The AK, what more can be said of it? It’s a rifle that’s made its way around the world and into the hands of hundreds of military forces. Today I want to talk about the AK clones and AK variants that have popped up in numerous military forces. While many countries will outright adopt an AK series rifle with few changes, other countries opt to make the AK their own. Those are the AK variants we are talking about today. The weird ones, the ‘improved’ ones, if you will.
If all a country has done is change the sight hood and add a folding stock, then it won’t make this list. The design differences have to be significant, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be good. If you want to be on this list of AK variants, then you gotta change it up, and the next seven AK variants certainly have changed it up.
Let’s start with the variants that are closest to an AK and move toward the guns that are further and further from a base AK.
7. Zastava M70
The Zastava M70 is one of many Serbian AK variants. It’s the standard-issue rifle of the Serbian Armed Forces. The M70 can also be purchased in a neutered semi-auto variant by American shooters. The M70 is a 7.62x39mm rifle that comes in various configurations, including fixed and under-folding stock options.
Zastava changed a few things with the AK design worth noting. First, the stock is made to be used with an optic and offers a higher comb than most Warsaw pact guns. This makes it easier to get behind the higher side-mounted optics these AKs use.
Zastava also uses a rigid 1.5mm thick receiver similar to that of an RPK. The same goes for the reinforced front trunnion. This allows the weapon to be more accurate and allows it to sustain a high rate of fire longer than your typical AKM.
6. AMD 65
Hungarians make more than goulash, and the AMD 65 is proof of that design. Hungary licensed the AK design from the Soviets, and the AMD 65 was specifically designed to be a paratrooper and armored infantry weapon. Keep in mind this gun was designed in 1965 and is an early example of an AK carbine design.
Those pesky Hungarians shrunk the barrel to 12.5 inches, and the guns come with a very aggressive and effective muzzle brake to help reduce recoil with the gun and to reduce the muzzle flash you get with such a short barrel. They also installed a very compact wire stock that folded to make the gun much more compact inside vehicles and when jumping from planes.
The Hungarians also installed the famed pistol grip that’s backward on the handguard. It helped control the weapon and also keeps your hand well away from the hot barrel. The AMD 65 pioneered the world of short and light AK variants.
5. FB Beryl
Are Polish jokes racist? I’m not going to make one, but I’m just curious. Anyway, I bring up the Polish because the next weapon on our AK variants list is the FB Beryl, or karabinek szturmowy wzór 1996. The Beryl was Poland’s effort to westernize their AK series rifles after they departed the Eastern bloc.
As such, the Beryl comes in 5.56 and can even use the AR 15 magazine with a special adapter. The barrel length reaches 18 inches, which makes sense since the 5.56 was made to work initially to work with 20 inch long barrels. The closer the barrel gets to 20 inches, the better for velocity, range, and penetration.
The FB Beryl incorporates a side folding stock and a very add optic’s rail. The rail is not attached to the dust cover but locks in over it. Dust cover rails often suck because they wiggle, and this eliminates that issue. The FB Beryl still serves as the rifle of choice for the Polish, and it is very well made and modern.
4. RK 62
Most countries who adopt one of these AK variants were often part of the Eastern bloc or are often a poorer, undeveloped country. The Finnish proved that even modern first-world countries use the AK or a variant of it. The RK 62 came to be in 1962 and has since evolved into more modern AK designs and variants.
The RK 62 kicked it off and modernized the AK platform—and when I say modernized, I mean westernized. This is one of the highest quality AK variants ever made, and the western design influence helped push the weapon forward.
One of the big western changes is the adoption of the peep sight that’s pushed all the way back to the rear of the rifle. This extra sight radius makes the gun easier to shoot accurately. The Finnish also simplified the gas system and made it way more efficient. The odd tubular stock stores goodies, like Skittles and cleaning kits, and the modern flash hider keeps things easy.
3. IMI Galil
When the Israelis needed a domestically produced rifle, they took the AK and deconstructed it. When they reconstructed it, we got one of the most modern AK variants on the market. The Galil kept the long-stroke gas piston system, the magazine locking system, and the general layout of the rifle.
Of course, the Israelis famously changed the safety to an actual ergonomic design that’s easy to manipulate, although they left the old-school AK safety in place as well. The Galil came to be in 5.56 and utilized 35 round magazines that locked into place just like an AK.
The Israeli’s also implemented a bipod with a wire cutter and, famously, a bottle opener. The trigger comes more from the M1 Garand than the AK, and the sights were pushed rearward to increase the sight radius. Plus, the charging handle design took an upward curve to allow left-handed operation.
The Galil served extremely well and has been exported quite a bit. It’s also a platform that evolved to keep up with modern demands, and IWI sells the Galil ACE for our greedy American hands.
2. Vektor R4
The Vektor R4 comes from South Africa and could be considered at home in the world of AK variants as well as a Galil variant. The R4 keeps the Galil-style safety for much easier manipulation and pushes the rear sight rearward for an increased sight radius.
The upward curved charging handle makes it easy to manipulate the action with the left hand as well. The Vektor R4 does feature a longer stock because South Africans tended to be bigger than Israelis. The South Africans also ditched the heavy wood and metal components that the Israeli’s used.
The stock, handguard, pistol grip, and magazines are made from high-impact polymer. This helped reduce weight a bit and make it cheaper and easier to produce. The Vektor refined the Galil’s operating system to simplify production but also increase the lifespan of the gun.
1. Type 81
China rips off lots of guns, but sometimes they make a new one. Well, maybe not a new one, but they rip two off at the same time. These rifles came out as a replacement for the Chinese copies of the SKS and AK series of assault rifles. The Type 81 can be one of the AK variants, but also a Dragunov and SKS variant in many ways.
The action of the Type 81 is longer, and the dust cover is opened above the bolt. The safety is very AR-like and positioned for easy access with the thumb.
The Type 81 is a mutt of a rifle, but it’s darn sure a fascinating one. It’s much more accurate than an AK and easier to control due to the short-stroke gas piston system. Sadly I don’t think we’ll ever see the Type 81 in the states to test these claims.
AK Variants Around the World
AK Variants are exhaustive, and almost every country makes some form of change between the Russian variant and their domestic rifle. The above AK variants do a bit more than that and are truly unique rifles. These changes might be great or not so great, it’s often up to the end-user to decide such a thing.
Now, I want to know, did I miss any notable examples? Are there any AK variants out there that belong on this list? Let me know below.