It is everywhere you look, on television, in newspapers, on flags, coins and books. I am talking about the world famous Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK-47, possibly one of the most influential ‘tools’ of the past decade.
The Avtomat Kalishnikova 1947 (AK-47) was finally perfected and issued to Russian troops in 1947, as the name suggests. Nearly 60 years on the weapon is still responsible for an estimated 250,000 deaths a year, which could make the AK-47 more deadly than any weapon, nuclear or otherwise ever created.
Ironically, it may just be that the AK-47 death machine is the most durable, popular and effective ‘tool’ ever created by humans.
There’s a famous story of the American Army Colonel and military journalist David Hackworth coming across the body of a Russian soldier that had been dead and buried in mud for more than a year. He drags the soldier’s AK-47 out of the earth, points it at the sky and fires a clean 30 rounds without even dusting it off.
If you look after a Kalashnikov, you can get up to 40 or 50 years’ worth of active service out of them. Abuse the hell out of the thing with sand, water, poor maintenance and you might find it lasting a mere 20 years. And if a part does break, the design has proliferated to every corner of the globe and it’s hardly changed in more than 60 years. You can grab a 1950 magazine and plug it straight into an AK that rolled off a Chinese production line yesterday and start shooting. It’s like the Volkswagen Beetle of firearms.
Why is this important? Well, up until last week the company that has manufactured AK-47’s in Russia since the end of The Second World war has just been partially privatized.
Izhevsk Machine Works has only recently returned to profitability after several years of robust gun sales to American civilians. Two private Russian investors are buying a 49% stake in the company, for a paltry sum of $80 million. Izhevsk made profits of $193 million last year, so these investors should see a profit within the year.
Yet another case of Russian state enterprise being sold off at rock-bottom prices to the ‘connected few’.