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AR vs AK

5D Tactical - 9th Jun 2023

The iconic AK family and AR pattern are two of the most distinctive firearm platforms between the east and west. Both rifle patterns are easily one of the most recognizable out of all other contemporaries today. Their popularity is owed to their success in fulfilling their respective callings of an easy to manufacture layout or an intuitive lightweight design. Today we explore their qualities and where a design pattern outshines the other.

What’s the Difference of AKM vs AK-47

The “AK” can refer to a handful of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s developed firearm models, most notably the heritages of AK-47, AK-74, AK-100, and AKM. The two most common and similar patterns prevalent today are the AKM and AK-47. Before we begin, here are their differences to help identify your AKs.

Stamped Receiver

Debuted as the AK-47 and AK-74’s successor in 1959, the modern AK variant that most people will get their hands on today is the AKM. Unlike the milled receivers of the AK-47, the AKM receivers are typically constructed of stamped sheet metal. Rather than starting from an aluminum billet that is cut to receiver form, general shapes are cut from 1mm thick steel sheets and folded into the AKM’s receiver shape. The trunnions are then seated into the receiver rather than milled.

Hence the AKM can be distinguished easily from its predecessors by the additional rivets holding the barrel to the frontal trunnion as well as the trunnions to the stamped receiver. The milled AK receiver also has a deep, wide rectangular groove cut into the lateral sides unlike its stamped receiver that bears a small dimple right above the magwell.

While the decision to move from milling to stamping saves weight as well as time and procurement costs, the tighter tolerance fitting of milled receivers is lost. Some users may even say that the 1.1 lb difference is counterintuitive for controlling recoil. Not all AKs in production today are all stamped however, but they are much less common than the standard stamped AKMs made by former Warsaw participating states. As the stamped receiver has been more common and cost efficient to produce, most aftermarket AKM parts are catered towards stamped receiver AKMs and are incompatible with milled receiver AKs. Keep this in mind if you’re someone who wants to mount Zenitco furniture onto your AK.


The AKM front sight post is more narrow and flat than those found on the AK-47. The AKM fin shaped sight post’s hypotenuse is at a much steeper angle to reduce the length of the base. Recesses are cut into the AKM sight post’s surface, presumably a weight and material saving measure.

The dimensions of the AK-47 barrel are slightly bigger than that of the AKM. The AKM barrel is lighter than the AK-47 barrel as its diameter is 2 mm thinner.

Four holes are adorned on each side of the AK-47 gas tube. The AKM gas tube is fully sealed and vented via the gas block. However, the gas tubes can be used interchangeably.


Handguards found on the AKM can be distinguished from their AK-47 counterparts by the distinct rectangular shaped palm swells on either side of the AKM handguard.

Bayonet Lug and Sling

The AK-47 has an integrated front sling loop located below the gas block. On the AKM this has been replaced with a new bayonet lug and the sling loop has been relocated to the handguard’s front retaining bracket. Previously with the AK-47, the bayonet is kept in its position by only the bayonet’s built in ring and the AK’s cleaning rod retaining lug. The bayonet lug is also used to mount an under-barrel grenade launcher.

The rear sling loop of the AK-47 is built into the left side of the receiver while the AKM has the sling mount embedded within the stock to support better maneuverability.

Dust Cover

AK-47’s dust cover has a thicker gauge and has a smooth surface in contrast to the thinner AKM’s dust cover with a ribbed surface to maintain structural integrity.

Recoil Spring

The AK-47 uses a thick steel guide rod to hold the recoil spring in place, whereas two thinner wire guide rods support the recoil spring within the AKM.

Bolt Carrier

AKM bolt carriers are different from their AK-47 counterparts. The AKM bolts have a recess cut into the body right behind the charging handle and more cuts fluted into the bolt stem, likely to reduce a small amount of weight. Additionally, the surface of the AKM bolt carrier has been treated with a protective phosphate black finish as opposed to the AK-47 bolt carrier’s bare polished steel.

However, the AKM and AK-47 bolt carriers are interchangeable and either respective bolts will function in both models.


As you can infer from the many changes made to the AK-47, the primary intention of the AKM’s design was to ease the strain of manufacturing and transporting the AK as a standard infantry weapon. The long stroke gas piston system and aggressive extraction is what makes the AK great at cycling cost-efficient steel cased ammo. The Soviet Union sought efficient small arms to equip its armed forces and sponsor foreign allies due to financial constraints. The AKM was and continues to be the perfect platform for such an endeavor. If success is measured by global prevalence, the AKM takes the cake.

Its distinct Cold War image and widespread use in hot conflicts world-wide is a testimony to cheap reliability and ample availability. Mozambique adopted in 1983 its current flag, a tricolored flag with a red triangle as part of the background to an AK, a tiller, and a book superimposed over a star. The Kalashnikov rifle serves as symbolic imagery for Mozambique’s struggle for independence against Portugal. This theme of resistance would become synonymous with the Kalashnikov icon, albeit with underlying roots as support from the USSR.

Mozambique's National Flag

Mozambique's National Flag. Photo Credit. World Atlas

  • Cheap to manufacture
  • Cheap steel ammo to use
  • Widely distributed as foreign military aid
  • Iconic representative of Russian small arms development
  • Functions like a champ in sub-zero temperatures

What’s the Difference Between the AKM and AK74?

In the early 70s, Soviet leadership wanted to replicate the magazine capacity and wounding capabilities of 5.56 NATO. In standard Soviet fashion, the original AKM was made to accept the new caliber rather than the USSR investing the resources to design an entirely new weapons platform. This redesigned AKM is known as the AK-74, made to feed the 5.45x39 caliber. While the AK74 looks about as different from the AKM as Glock handgun generations from each other, there are some functional differences to note.

  • To accommodate the wear of 5.45x39, the 45 degree gas block has been changed to a 90 degree gas block. However, some early production AK74s did use a 45 degree gas block.
  • The AK74’s new muzzle brake required a longer barrel thread diameter than the barrel blanks used. A threaded shroud that wraps around the barrel muzzle has been integrated into the AK74 front sight piece. The bayonet lug has also been made a part of the AK74 front sight assembly.
  • Springs have been added to the AK74 handguard and the base of the AK74 gas tube to keep them under tension and mitigate rattling. This helps to address parts that are just slightly out of spec as small arms designed to be made as cheaply as possible aren’t known for their tight tolerances.
  • The bolt carrier and bolt are not interchangeable between the AKM and AK74.
  • 5.45x39 will seat into an AKM or any breech chambered for 7.62x39, but it is not safe to shoot. It will rupture violently and damage your firearm — and fingers.


The Armalite Model 15 was developed as a civilian lightweight 223 Rem platform from the AR10, the original 7.62 AR. It was a direct response to the M14’s shortcomings in volume of fire and capacity in addition to having lighter weight for user mobility.

Lightweight is emphasized within the AR15’s design. A direct gas impingement system is noticeably lighter than a piston driven gas system, albeit much dirtier in carbon buildup. Moreover, the departure from .30 caliber to .22 caliber allowed for users to carry as much ammo at ⅓ of the weight. The classic carrying handle helped the individual distribute the rifle’s load while in an upright gait.

The AR15 would become the basis for the M16 rifle and comes with the additions of a chrome lined barrel, forward assist, and selective fire capability. While the chrome lining helped prevent fouling and the selective fire feature helped in putting down large volumes of fire, it is questionable if the forward assist had any practical benefit. The forward assist was added at the behest of Army leadership as they wanted the user to bash on the action to force it closed when normal operation wouldn’t allow the bolt carrier group to go into battery. In the words of Eugene Stoner however, if the bolt refuses to go into battery from just using the charging handle, odds are that bashing the bolt carrier group is just asking for more problems.

The M16 would see further iterations that include a more adaptable picatinny handguard, a case deflector, and the A2 birdcage flash hider. As US armed forces began to fight more often in urban close quarter environments, the shortened barrel M16A2 became standard issue as the M4 carbine. Lessons and experiences with the M16 and M4 would be crucial to fueling the AR15 aftermarket and becoming a global standard in rifle features. Free-float handguard rails, endless styles of stocks, and STANAG magazine compatibility are just a few of the overarching influences of the AR15 legacy’s impact.

  • Most popular American weapons platform with a massive aftermarket
  • Influential on western small arms development
  • Battle tested parts
  • Lightweight
  • Sub MOA accuracy

Why Intermediate Rifle Caliber?

Stoner was always a 308/7.62 NATO chad but the intermediate rifle caliber was taking off. 308 in selective fire is manageable only with a bipod, however in reality individuals would attempt to shoot while standing and find their follow up shots in full auto to be hitting feets off target. Another reason to move primarily onto intermediate rifle calibers has been capacity and logistical constraints. The logistics of transporting and carrying 30 round magazines of 5.45x39mm or 5.56x45mm is much more efficient than the same infrastructure that's demanded of 7.62x51 and 30-06.

Which Intermediate Rifle Caliber Is Best?

Here’s a comparison between a few of the standard calibers of the AKs and AR15.


When half of the country’s territory has swathes of forests to move through, it makes sense for Eastern bloc states and Russia to use a caliber capable of penetrating thin tree trunks and branches while maintaining a relatively stable trajectory to its intended target. .30 caliber projectiles are fantastic for hitting targets in thick underbrushes. In addition to being easier to suppress, 7.62x39 shines in this territory over 5.56x45.


  • Suppresses in a shorter barrel without losing significant velocity
  • Cheaper than 300 BLK
  • Excellent barrier blindness


While not anywhere near as plentiful as 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington in North America, 5.45x39 is known to shoot quick and flat similar to 5.56 NATO and with less felt recoil. Additionally it retains much more of its energy even in a short barrel compared to 5.56x45. Its tapered neck casings help it feed better than 7.62x39.


  • Tumbles early similar to 5.56 NATO but with less fragmentation
  • Shoots well in barrel lengths between 8” to 12”. Great suppression potential
  • Good reputable performance in making wounding cavity

5.56 NATO

5.56 NATO has a tendency to tumble or break apart upon initial impact. While this can be detrimental if you’re say a ranger trying to make shots at armed poachers in the thick grasses of a Kenyan Reserve, it is an advantage in ensuring bigger wounding cavities. Energy transfers much more efficiently when the projectile strikes tissue and stays within it rather than exiting. Ensuring that all your projectiles only hurt the intended target rather than bystanders and the surroundings is an important feat for most people.


  • Lightweight and can be carried in larger quantities
  • One of the most abundant supply rifle calibers in America
  • Tumbles easily and delivers excellent wounding cavity in soft tissue
  • Travels better than 7.62x39 at long distances

AKM vs AR15

An accurate and well-performing firearm can be had in either an AR15 or an AK from a reputable manufacturer. But what if you can only afford to focus on one platform for now?

Aftermarket Availability

Many shooters find accessories like optics and flashlights to be essential to a militia rifle. If you are reading this, it is highly likely that you’re in the US where an AR15 is as basic of a rifle or PDW style-pistol as it can get. With the exception of another world changing event, you’ll be hard pressed to not find the mounts to fit your weapon light or red dots on an AR. An AK however does not typically come with the picatinny space above the dust cover or on the handguard. RS Regulate is a great budget mount for resolving this.

On the AR15 side, free-float picatinny handguards, picatinny topped upper receivers, and M LOK slots hold one of the most saturated markets within the industry.

How Has The Ukraine-Russia War Impacted The AK Market?

There was a time when cheap steel-cased Russian ammo could be had from many vendors. But since Russia became one of the most sanctioned countries in modern time, importers are no longer receiving bulk Russian ammunition and equipment. Zenitco furnitures, including the popular B-33 and B-10 rails, have been facing seizure in transit by both Russian authorities and US customs. Authentic Zenitco parts have since skyrocketed in market value.

Ammo Availability

7.62x39 and 5.45x39 are not unobtainium stateside, but they have most certainly lost their value in being cost-efficient rounds. Reloaders can’t make use of any steel casings and must resort to brass cartridges, which are few in between. Any leftover stock of Russian made ammo is now within the same ballpark cost, if not more, as 5.56 NATO. As of this writing, there are only 5 listings on ammoseek for 5.45x39. Manufacturing of 5.45x39 came almost entirely from Russia and Ukraine, leaving Romania as the only supplier for new 5.45x39 ammo.

Conversion kits for the AR15 are relatively easy to swap whether you’re going from 223 Wylde to 9mm or 300 Blackout. However, there are fantastic 9mm and 556 NATO AKs to be had. The best ammunition is the one that you can actually have, and 9mm and 223 Remington/5.56 NATO will always fill that role for the foreseeable future.


An AK with a quality FN barrel can reach close to 1 MOA, but even with quality ammo it is extremely difficult if not impossible to get sub MOA accuracy from an AK platform like you could with a solid AR. It’s simply not what it was designed for.

AR15 Is Probably Better For You

For a firearm that you intend to shoot regularly and face the type of elements that it’s built to withstand, an AR or at the very least a rifle pattern with more parts availability will be your best bet.

Unless you’re facing societal breakdown within the European mainland, the odds that you’ll be finding AR parts and accessories is a lot higher in the US even in the face of world changing events. All that’s needed to work on an AR is a good vise block, punch pins, an armorer’s wrench, and a plastic bag to cover the lower receiver as you try to install the lower parts kit without losing the ant-sized spring and detent pin. An AK on the other hand, while being more durable in harsh environments, will require a hydraulic press and takes a lot more intensive gunsmithing work if the need arises.

What Are Some Good ARs?

Here are some top picks of ARs that you can’t go wrong with.

Daniel Defense DDM4v7

Say what you will about the political drama - the DDM4v7 is more than a decent staple flagship of Daniel Defense quality. Be sure to pick up sights for it though. 

  • Quality 1:7 twisted cold hammer forged barrel
  • Mid-length direct gas impingement system
  • 6.2 LBs
  • $1800


LMT is known for precise machining and performance ARs. The LMT Modular Ambidextrous Rifle System emphasizes ambidextrous bolt controls and magazine releases. The MRP line of LMT rifles offers quick barrel swaps that span seconds. Each barrel can be returned to the monolithic upper receiver without losing its previous zero.

  • Quick barrel swap
  • Decent 1:7 twisted cold hammer forged barrel
  • Carbine length direct gas impingement system
  • 7.5 LBs
  • $2500

Knight’s Armament Company SR15

KAC’s quality construction has been tested and used widely amongst US forces and contractors.

  • 1:7 twisted cold hammer forged barrel
  • Mid-length direct gas impingement system
  • 6.4 LBs
  • $2600

Good AKs?

If you’re still itching for a good AK, here are some options worthy of your attention.

Arsenal SAM7/SAM5

Lauded for its precision and tight tolerances, the SAM7 series of Arsenal’s milled AKs comes as the standard SAM7R and the stock-foldable SAM7SF. Each receiver takes 5.5 of meticulous milling from a hot-die forged billet to complete. If you prefer a flavor of 5.56 NATO, the SAM5 series is the variant chambered for 223 Wylde. These Arsenal AKs have great collectability value on top of being amazing shooters than most AKs available.

  • 1:9.44 twisted cold hammer forged barrel (SAM7)
  • 1:7 twisted cold hammer forged barrel (SAM5)
  • Milled receiver
  • 7.62x39 for SAM7 series
  • 5.56 NATO for SAM5 series
  • $2000
  • $2500 for over dust cover rail system included
  • $3000 for rail system and foldable stock


Brought to you by Kalashnikov USA, the KP9 is a US-made semi-auto version of the Vityaz submachine gun.

  • 9.25” barrel
  • Relatively easy to suppress
  • 9mm direct blowback
  • Really fun to shoot

Build that AR With 5D Tactical!

Not to say that the AK isn't a great rifle, but it is a completely different manual of arms from using an AR15. With more parts availability and aftermarket support, having an AR style rifle will provide much more peace of mind. We may not have AK parts for you just yet, but let us help you get started on building the AR that’s only existed in an excel spreadsheet until now. Whether you’re looking for AR parts or a way of building out your own receiver, we’ve got you covered!