kits and imported in recent years.

Century Arms makes a few different rifles from these kits under the name GP-1975. Early ones had original Romanian furniture. Recent ones have US made black plastic furniture with various tactical 'upgrades.'

Another company to build up these kits is I.O. Inc. They use the metal parts from the kits along with a Tapco 'Galil' handguard, pistol grip, and plastic side-folding stock.

Lancaster too uses Romie-G kits to build their stamped AK designs. These rifles usually have better finish than Century's but are still made from used military kits on US made receivers and possibly also barrels. These guns have red stained Romanian furniture, meant to memic the Russian style.

M70B1/AB2 & M72 Sporter
The M70AB2 Sporter was Century's first AK parts kit build up, released immediately after the AWB sunset in 2005. These rifles are built from Zastava military rifles which had their receivers cut. Original barrels were not used because so many of them were dark and pitted from long and hard use. Instead US made barrels have been utilized. Rifle retains all the features of the military rifle, including underfolding stock, grenade launcher sights with gas-cut off, threaded barrel with slant brake or muzzle nut, bayonet lug, and polished steel bolt carrier. The US made barrel and receiver do a very good job of reproducing the original Zastava designs, down to the proper thickness and the reinforced dustcover latch. Handguards can either be of wood or polymer and are not interchangeable with standard AK types. In fact most parts on Yugo rifles are unique and not standard.

M70AB2 Sporter with wooden handguards and Yugo magazine.
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Three different versions are available. The M70B1 is built from a fixed stock kit, the M70AB2 from a folding stock kit, and the M72 from an LMG heavy barrel kit. All are very accurate reproductions and are some of the best products that Century has ever offered. They normaly come with just 2-30 round magazines, though some early M70AB2s also came with sling, cleaning kit, bayonet, and mag pouch.

Please note: no M70 type Yugo either military or sporter ever had a chrome-lined barrel.

M72 Sporter
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M76 Sporter
Like the PSL, the M76 in military service is not a select-fire weapon, nevertheless it is not allowed into the country because it has too many evil features such as pistol grip, flash hider, and bayonet lug. Thus Century contracted with Ohio Rapid Fire to manufacture receivers for the M76 kits which became available a few years back. The receivers are milled, just like the originals, minus the 3rd axis pin. Barrels are US made and of a heavy contour. Scopes are original though, as are many of the other parts including all of the furniture, flash hider, sights, bolt and carrier, and adjustable gas system.
Early ORF M76 receivers had issues with having had been improperly heat-treated, but ORF promises that the latest generation (5th if you were wondering) has resolved this issues and is Zastava milspec. The rifle comes with 2-10 round magazines, bayonet, military scope, and hard case.

M76 Sporter with original military scope
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AMD-65 Sporter
These rifles are built from demilled Hungarian AMD-65 kits, using a USA made receiver and barrel. Because the original gun had a 12" barrel with a 2" snake-brake, to make these Sporters legal Century used a 14" barrel and welded the brake on to have an overall length of 16". Features include a wire folding stock with rubber buttplate, wooden or plastic twin pistol grips, and compact light design. This is one of those designs that some people love and others find extremely ugly. Judge for yourself. AMD-65 Sporter comes with 2-30 round magazines, mag pouch (usually a nice 5-cell one), cleaning kit, and rarely a leather sling. No major problems have ever been associated with this model.

AMD-65 Sporter with original Hungarian sling and 20 round short magazine. Note the extended barrel.
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Tantal Sporter
The infamous Century Arms Tantal Sporter. It is true that Inter-Ordnance did make some Tantals, but the majority of them out there today were made by CAI. These use specialized receivers with a spot for the left-side safety lever and demilled Polish WZ.88 Tantal kits. The kits themselves are of a high quality and saw light to medium use. They all come with a right-hand side folding buttstock of wire design with a reinforced locking system. Handguards are of the now well known multicolored pattern. Lower handguard is standard AKM/AK-74 but upper handguard is unique to the Tantal. There is a lug in front of the gas block where a bipod can be attached. The muzzle device is a combination flash hider and grenade launcher. Even though the Tantal has 14mm threads, it can't accept any other muzzle device currently available because the barrel goes past the threads about 3/4ths of an inch.
The Tantal sporter would have been a great design, firing the now cheap 5.45x39 cartridge; except Century had a cock-up on the barrel front. They got the twist rate wrong and even used some barrels with 5.56 diameters instead of 5.45. Despite internet rumor, there are no specific serial blocks with improper barrels as they just used whatever barrel was at hand at the moment. Additionally, the bullet test has also proven to be unreliable. Why is this all a problem? Because without the proper twist rate or bore diameter, the 5.45 bullet tends to keyhole part of the time. For many shooters this is unacceptable.

The Tantal Sporter comes with 2-30 round magazines and detachable bipod. Magazines can either be polymer or steel.

Ohio Rapid Fire has built up manyAK-74s and AKS-74s from demilled Bulgarian kits, on US receivers and using original Bulgarian barrels. Both fixed stock and left-hand side folding stock variants have been offered. Handguards can either be of wood or polymer. The kits that are being used are medium to heavily used but still quite accurate. These rifles consistently get good reviews and come with 1-30 round magazine, sling, cleaning kit, and bayonet.

Golani Sporter
These are semi-auto clones of the IMI Galil AR built from original parts kits on ORF made milled receivers and using green Mountain 20" barrels. They retain the Galil's folding metal stock, birdcage flash hider, polymer handguard and pistol grip, and ambidextrous safety. As with the M76, ORF did not properly heat-treat early Golani receivers. This problem was resolved by 2007 they claim. And why Golani Sporter and not Galil Sporter? Actually the first batch of rifles were marked Galil and then IMI/IWI threatened Century with legal action because the name had been patterned. Therefore CAI had to change the name to satisfy the original manufacturers. The Golani comes with 2-35 round magazines. Bayonet lug is an optional feature.

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