Skip to content

Cheap Chinese Assault Rifles Are Made In Algeria

July 7, 2022
Via Algerian state media.

More than half a century since China lent its full diplomatic and material support for African nationalists its weaponry remains popular across the continent. One of the biggest customers is Algeria whose armed forces are lavished with funds diverted from oil and gas revenues. But during a recent military parade to mark 60 years since independence it became apparent its soldiers are issued with the most basic, even completely outdated, assault rifle supplied by China. It turns out a state-owned factory called the Mechanical Construction Establishment of Khenchela has been mass-producing Type 56 and Type 56-1 assault rifles since the 1990s.

The Type 56 is analogous to the Soviet vintage AK-47 although decades of exports evolved it into a selection of Kalashnikov-pattern small arms that diverge from the original. The copies manufactured in Algeria are the Type 56-1 with a metal folding stock like on the AKS-47. Other characteristics of the Algerian Type 56-1 are synthetic rather than wooden furniture used for the pistol grip and the handguards covering the barrel assembly. These have a black finish and are complemented by polymer magazines. The handguards can be swapped with milled aluminum rails for mounting accessories. (See picture below.)

Telling the Type 56 apart from the AK-47 isn’t difficult as long as key external details are noted. There are eight convenient markers to identify the Type 56. First, the rivet pattern on the stamped receiver differs from other Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles. Second, the curved dust cover that protects the bolt is smooth rather than ridged like on Soviet and Warsaw Pact Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles. Third, the bolt carrier on a Type 56 has a distinct chrome-plated finish. Fourth, the fire selector on the receiver has a smooth surface. Fifth, the gas tube or gas cylinder above the barrel assembly is larger than the Soviet original. Sixth, the front sight is a circle with a round hole above it. Seventh, the wooden furniture of a Chinese-made Type 56 usually has a bright orange finish unless it’s the deep brown of bakelite furniture. Eighth, the pistol grip is either curved or has rounded edges compared with the rectangular shape on an AK-47 or AKM grip.

Via Algerian state media.

Furthermore, the earlier generation of Type 56 assault rifles had an “icepick” folding bayonet under the barrel assembly. This was discontinued on later variants and since the 1980s Type 56 assault rifles were being exported as replicas of Soviet vintage AKMs. Here are the same details mentioned above listed for convenience:

  1. Rivet pattern on the lower receiver is different.
  2. Dust cover is smooth instead of ridged.
  3. Bolt carrier has a silvery chrome finish
  4. Fire selector is flat without diagonal pattern.
  5. Gas tube is thicker.
  6. Front sight is circular rather than crescent shaped.
  7. Wooden furniture is a bright orange hue.
  8. Pistol grip is curved or rounded at the bottom.

The Type 56 and Type 56-1 aren’t without their faults. Aside from being mass-produced copies of an infantry small arm designed in the late 1940s persistent issues such as the poor alignment between the front and back sights are well-known. The extent of anti-rust coating on the receiver and dust cover as well as the barrel are sometimes problematic. Why Algeria’s armed forces maintain such antiquated small arms for its troops is baffling when its exorbitant purchases of sophisticated air defenses and fighter jets are considered. However, convenience is an irresistible influence. The price of a locally made Type 56 is negligible and is easier to supply in large quantities. Importing a brand new Type 56 assault rifle from China does entail a markup that reaches more or less $700 depending the the weapon’s specifics. Both China and Russia have superior assault rifles to the outdated AK-47 available for export.

Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles are manufactured in three other African countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. The Sudanese Kalashnikov is also based on the Type 56 but with the slanted muzzle brake of the Soviet AKM. Meanwhile, back in Algeria, the Mechanical Construction Establishment of Khenchela has active production lines for the fixed stock Type 56, the underfolding stock Type 56-1, and a copy of the RPK light machine gun. The ubiquitous PKM belt-fed light machine gun is manufactured in Khenchela too although it’s the Chinese copy known as the Type 80. Likewise the W85 heavy machine gun. As far as can be ascertained Algeria hasn’t approved the export of its locally made assault rifles and other small arms.

Comments are closed.