Key Point: Coming soon to a war near you?
Russian Special Forces are getting the latest variant of the ASh-12,7x55 mm heavy assault rifle.
The weapon, ShAK-12, was commissioned by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and is being manufactured by a branch of the KBP Instrument Design Bureau. On this year’s “Gunsmith Day,” a Russian holiday honoring arms manufacturers, KBP won an award for the “design, manufacture, testing, and serial production of the 12,7 mm heavy assault automatic system ShAK-12.”
Whereas Kalashnikov’s AK flagships like the recent AK-12 are general purpose military assault rifles that have to balance penetration, handling, weight, accuracy and shot distance, the ShAK-12 is designed for a specific use-case where weight and shot distance are largely irrelevant. Drawing on the experience of the Beslan school siege and Moscow theater hostage crisis in the early 2000’s, the FSB saw the need for a more efficient close-quarters combat weapon in hostage situations.
Adrenaline and certain substances can suppress the immediate impact of gunshot wounds, potentially giving the target a short-term window of action before going down. In urban conflict scenarios, these minutes or even seconds can make a difference of several dead hostages.
The ShAK-12’s 12,7х55 mm rounds are meant to solve this problem by instantly neutralizing targets upon contact, thereby avoiding prolonged gunfights. These 33-gram rounds can reportedly neutralize targets even with grazing shots and through walls. The ShAK-12 has an effective range of up to 100 meters, quite low for conventional military use but sufficient for close-quarters combat. Given ShAK-12’s intended operating scenario, a low effective range can be seen as a design feature in that it further minimizes collateral damage against civilians.
ShAK-12’s three bullet types further highlight the manufacturer’s focus on tactical versatility: armor-piercing rounds with extreme stopping power to penetrate bullet proof vests and cover; subsonic velocity rounds for effective silencer fire; and light aluminium rounds that maximize stopping power while negating ricochet effects.
To accommodate three 12,7х55 variants of different kinetic energy and pressure levels, the manufacturer opted for a short-barrel bullpup design. While a relatively rare form factor for assault rifles, it may offer better handling in close-quarters environments.
The manufacturers attempted to compensate for the prodigious weight of ShAK-12’s 12,7х55 mm rounds by designing parts of the gun—like the magazine—with plastic and hybrid aluminium. As with many Bullpup variants, it uses a polymer stock. The ShAK-12 still weighs 5.2 kg (for comparison, the AK-12 is 3.3 kg), which makes it too heavy to issue for prolonged deployments in mobile operational theaters.
The assault rifle, unveiled in 2017 and displayed at Russia’s “Army 2018” defense expo, will be limited to close-quarters FSB use and is expected to see action in future Russian counter-terrorist operations. Russia does, however, have a different set of plans for the ShAK-12 beyond its borders: ShaK-12 was shown at Defexpo 2018 in India and China and is being aggressively marketed as an export product.
Specific export plans have not yet been announced, but KPB’s parent company Rostec is optimistic:
“Russian shooting weapons have long established themselves at the international level as reliable, simple-to-use weapons meeting modern requirements for combat operations. ShAK-12 is a perfect weapon for counter-terrorist and other military operations in populated areas, inside buildings and structures where the maximum safety of civilian population is the top priority. As expected, foreign special forces will be greatly interested in this new product.”
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a Ph.D. student in History at American University.