As gun makers continue to accessorize small arms for no apparent reason the soldiers of one South Asian state have embraced a unique rifle that isn’t used anywhere else. It’s called the BD-08 and it’s made in an ordnance factory owned by the government of Bangladesh.
The weapon itself, however, is of Chinese origin and is better known as the Type 81. The reasons why Bangladesh chose this rifle are still unclear. Even with its ample stocks of AK-47 knockoffs and multitudinous alternatives, the BD-08 was standardized and will remain so for decades to come.
It’s actually a fitting achievement for one of Asia’s most successful firearm designs.
The BD-08 is only manufactured in the Bangladesh Ordnance Factory (BOF), which was constructed with Chinese assistance in 1970 to help improve the defenses of East Pakistan, whose borders were surrounded by India on three sides. After Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971 the facility was revived by the new government and directed to produce ammunition. The most common infantry small arms in the country at the time were old .303 bolt action rifles and imported Chinese SKS’.
The fledgling armed forces of Bangladesh had to make do with a limited arsenal and leftover assault rifles like the H&K G3, the FN SLR, and the Type 56 were issued in limited quantities.
It was only in 2004 when the BOF launched a program to manufacture a new rifle. Owing to its experience maintaining the army’s Type 56 and Type 63’s imported from China, the Type 81 emerged as the preferred model and production commenced in 2008. The Type 81’s origins went back to the years after the short Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 when the PLA needed a better firearm for its conscript divisions.
The prevailing consensus suggests the Type 81 was a stopgap weapon after the PLA realized how inferior their Type 63 rifles were compared to those used by NATO and the Soviets, both of whom had switched to lighter cartridges. At least with the Type 81 the bar was set a little higher. Compared to the Type 56’s China aggressively exported everywhere, it had better range and still used the same magazines!
Many commentators emphasize how the Type 81 resembles different Soviet rifles and its chrome charging handle and bolt carrier is similar to the Dragunov SVD. This isn’t surprising because Chinese-made weapons often combined design features from existing technology for ease of use.
Other than its curved steel magazine for 7.62 x39mm rounds, the AK-47/AKM and the Type 81 aren’t interchangeable. Although it had a short-stroke gas piston above the barrel assembly, with wooden furniture for its handguard and stock, the Type 81’s familiar appearance didn’t translate into lucrative foreign sales. The PLA adopted the rifle in the 1980s together with a light machine gun variant resembling the Soviet RPK, complete with an elongated barrel that had a folding bipod, that was fed by a drum magazine.
The Type 81 was eventually issued with a side folding skeleton stock the same as the Type 56-2. The stock had an orange grip that functioned as a cheek rest. Inside it was a detachable cleaning kit. The Type 81’s elongated barrel had two purposes–to mitigate recoil and launch rifle grenades. There are no accurate records for how many Type 81’s were made but since it was standardized by the PLA a ballpark figure of 2,000,000 or more is acceptable.
As for the BD-08 rifle, since the BOF only have two machine shops for rifle production, total numbers so far could be in the low five digit range.
Until its replacement by the QBZ-95 bullpup chambered for the lightweight 5.8mm cartridge the Type 81 was perhaps the most successful non-European rifle that used AK-47 ammunition. Except the PLA was its only known user. By the time it was phased out in the late 1990s, rather than be put in storage and forgotten, the Type 81 was transferred to the People’s Armed Police.
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh the BD-08 is used by the army alongside the older Type 56 and Type 63 rifles. The SKS hasn’t even been withdrawn yet as it’s still a marksman rifle of sorts at the platoon level. The Bangladesh Army don’t seem to have any use for rifle grenades on their BD-08’s although 40mm underbarrel grenade launchers can be installed on it anyway.
It’s interesting how the Bangladesh military preferred a rifle designed for AK ammunition when its neighbors opted for lighter 5.56x45mm NATO rounds in their infantry weapons. Myanmar’s soldiers carry the EMERK while India uses the dysfunctional INSAS. It’s pure coincidence that both are copied from the Israeli Galil.
The Type 81 is still a rarity outside China. Ethnic rebels in the highlands of Myanmar and a few token samples in Central Africa are the only places where it’s been spotted. Canadian firearm collectors can buy a civilian Type 81 made by Poly Technologies but its magazine capacity is restricted to five bulets.
Trying to prove the Type 81 superior to other rifles is a waste of time. Since it was designed for the PLA’s requirements four decades ago it’s way out of step with contemporary small arms aesthetics. But it does hold up fairly compared with other assault rifles chambered for the same ammunition.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER 7.62 x 39mm RIFLES
|BD-08 / Type 81||AKM||vz. 58||Valmet M76||AK-103||Galil ACE
|Action||Gas Operated||Gas Operated||Gas Operated||Gas Operated||Gas Operated||Gas Operated|
|Butt Stock||Folding||Fixed/Folding||Fixed/Folding||Folding||Folding||Collapsible & Folding|
|Length||955 mm||880 mm||845 mm||945 mm||943 mm||876 mm>|
|Max. Sighting Range||500 m||800 m||800 m||600 m||1000 m||800 m|
|Max. Effective Range||500 m||400 m||500 m||400 m||500 m||500 m|
|Receiver Type||Stamped Steel||Stamped Steel||Stamped Steel||Stamped Steel||Stamped Steel||Stamped Steel|
|Weight Loaded||4.5 kg||4.5 kg||3.5 kg||4.5 kg||4.5 kg||4.4 kg|
|Wooden Parts||Handguard||Handguard, Stock||Handguard, Stock||Fixed Stock||None||None|