Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Debate to End All Debates: AR or AK?

It seems everyone has given their two cents. Some people have given better, more accurate information than others. I've obviously made a decision, but that doesn't mean I don't see value in both platforms. My intent is to provide you with the information that made me choose the AR platform, so that you are able to consider these points when you choose what's best for you. To those that disagree with my conclusions, the unfortunate truth is that there is no "best" gun on earth, because different situations favor different qualities in a firearm. However, both these rifles are on the short list of those competing for the title, "The Best." Before reading on, I want to make it very clear: if you like and use the AK platform, you have made a good choice. It's just, in my opinion, if you live in the US it's not as good of a choice as an AR. I can hear the screaming from the AK fanboys already... just, please, at least read on to see WHY I have come to that conclusion before screaming at me through the internet about how the AK is the most reliable and most awesome gun in the world.

So, why even consider an AR? I mean, according to the devoted disciples of Kalashnikov, the AR is broken by design and will never be able to compete with an AK. The AK47 even shoots a larger caliber and is better at defeating obstacles than the AR15! The AR is all about national pride, not substance, right? The AK must be better, right? Not so fast AK fanboys! The AR platform has some serious advantages in its favor. Here's some points to consider:

  1. Mounting Optics - So, this is something you should strongly consider. Having a red-dot or variable power scope is a HUGE advantage. So much so that our military invests more money in optics than the actual firearms they go on, in many cases. This is a big advantage for the AR because the built-in rail is perfect for maintaining zero and providing improved accuracy at longer ranges. The M4-style top rail is actually built into the upper receiver and the optic is left on during field stripping. AK guys are going, "Yeah. And, an AK can mount those too!" It's true, an AK can mount optics, but it's done in an ineffective way. There are basically two ways to mount an optic on an AK: side-attached mounts or on top of the handguard. If the AK proponents can be honest (I hope some can), these are both terrible options. TERRIBLE! Why? Let's start with the side-attached mounts. These put the optic above the top of the receiver, which is really bad for an AK because you have to remove the optic to field-strip the weapon! So, any time you lube it, clean it, try to clear a jam, try to fix a malfunction, replace worn parts, or just inspect the internal parts to ensure they are in working order, you have to remove the sight and mount. That effects the zero and adds extra steps to any of the above-mentioned actions. So, honestly, if you don't check your gun regularly, you're just waiting for it to break when you need it. And, getting back to the need for honest AK users, even AKs break. The other option, mounting on the handguard, is reasonable for red-dots, but not optimal. It's impossible for scopes, however. Trying to get your eye at the right distance to the scope to actually see through the optic is difficult. You can try cantilever mounts or extending the rails backward over the receiver, but both those options will, again, prevent field stripping the receiver and are not a good choice. They have developed dust covers, but those aren't exactly the most solid option to ensure you hold zero and, again, they require removing the optic to field strip. Ultimately, this alone classifies the AK as a dated system that isn't equipped for use in modern warfare, no matter how many Russians and terrorists love it. One would be better off purchasing a Sig MCX or a Piston-driven AR than an AK, just for this reason alone.
  2. Availability of parts and ammo in the US - If you're in the United States, you may have noticed that ARs are everywhere. Until recently, you could pick up a gallon of milk and an AR at the grocery store. (Walmart is full of crap, btw. Daniel Defense, BCM, Spike's, Aero Precision, and online retailers selling factory ARs can hardly keep their guns/parts in stock, but they weren't selling at Walmart?) Cartridges such as .223 and 5.56 are widely available, very affordable, and typically in large supply. 7.62x39 is also very available, world-wide, but not anywhere near the scale of 5.56/.223 availability. Also, when you look at the crazy precision shooting world and the precision ammunition available for .223, you see commonly available ammo with advanced ballistics and performance - much more than what you can find for 7.62x39. For preppers or enthusiasts and everyone in between, cheap available ammo with high-quality options is a big deal. If you live in the US, the 5.56, .223 Wylde, or .223 chambered AR15s offer a serious advantage to the AR. You'll find similar benefit to the .308/7.62x51 over the AK47 round, as well. Almost every gun manufacturer in the US produces an AR variant. Many, many more companies make parts for custom building or accessories. The result is that replacement parts, like a BCG, are more widely available and easier to acquire.
  3. Customization - The ability to so extensively customize the rifle and the variety of do-it-yourself build options provides AR owners with a distinct advantage. There are places you can buy AK flats, various build kits, etc, but they are few and far between. We have very limited choices when it comes to upgrading an AK-variant rifle - few companies produce after-market parts and few options are provided by those that do. Plus, how available are the parts in your area? (Not on the internet!) The AR on the other hand... to say the after-market parts industry for the AR is robust would be an understatement! AKs are really getting hand-me-downs from the AR, like AR-style stock kits that allow AK owners to use AR stocks on a buffer tube attachment. There is no doubt that you can customize the trigger, the length of pull, the weight, the length of barrel, the material of the parts, the coating of the parts, etc of an AR much more than any other gun on earth.
  4. Technology - This circles back into point #1, specifically the part about the AK being dated because it isn't as capable of adding optics and other modern implements of war. You see, the AK doesn't have the same market behind it, improving it's materials and function. The advancements in coatings, treatments, materials, and weight savings that are present for the AR just dwarf and, honestly, over-power anything the AK market can muster. The ability to bring to bare improved quality from new production methods and technological innovations provide  the AR world with an extreme advantage over the AK - one that it cannot compete with. With innovations such as piston-driven kits that can be added to virtually any AR, there is no reason to make the age-old argument about fouling in the AR's chamber from Direct Impingement - that is effectively a mute point. The technological advances in the AR market have modernized the AR - it is a MUCH better weapon than it was when it was first created. Meanwhile, the AK is fast becoming a dinosaur, despite the best efforts of its supporters. The ability to upgrade the AK platform is extremely limited.
While you may not completely agree with my assessment of the AK, the fact is that the AK is dated, it is resistant to modernization due to its design, and there are just too many things it can't do effectively that modern militaries ask of their weapon systems, especially mounting optics. If you own an AK and like the platform, you're not using the best possible weapon, but you're using a great weapon that you can depend on. If you like it, stick with it. Out of these two weapon systems, if you want the gun that is generally the best and most adaptable to any type of combat, currently the AR is it.

However, I know for a fact that the AR will be replaced soon. It's only a matter of time until something forces the US government to switch to a new firearm, which will have a trickle-down effect on the firearms market and the production devoted to the AR will switch to the new king of the hill. I suspect it will be a cost-effective, highly modular and adjustable bullpup, with a free-float barrel, and uses AR15 magazines. That rules out the Tavor (not modular, adjustable, or a free-float barrel) and numerous other options on the market. It's coming and it will be a huge step forward, not a leap back to the AK platform.

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