Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern has unveiled their new AK-308 assault rifle at the “Army 2018” expo in Moscow.
At first glance, the AK-308 appears to be a rebrand of Kalashnikov’s AK-12 with some design elements from the AK-103. But its tame appearance belies what makes the AK-308 one of Kalashnikov’s most ambitious products in decades: it houses 7.62x51mm NATO rounds.
Since the Second World War, Kalashnikov has produced over twenty assault rifles. Of these, all but three have employed Soviet/Russian-made ammunition. The AK-101 and AK-102 with 5.56x45mm NATO rounds were Kalashnikov’s first foray into exporting a rifle with NATO-standard ammunition, but these made a small international splash.
The AK-108, also made for 5.56x45mm rounds, likewise generated little interest from major foreign buyers. The 108 was part of the late AK-100 series line (107-109) that was plagued by recoil inconsistencies, heaviness, and needlessly complicated design.
Two decades later, Kalashnikov is trying again. The AK-308 uses a different NATO rounds— 7.62х51 as opposed to 5.56x45mm—that trades more weight and recoil for better range and penetration capability. The AK-308 is marginally longer and heavier than the AK-12 to accommodate its heavier caliber type. It incorporates many of the AK-12’s improvements, including a collapsible buttstock and redesigned gas tube. The AK-308 uses a firearm frame based off the RPK-74M, a design choice meant to increase durability.
Barring the kinds of quality control issues that plagued early AK-12 test units, the AK-308 should offer better handling and performance. But performance improvements are to be expected, given the two decades separating the AK-308 from the AK 100-series. The question is whether it can improve in a cost-effective way, especially since Kalashnikov is pitching the AK-308 as an affordable alternative to western 7.62x51mm rifles.
Recycling parts of the AK-12’s efficient design is sure to reduce Kalashnikov’s overhead, but it remains to be seen if they can integrate 7.62x51mm rounds while keeping production costs sufficiently low.
The AK-308Kalashnikov Concern
There is no indication that the Russian government itself is planning to use the AK-308, either among its military or domestic police. As with the AK-101 and 102 before it, the AK-308 is a near-identical variant of Kalashnikov’s current flagships produced purely for export purposes.
Kalashnikov’s recent push into the export market is distinguished not just by new technology, but by a different business model. Whereas the AK-101 was not produced for anyone in particular, the AK-308 is designed and marketed with a specific buyer in mind: India.
India is a recurring importer of Russian defense technology stemming back to the Cold War period. The Kremlin has been aggressively pursuing the Indian export market, recently signing a $5.43 billion deal with New Delhi that included the sale of five Russian S-400 surface-to-air-weapons systems and four Russian Admiral Grigorovich -class frigates.
But Russia has struggled to sell small arms to India over the years. Kalashnikov was passed up in a recent Indian assault rifle procurement search because, as it happens, the Indian military is looking specifically for 7.62x51mm rifles. The AK-308, then, is an explicit Russian attempt to become India’s primary rifle exporter after a two-decade hiatus of indigenously produced Indian INSAS rifles.
Besides giving Russia a foothold in the lucrative Indian market, a cost-effective 7.62x51mm rifle could tempt other buyers looking for cheap, reliable, NATO-standard caliber arms. Brazil has been mentioned as a prospective client, and even Pakistan has apparently expressed interest.
This article originally appeared on The National Interest.
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