What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)

By: Ростислав Гулак | 12.05.2022, 12:38
What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)

Over the past centuries, weapons and military equipment have continuously evolved. Military necessity led to the next technical breakthroughs, all-damaging types of offensive weapons appeared, allowing strikes from a distance of hundreds and thousands of kilometers. Today, however, individual small arms are by no means an anachronism. After all, remote methods of warfare are effective only if the purpose of the operation is to destroy the industrial and military infrastructure of the enemy.

For the final defeat of the enemy, control of its territory, access to raw materials and industrial resources, and the fulfillment of humanitarian and other tasks, it is necessary to use infantry and special units and subunits that come into direct contact with the enemy. And this is where the main protagonist of the war becomes a figure in camouflage with an assault rifle in his hands.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-2
Screenshot from the game Battlefield

Background: how it all began

To begin with, let's give a definition of the term "assault rifle" (in Russian terminology - automatic). So, assault rifle (original assault rifle) is a firearm designed for automatic fire with ammunition that occupies an intermediate position in terms of power between rifle-machine-gun and pistol. Those. Assault rifles do not include items capable of automatic fire, but designed to use pistol ammunition (i.e. submachine guns), as well as automatic weapons using rifle cartridges (automatic rifles).

For the first time, a weapon that, with some stretch, can be attributed to assault rifles, was created in Russia by a talented gunsmith V.G. Fedorov. In 1916, mass production of a sample was started, which the author called an automatic machine. In fact, it was an automatic rifle, but with a sector magazine and for Japanese rifle cartridges of 6.5 mm caliber, which, in comparison with the Russian cartridge 7.62x54R, had less power and
recoil momentum. This weapon was armed with one of the units of the Russian Imperial Army, which took part in the battles of the First World War.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-3
Fedorov assault rifle: image from Wikipedia

The pioneers in the creation of a full-fledged model of an assault rifle, which was the ancestor of this class of weapons, are the Germans. In the light of the combat experience of the Eastern Front, the German command became aware of the excess power and range of traditional magazine and self-loading rifles in conditions of, as a rule, short ranges of fire contact. Submachine guns, being an almost perfect weapon
for a short fight, say, in a forest or when clearing trenches and buildings, when firing at a distance of more than two hundred meters, they had insufficient power and efficiency.

As a result of the implementation of the terms of reference of the German Arms Department for a new automatic carbine, the MP 43/44 was created, later renamed the SturmGewehr 44, which literally means "Assault Rifle" in German. Thus, the new German model gave the name to a new class of small arms. The Sturmgever was created for the Polte cartridge developed before the war - in 1938 - by the Polte factory, which, although it retained the standard 7.92 caliber for the Wehrmacht, but had a sleeve shortened to 33 mm and a lighter bullet, and in terms of power occupied an intermediate position between a pistol and rifle cartridges. As a result, the Germans received a rather successful model, which allows accurate fire with single shots at distances up to 600 m and provides a high density of fire while maintaining acceptable accuracy when firing bursts at distances up to 300 m.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-4
SturmGewehr 44 at the battle line. A photo: ok.ya1.ru

In addition, the new assault rifle was designed for mass and cheap production using stamping and casting. The disadvantages of the machine include not very convenient applicability when shooting while lying down. In total, by the end of the war, more than 400,000 assault rifles were produced in various configurations, including samples equipped with optical and infrared sights and even such exotics as the Krummlauf Vorsatz J curved-barreled device for firing from around the corner of buildings and in the dead zones of tanks and fortifications. structures.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-5
SturmGewehr 44 with Krummlauf nozzle. A photo: royalarmouries.org.uk

The appearance on the Eastern Front of new German weapons under an intermediate cartridge immediately provoked a response from Soviet gunsmiths. In 1943, the designers N.M. Elizarov and B.V. Semin created an intermediate cartridge 7.62x39, which went down in history as M1943 and became the most common intermediate cartridge in the world. It was under this cartridge that the Simonov self-loading carbine - SKS was first created, and then the legendary Kalashnikov assault rifle.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-6
Simonov's carbine (SKS). A photo: drive2.ru

There is a legend wandering from one online publication to another that the Kalashnikov assault rifle was copied from the Stg-44 and that German gunsmiths, including Hugo Schmeiser himself, while in Soviet captivity, took part in its development. It is quite obvious that the Kalashnikov assault rifle, not being a direct copy of the Sturmgever, and having a fundamentally different arrangement of many nodes, was created under the strong influence of the German design. By the way, in the memoirs of the Kovrov gunsmiths, published in one of the Russian specialized magazines, there is a mention of one interesting fact. It turns out that the first production samples of the AK-47 were significantly inferior in accuracy in the automatic fire mode to the German machine gun, and the plant management appointed a large cash bonus to one of the employees who, when shooting an AK in a shooting range, could significantly improve the previously achieved results. The award remained unclaimed.

So, it is impossible not to notice that the development and successful use of the Stg-44 assault rifle by Nazi Germany had a strong and direct impact on the development of small arms, because. armies of all countries of the world have made weapons of this class the main individual weapon of an infantryman.

the development and successful use of the Stg-44 assault rifle by Nazi Germany had a strong and direct impact on the development of small arms

To date, samples of modern assault rifles are classified as third-generation assault rifles (German MP-43 and Stg-44 assault rifles are classified as zero, AK-47, AKM and Czech Vz-58, M-14 (USA) G-3 ( Germany), FAL (Belgium). The main feature of the second generation (which includes the AK-74, the American M-16, the French Famas, the Austrian AUG, etc.) was the transition to smaller caliber cartridges - 5.56x45 and 5.45x39) .

Common features of third-generation assault rifles are the widespread use of plastics and light alloys, which makes it possible to significantly lighten the weapon along with the reduction in the cost of its production; the use of a modular design, the use of optical and collimator (of the “red dot” type) sights as the main ones, the possibility of installing a large range of additional equipment laid down at the design stage: underbarrel and muzzle grenade launchers, tactical lights, laser designators, silencers. 

What are they fighting today

Let's try to consider the most interesting examples of third-generation assault rifles from both mass-produced and under development.

The Italian rifle-grenade launcher ARX-160 developed by Beretta includes a 5.56 mm machine gun and a 40 * 46 mm underbarrel grenade launcher, which can also be used autonomously. The firing range of the grenade launcher is 400m. The complex, in addition to the assault rifle itself and the grenade launcher, includes the Aspis small arms fire control device and the Scorpio grenade launcher fire control device. The modular design of the complex allows, after replacing a number of parts, to use cartridges of 5.56x45 mm, 5.45x39 mm, 7.62x39 mm, 6.8x43 mm, i.e. in fact, the entire range of intermediate cartridges produced today. The machine is equipped with quick-change barrels 406 and 305 mm, the replacement of which takes no more than five seconds, the cocking handle is reinstalled on both sides, it is possible to quickly change the direction of reflection of spent cartridges. Automation works on the principle of a gas outlet with a short stroke of the gas piston.

The folding butt of the machine has 5 length adjustment positions. There are 4 Picatinny mounting rails for mounting additional equipment, 6 belt attachment points. The front sight and rear sight are folded. The standard finish colors are black and olive. A short-barreled assault rifle weighs no more than 3 kg and is an ideal combat transformer with the ability to fine-tune to the needs of a particular shooter.
The complex is the base for a promising Italian set of combat equipment "Soldato Futuro". Since 2012, the machine has been in service with the Italian army and is offered for export. In particular, the variant of the machine under the Soviet cartridge 7.62x39 (magazines from AKM are used) was adopted by the special operations forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-8
Complex "Soldato Futuro". A photo: taringa.net

The Heckler-Koch HK-416 submachine gun owes its appearance to the desire of this company to enter the American market for military and police weapons. The idea was to create a sample that combines the ergonomics and appearance of the M-16, beloved by all Americans, with significantly increased reliability. To this end, the M-16's direct gas outlet was replaced by a much more foul-resistant system with a short stroke gas piston, the same as on the G-36 rifle.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-9
Heckler & Koch HK-416

The bolt and return mechanism were also improved and a barrel of increased survivability was used. It is curious that at first the HK-416 was developed as a set of parts for upgrading machine guns of the M-16 / M-4 type. At the same time, the barrel with a gas engine, the forend, the receiver and the bolt group were replaced, the replacement of the return spring and buffer was also recommended. In this case, the butt, magazine, trigger housing with a handle and a magazine receiver can be used from the old model.

Otherwise, the HK-416 has much in common with its "classmates" - an adjustable-length telescopic stock, quick-change barrels, four Picatinny rails for attaching various sights, laser designators, tactical lights, grenade launchers, etc.
The assault rifle was adopted by some special units of the US Army, including the legendary Delta Force counter-terrorism unit, the US Marine Corps, special units of a number of countries and private military companies, where it proved to be excellent. It is also known that in the operation to eliminate Osama Bin Laden, the US Navy SEAL 6 team used HK-416 assault rifles. The weapon has high accuracy and accuracy of fire, which, combined with soft and smooth recoil, makes it an ideal tool in the hands of a professional.

US Navy SEAL 6 used HK-416 assault rifles to kill Osama bin Laden

As a result of summarizing the tactical experience gained by the troops of the international coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, it turned out that standard NATO 5.56 caliber cartridges, under certain conditions, have insufficient range and penetration. In addition, a light bullet of the SS 109 cartridge at a distance of 400m with a side wind of 17 km / h has a drift twice as large as that of a bullet of the 7.62x51 cartridge. In light of these findings, Heckler-Koch, based on the HK-416 assault rifle, developed the NK-417 automatic rifle chambered for 7.62x51 NATO. There are 4 variants of barrels of different lengths available for the new rifle, and when using “sniper” barrels 40 and 50 cm long and the corresponding ammunition, when firing single shots, the rifle demonstrates accuracy in the region of one arc minute, which makes it possible to attribute this version of the NK-417 to tactical sniper rifles .

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-10
Heckler & Koch HK-417

Speaking of third-generation assault rifles, it is impossible to ignore the SCAR complex. FN SCAR (English) Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) - combat assault rifle for special operations forces) - was developed by FN-Herstal USA to participate in the competition for a new assault rifle for US SOCOM fighters, announced in 2003 by the US Special Operations Forces Command. According to the requirements of the competition, the rifle had, firstly, to make the most of the principle of modularity, i.e., be easily adaptable to specific tactical conditions, and secondly, to surpass the standard M-4 carbine in reliability. Also, the terms of reference assumed that promising samples would have re-equipment kits for ammunition 7.62x39, 6.8 Rem, etc. 

In 2004, it was announced that the winner of the competition was FN-Herstal USA with rifle grenade launchers, which were later standardized as Mark 16 / Mk.16 SCAR-L and Mark 17 / Mk.17 SCAR-H.
The head of the US SOCOM weapons program, Troy Smith, emphasized that the design of SCAR rifles was carried out with the active assistance of the special forces themselves, and the peculiarity of SCAR rifles is that these are special forces weapons that embody many years of combat experience. After the signing of the agreement on the initial stage of production, military tests were carried out in various climatic zones, in which Navi Seals operators, US Marine Corps Special Forces and Army Rangers took part.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-11
Fn SCAR Mk 17

The family of SCAR rifles, in addition to two "basic" variants - the "light" rifle Mk.16 SCAR-L (Light) chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO and the "heavy" rifle Mk.17 SCAR-H (Heavy) chambered for more powerful ammunition 7.62x51mm NATO , includes the Mk 13 Mod 0 or FN40GL - a 40mm grenade launcher that can be used as an underbarrel for any of the options, or used independently.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-12
Fn SCAR Mk 13

Both basic configurations suggest the possibility of installing barrels of various lengths that determine their tactical purpose. There are three standard options - "S" (Standard), "CQC" (Close Quarters Combat) - a shortened melee assault rifle and "SV" (Sniper Variant) - a sniper weapon. The manufacturer emphasizes the principle of modularity in its design - 82% of the parts, of which there are only 175, can be used in weapons of both calibers.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-13
Varieties of Fn SCAR Mk 16

The steel magazine for the MK-16 is interchangeable with the magazine for the M-4 carbine, although, according to the developer, it is of better quality. The chrome-plated barrel and the overall quality of workmanship guarantee a long service life of the assault rifle. Automatic weapons with a short stroke of the gas piston, in addition to low sensitivity to pollution, guarantees the machine gun increased stability when firing. The double-sided principle is fully implemented: the safety tab and the magazine release button can be actuated from both sides, the cocking handle can be installed on both the right and left side. The butt, folded to the right, is adjustable in length with fixation in six positions. A slightly lower rate of fire compared to other rifles contributes to greater stability of the weapon when firing.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-14
Fn Scar System

At the moment, rifles are mass-produced and entered service with the 75th US Ranger Regiment. However, for a number of reasons, US SOCOM abandoned the use of the Mark 16 / Mk.16 SCAR-L, purchasing instead 7.62 mm SCAR-H assault rifles with upgrade kits for 5.56x45 ammunition. Nevertheless, the high combat and operational qualities of the SCAR rifles contributed to their widespread use in the armed formations of the countries of the world.

What is Russia fighting

The advertised AN-94 "Abakan", although it showed record accuracy in fire mode in bursts of two rounds, otherwise has no advantages over the AK-74, besides being an extremely complex and expensive design, unsuitable for arming soldiers -conscripts.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-15
AN-94 "Abakan"

AK 100 series assault rifles, the development of which began at the Izhevsk Machine-Building Plant in the early 1990s, were originally created as commercial weapons designed for foreign markets. The weapon created on the basis of the AK-74 is its variants for the most common intermediate cartridges in the world: 5.56x45 NATO, 7.62x39 and 5.56x45.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-16
AK-101
  • The AK-101 is an assault rifle chambered for the widely used 5.56x45 NATO ammunition and, according to the developer, demonstrates better accuracy in burst mode than the M-16 A2.
  • The AK-103 uses the well-deserved cartridge 7.62x39 (M1943), is compatible with magazines of old AK/AKM assault rifles and is designed to replace them.
  • AK-102, 104 and 105 are small-sized assault rifles built on the basis of their full-size versions and somewhat superior in combat and operational characteristics to the AKS-74u. They are distinguished from the “basic” models by a shortened barrel with a special muzzle-flash suppressor and a modified aiming bar, which has markings only up to 500 m. 
What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-17
AK-105

All 100-series AKs are equipped with a side rail for mounting optics. For the manufacture of the stock, forend, pistol grip and magazine case, black polyamide is used, which is why the hundredth series AKs abroad received the commercial name "Black Kalashnikov". The largest buyer of the AK hundredth series today is Venezuela, with which a contract was signed for the supply and license assembly of 100,000 AK-103 units. A batch of AK-102s was also acquired by Indonesia.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-18
AK-102

AK hundredth series, although they are a commercially successful project, are only a cosmetic upgrade of the AK-74 and are not without its shortcomings. The most significant drawback of the AK family of assault rifles is the difficulty of placing optical sights on them. The problem, first of all, is due to the fact that in the upper part of the weapon, where the optics should be installed, there are a detachable receiver cover and a gas tube. The side bar with a dovetail mount, which is on all AK-74m assault rifles, does not solve the problem, because in case of incomplete disassembly for cleaning the machine gun or eliminating delay when firing, the sight must be removed. After installing it, of course, the weapon must be brought back to normal combat. In addition, the sight mounted on the AK-74m does not allow folding the stock. The sectoral fuse-translator of fire modes on assault rifles of the AK family is inconvenient, "loud" and causes a lot of criticism.

AK hundredth series, although they are a commercially successful project, are only a cosmetic upgrade of the AK-74 and are not without its shortcomings

To eliminate these and other shortcomings and the general "modernization" of the design, the Izhmash concern developed the AK-12, which means "Kalashnikov assault rifle of 2012". Although the weapon uses classic automatics with a long stroke of the gas piston, its design has undergone major changes. The trigger mechanism was redesigned, the bolt group and receiver were updated. The cover of the receiver, which now has increased rigidity, is hinged and leans up and forward for disassembly and cleaning of the machine. These measures made it possible to achieve a constant position of the cover relative to the barrel, which makes it possible to install optical, collimator and night sights on the Picatinny rail located on the cover.
The cocking handle has been moved forward and can, at the request of the shooter, be moved to the left or right side. The fuse-translator of fire now has a different design - it is placed on both sides of the weapon and has four positions - "fuse", "single firing", "fixed bursts of 3 shots", "automatic fire".

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-19
AK-12. A photo: Wikipedia

A slide lag appeared in the design of the weapon, which allows you to speed up reloading. The folding telescopic buttstock has a height-adjustable pad and butt pad, which allows you to adjust the machine to the anthropometric data of a particular shooter. Other innovations of the machine include an abundance of picatinny rails located, in addition to the receiver cover, also on the upper forearm pad and on its side surfaces, rifling modified to increase accuracy and a bullet entry of the barrel; a new muzzle brake-compensator that allows you to fire foreign-made muzzle grenades. The manufacturer promises versions of the AK-12 for different ammunition - from 5.56x45 and 7.62x39 to 7.62x51 NATO. The machine can be used both with standard magazines of the appropriate caliber and with a new four-row magazine with a capacity of 60 rounds.

What does Ukraine produce?

As a result of research work on the modernization of the Kalashnikov assault rifle AK-74, the Scientific and Technical Center for Precision Engineering introduced the Vepr assault rifle in 2003. The assault rifle is configured according to the "bullpup" scheme (with mechanics in the butt) and retains the reliable operation of automation from the AK-74. The developer claims that the Vepr is "a quarter shorter than the AK, 200 g lighter and has twice the accuracy." cocking handle
and the fuse can be moved to either side, while the cocking handle, made by a separate unit, is stationary when firing. The assault rifle is proposed to be equipped with a Ukrainian-designed collimator sight as standard. Instead of the forearm, it is possible to install a GP-25 underbarrel grenade launcher. The disadvantages of the weapon include the inconvenience of changing the store (which is typical of all samples arranged according to the "bulpup" scheme) and the inconvenient location of the fire mode translator far behind the pistol fire control grip. The boar was addressed primarily to special forces soldiers and Ukrainian peacekeepers, but it never entered service.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-20
Automatic Vepr, photo: weapons.at.ua

In 2010, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine was presented with a new Malyuk assault rifle (aka Vulkan-M) developed by the Artillery Armament Design Bureau, Kyiv. The product is also a weapon arranged according to the "bullpup" scheme, generally repeating the general concept of the "Boar", but with some improvements in terms of ergonomics. The machine is equipped with a picatinny rail and can be equipped with various sighting devices. At the request of the customer, mufflers of Ukrainian production can be installed. The machine did not arouse interest either from the Ukrainian defense department or from foreign customers. 

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-21
Automatic Malyuk (Vulkan-M), photo: oruzheika.mybb.ru

In 2008, the Ukrainian scientific and production association of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine "Fort" (Vinnitsa) entered into an agreement on licensed production of the Tavor series of small arms developed by the Israeli state company IMI (Israel Military Industries). The Tavor Tar-21 family of weapons is modular and consists of several samples built on the basis of one basic design. The system includes: a standard Tar-21 assault rifle with a 465 mm barrel (in Ukraine it is standardized as "Fort 222"), STAR-21 (CTAR - Commando Tavor Assault Rifle) - a modification with a barrel shortened to 375 mm, designed for special forces ("Fort-221") and a compact assault rifle used as a self-defense weapon for vehicle crews - "Micro Tavor" MTAR-21 with a barrel of 330 mm, as well as a "Sniper" version - STAR-21 (STAR ​​- Sharp Shooting Tavor Assault Rifle ) is an assault rifle equipped with a bipod and an optical sight (equipped as standard with a 4x ACOG sight).

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-22
Tavor Tar-21, photo: Wikipedia
What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-23
Tavor STAR-21, photo: Wikipedia
What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-24
Tavor MTAR-21, photo: Wikipedia

The body of the weapon is made of high-strength polymers combined with light alloys, and in some places reinforced with steel inserts. Tavor barrels chambered for the NATO cartridge 5.56*45, produced in Ukraine, are supplied from Israel, where they are made by cold forging. Barrels for "Fort 221" submachine guns chambered for 5.45x39 are produced at the industrial base of NPO "Fort" in Vinnitsa using our own technology. The trigger mechanism provides firing in two modes - a single fire and a burst of arbitrary length. Sights normally consist of a collimator sight with an integrated laser designator. The backlight of the sight turns on automatically when the shutter is cocked and turns off when the machine is unloaded. During the tests, the Tavor assault rifles demonstrated good maneuverability, which is especially important when conducting combat in urban conditions, increased impact resistance and reliability when used in emergency conditions. The weapon is convenient when shooting offhand and demonstrates good accuracy.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-25
Fort-221

On December 23, 2009, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted a resolution on the adoption of the Fort-221, Fort-222 assault rifles and Fort223/224 submachine guns by the Security Service of Ukraine, the State Security Department, the State Border Guard Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine ". The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine did not arouse interest in these samples, because NATO ammunition 5.56x45, for which Tavor/Fort was originally designed, is not produced in Ukraine. In this regard, the leadership of NPO Fort announced the start of preparations for its own production of 5.56x45 cartridges. Somewhat later, a version of Tavor / "Fort-221" was created chambered for 5.45x39, which is produced in Ukraine at the Luhansk Cartridge Plant.

What are they fighting in the world now: modern assault rifles (machine guns)-26
Fort-224

What are fighting in the ATO zone

So what are the Ukrainian military and their opponents armed with in the ATO zone in the South-East of Ukraine? The most widespread weapon is still the Kalashnikov assault rifle of various modifications. In the hands of our soldiers and national guardsmen are both the AK-74 and older assault rifles of the AK / AKM / AKMS family, which, it is believed, give some advantages when conducting combat operations in the forest zone due to a lower tendency to ricochet a 7.62x39 cartridge bullet at shooting through branches.

The separatists are armed even more colorfully - in addition to Kalashnikovs of various modifications, they have various representatives of exotic weapons, probably found in the conflict zone from Russian long-term storage warehouses. These are PPSh and even PPD submachine guns (!), SKS carbines and DP light machine guns. Spetsnaz groups of the GRU of the General Staff of the Russian Army, operating on the territory of our country, for the most part, use standard AK-74m assault rifles. So, despite the abundance of technically advanced third-generation models on the world market, our soldiers still clutch the well-deserved Kalashnikov assault rifle in their hands, nicknamed the Kalash in the troops and, sometimes, a little familiarly, the Kalashyan.