Ukrainian Military Is Transitioning Away from AK-47: The AK-47 is a special weapon that deserves a category of its own when discussing modern firearms. It has spread around the world and symbolizes communism, terrorism, and transnational crime. Easy to fire, simple to clean, resistant to malfunctions, and shooting a powerful 7.62mm round, the AK-47 is hard to beat. However, it will play a smaller role in the Russia-Ukraine crisis as the Ukrainian military is switching over to a new rifle that combines features from the AK and M4 families of weapons.
Brief History of the AK-47
Mikhail Kalashnikov was wounded fighting the Germans in 1941. The ensuing hospital stay got him thinking. He had the foresight to know that soldiers needed a semi-automatic rifle to engage targets from less than 300 meters. He had already made his own prototype automatic pistol that was designed for tankers.
After recovering, Kalashnikov worked with another engineer at one of the key arms developers in the Soviet Union. In 1944, Kalashnikov had a new model that would become the AK-47. Soon it was called the Avtomat Kalashnikova and it went to the troops in 1949.
The rifle would be widely used in pro-Communist revolutionary struggles, especially ubiquitous when wielded in Vietnam by the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese Army, and other insurgents around the globe.
Between 75 and 100 million AK-47s in all variants have been produced over the years – that’s enough for one in every 70 people around the world. In some areas of Africa and the Middle East, AK-47s can be bought for as little as $10.
Ukraine Had Many AK-47s
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, former republics such as Ukraine inherited a huge stash of Red Army small arms, including AK-47s. In fact, there is quite the gun culture in Ukraine. Gunpolicy.org “estimates the number of guns in private (Ukrainian) hands range from 2.2 to 6.3 million. These suggest a median rate of 6.6 firearms per 100 people.”
But Ukraine Wants to Move on From the AK-47
While the Ukrainian military used the AK-47 extensively due to the overstock of the rifle, there was a shift in thinking about what rifle they would need in the future. By the 2010s, the Ukrainians knew they would have a strategic challenge from Russia and the need for a weapon that was similar to what NATO members used since Ukraine yearned to join the alliance.
So, they took design elements of the M16/M4 family of weapons and combined them with the stopping power of the 7.62 X 39mm round from the AK family.
WAC-47 Rifle Emerges
This resulted in the WAC-47 – initially adopted by the Ukrainian military in 2017 and ordered in greater numbers in 2018. It is chambered in 7.62mm X 39mm and the WAC-47 could someday appear with a 5.56mm NATO round if Ukraine ever joins NATO.
The WAC-47 looks like a longer-barreled M4 (16-inches versus 14.5 inches on the M4). It has a rail system for sights. It is based on alloyed construction, a two-part receiver, and a similar assembly you would see on an M4. It has an adjustable buttstock that gives it that cloned M4 appearance. The controls are also similar to an M4. One downside is that the WAC-47 may require more cleaning and maintenance compared to the rugged AK-47, which is comparatively impervious to dust and other grime.
Taking the popularity of the heavier and more powerful 7.62 X 39mm round and combining it with the ease of the M4 is a good idea. The Ukrainian troops will be the ultimate judge and the WAC-47 could be key to who controls the battlefield if the Russians decide to invade Ukraine.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.