As the U.S. Marine Corps works to procure new Heckler & Koch M27 rifles for their infantry, Russian soldiers are taking on their own assault rifle acquisition process.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed in January that it plans to field the AK-12 and AK-15 assault rifles for service, which shoot 5.45×39 mm and 7.62×39 mm cartridges, respectively.

"A decision has been made on the AK-12 and the AK-15. The submachine guns have been recommended as armament in the ground forces, the airborne force and [naval] infantry," the Kalashnikov press office said in January, according to TASS, a Russian state-news agency.

The Russian military has had several false starts in announcing the acquisition of the new AK rifles, with retractions issued shortly after the initial celebratory announcements. This time, though, the news appears to have stuck.

Young cadet holds an AK-12 aloft, examining it's sights at a military exhibition.

The new Kalashnikov variants were selected after undergoing trials throughout 2017, Kalashnikov Group CEO Alexei Krivoruchko told TASS. He added that the famed rifle manufacturer was ready to begin serial deliveries this year.

“New Kalashnikov rifles combine famous, battle-proven high reliability with modern ergonomics, increased hit probability and capabilities to effectively use all modern accessories, from red dot, night and IR sights to [under-barrel] grenade launchers, forward grips, lasers and flashlights, sound suppressors and more,” the Kalashnikov Group said in a press statement.

The AK-12 and AK-15 rifles share many of the same parts and assemblies, aside from the ammunition used. Compact versions of both rifles, designed for close quarters battle, are available for Russian special operations forces, “or as personal defense weapons for heavy armament and vehicle crews,” the press statement reads.

The two weapons’ specifications — converted from metric — include:

  • Caliber: 5.45х39 (AK-12) or 7.62х39 (AK-15)
  • Length, overall: 34-37 inches
  • Length, shoulder stock folded: 27 inches
  • Barrel length: 16.33 inches
  • Weight, with empty magazine: 7.7 lbs
  • Rate of fire: 700 rounds/min
  • Magazine capacity: 30 rounds

The new AK variants are part of the Russian military’s “Ratnik” program, which is trying to marriage future combat gear into one system for the country’s infantry. Other gear pieces supposed to be upgraded include modernized body armor, a thermal and night vision optic attached to a helmet, new communications gear and specialized headphones.

While not all pieces of Ratnik are ready, parts have already been combat-tested in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, according to Dmitry Semizorov, the CEO of the Central Research Institute of Precision Machine-Making, a private company with significant state oversight.

“You all probably know that the Ratnik was used in Syria and I want to say that the combat gear proved its worth during combat operations,” Semizorov said at a defense industry event in Moscow last year. “I want to assure you that none of the elements of the combat gear’s protection was ever pierced.”

It’s interesting to note that before U.S. State Department sanctions were introduced in July 2014 against a slew of Russian companies, the United States accounted for 90 percent of the Kalashnikov Group’s civilian firearms exports, according to Bloomberg.

The company’s American counterpart — Kalashnikov USA — reportedly still sells guns from one of its three dozen dealers across the United States. In order to avoid sanctions, the U.S. counterpart severed ties with the Russian motherland and only sells guns of its own creation, made with U.S. parts, according to Bloomberg.

Although, the March Bloomberg article does allege there may be a web of “interlocking shell companies” connecting Kalashnikov USA to top Russian officials.

Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.

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