AR-15 vs. AK-47: Reliability Under Extreme Conditions


Reliability issues about the AR-15 and AK-47 seem to concern many. My take is that any successful, long-serving issue service rifle will be very, but not perfectly, reliable.

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Here’s a report from a range offering rental services of fully automatic firearms that shoots approximately 400,000 rounds each month and their experience with extremely high round counts. Henderson Defense rents a variety of firearms, especially full auto, at their Battlefield Las Vegas range with some individual guns having over 200,000 rounds fired.

AR-15 Report

AK-47 Report

Some of our M4’s have well over 200,000 rounds down range. Barrels have been replaced, gas tubes have been replaced, BCG’s have been replaced but what sets it apart from the AK47’s is that upper and lower receivers continue to function. AK’s get to about the 100,000+ round count and rails on the receiver will start to crack. It’s an easy fix with tig welding but they crack. We have yet to lose an upper or lower AR-15 receiver from cracking

We no longer use ANY piston conversions or factory pistons guns with the exception of the HK-416 “knock-off” TDI upper. I purchased a FACTORY brand-new MR556 and it started keyholing after only 10,000 rounds. The only piston system to last on the range so far is the HK416 and TD415 system. Every other systems we have tried has failed in one way or another.

USGI mags have outlasted all of the other brands. We use UGSI (Brownell’s with tan follower) and on a mag for mag basis, they have outlasted Pmags and a few of the other mags that we get from mfg’s with new weapons. We don’t have to worry about various generations with different weapons like the MR556, SCAR, F2000, Tavor or a couple of others that use AR15/M4 magazines.

Every single stamped AK receiver has suffered from a cracked trunion. This includes Saiga, Arsenal (Bulgarian), Norinco (Chinese), Arsenal (Russian stamped), WASR, Hungarian, Polish (vintage kits), Yugo (vintage and PAP-series) and new Polish (from Royal Tiger imports).

– We have every type of AK available to shoot except for Cuban, Vietnamese or North Korean.

– US (Century), Bulgarian and Chinese milled receivers have yet to fail.

– Stamped receivers split at the angle of the upper rail and the side wall. N-PAP’s have literally cracked in half perpendicular to the length of the rifle. The receivers cracked just posterior of the front trunion (between center bushing and the trunion).

This may sound crazy but it’s fair to say that they finally suffer a catastrophic failure (cracked trunion) at 80,000-100,000 rounds. Also, we have WASR’s that have suffered a catastrophic failure and we just pull out the old trunion and barrel, grab one from a parts kit, re-rivet, re-barrel and get them up and running.

The AK is the most reliable but after seeing how many have broken over the last two and half years on the range, it’s not the indestructible weapon everybody talks about (and I always thought it was).

AK-47 Reliability Problems


Just like the AR-15/M16, Kalashnikov’s famed AK-47 experienced initial reliability problems. One difference was the Soviets weren’t forced into fielding these initial design problems during Viet Nam. Consider if these initial, flawed copies of Kalashnikov’s design had been forced into combat instead of being rejected at the factory.

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Early production AK-47s were broken down into two distinct batch types – the version from 1948 and the version succeeding these from 1952. However, the early forms – with their stamped sheet metal receivers – proved inherently flawed, mainly due to the sheet-metal stamping technology found in throughout Russia at the time leading many production AK-47s to be rejected right at the factory. This inevitably forced the use of a machined receiver (from solid steel) instead and delayed large-scale entry of the assault rifle until the mid-1950s. The machined process covered AK-47 production from 1951 to 1959 and led to an increase in overall weight of the weapon. However, this method of manufacture itself was proving to be too expensive in the realm of Soviet mass production efforts and, thusly, forced a revision of the AK-47 family. The resulting effort went on to become the AKM (M= “Modernized”) which reverted construction of the assault rifle back to its stamped steel roots – the process refined after much study of German wartime methods – producing a decidedly cheaper and lighter rifle. A new muzzle installment (with a noted slant) was introduced to combat muzzle climb. Several other subtle modifications were also introduced and the AKM was further branched to become the AKMS which introduced a folding metal buttstock – a compact feature respected by paratroopers and vehicle crews alike. One identifying feature of the AKM series versus the AK-47 was its shortened “dimple” imprint above the magazine feed – the AK-47 sported a longer dimple there. Overall AK-47 production spanned from 1949 to 1975 with involved facilities (among others) being the famed Izhevsk and Tula state arsenals.

There were many difficulties during the initial phase of AK-47 production. The first production models had stamped sheet metal receivers. Difficulties were encountered in welding the guide and ejector rails, causing high rejection rates. Instead of halting production, a heavy machined receiver was substituted for the sheet metal receiver. This was a more costly process, but the use of machined receivers accelerated production as tooling and labor for the earlier Mosin–Nagant rifle’s machined receiver were easily adapted. Partly because of these problems, the Soviets were not able to distribute large numbers of the new rifle to soldiers until 1956. During this time, production of the interim SKS rifle continued.
Source: Poyer, Joe (1 January 2006). The AK-47 and AK-74 Kalashnikov Rifles and Their Variations: A Shooter’s and Collector’s Guide. North Cape Publications. ISBN 978-1-882391-41-7.

Qualifying with the AK-47 or AKM rifle

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Question received from a Soldier:

My reserve unit is being tasked to train Soldiers on how to use the AK47 and establish a qualification standard for them.


AR15 vs. AK47: Reliability Under Harsh Conditions


I’ve added additional articles on the history of issue firearm reliability:

M1 Garand

M14, Part 1

M14, Part 2

AK-47 Reliability Problems

Qualify with the AK-47

AK-47 and AR-15: Reliability after extreme round counts

M16/M4 Extreme Dust Test

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The reliability of the AR-15 vs. the AK-47 designs are babbled about routinely. Here is the only factor that matters.


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