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Russian Paratroopers Finally Have A New Assault Rifle

May 12, 2019

The world’s most intimidating military parade was another stupendous display of the Russian Federation’s hard power. Sure, the kit and weapons, with a lot of both introduced this decade, are starting to lose their allure as they become commonplace. Yet this year’s May 9 Victory Day parade, marking 74 years since the Soviet Union crushed Nazi Germany, still had its surprises. With much of the occasion dominated by President Vladimir Putin’s address and the ensuing rituals to welcome the marching infantry, viewing the armaments rolling by the Kremlin always brings intriguing details into focus.

But a pleasant surprise was found among the soldiers stomping across Red Square. One particular elite unit brought their new Kalashnikov rifles with them. (Pictured above.)

The AK-74M remains the standard issue rifle for the Russian military and special forces. But for the airborne or VDV regiment that marched in the Victory Day parade, their glistening AK-12 assault rifles were hard to overlook. Meant to improve on its predecessor’s shortcomings and bring the model to current standards of accessorization, the AK-12 remains chambered for 5.45x39mm ammunition kept in new high strength polymer magazines. The paratroopers in Red Square were issued the AK-12 carbine with an elongated gas tube connecting to the front sight. The carbine’s resulting appearance with its extended muzzle invites comparisons to the Israeli-made Galil Ace.

The AK-12 carbines of the paratroopers each had an underbarrel 40mm grenade launcher and a red dot sight on the upper receiver. The collapsible or telescopic stock is also unmistakable. Recall how the AK-74M and its “family” had solid side folding stocks. The AK-12 was supposed to have a newly designed folding stock but it’s now apparent Kalashnikov Concern embraced collapsible stocks instead. Long familiar to users of AR-pattern and M4 carbines, collapsible stocks allow a soldier to adjust its length by pulling lever that drives it either forward or backward.

The Russian military’s airborne branch or VDV are the largest of their kind in Eurasia, totaling 45,000 men, and the best armed in the world. As part of their modernization, some VDV regiments have absorbed T-72B3 tank companies to fight alongside their BMD-series transports. The VDV maintain 1,200 armored fighting vehicles, the newest are the BMD-4M and the BTR-MD, and several hundred artillery pieces–an arsenal eclipsing most armies in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Aside from the paratroopers two other infantry formations in Red Square had AK-12 rifles. These were identifiable for their standard resemblance to the AK-74M except for the collapsible stock, an ergonomic pistol grip, a milled upper receiver with rail mounts, and a newly designed muzzle brake. Since it traces its lineage back to the AK-74, with its lightweight 5.45mm rounds known for leaving horrific injuries, the AK-12 is a continuation of a superior assault rifle design from the late 20th century. Generous as always with its arms sales, Russia approved the AK-12 “family” for export under the AK-200 brand.

Total adoption of the AK-12 will take several years to fulfill. Excluding other military branches and the interior ministry, the Russian army by itself require at least 300,000 of the new rifles. A National Guard unit was already carrying AK-12’s in Red Square and their full strength reaches six figures too. Adding the naval infantry and the navy at large, as well as border guards, railway guards, and nuclear forces, brings the AK-12’s domestic production to almost a million rifles. Compared with the “modular” rifles of Europe and North America, the AK-12’s sheer numbers for domestic use guarantee its long-term success.

But what happens to the tons and tons of AK-74M’s that must be retired?

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