Here's What You Need to Remember: While Kalashnikov’s machine gun is less famous than his rifle, in many ways it is a better design. Lighter than most Western 7.62 machine guns, it is still accurate and controllable. The PKM has proven popular with almost every country that’s used it.
The Russian military and security services field quite a variety of firearms, Western and domestic.
But from all of these guns, which could be considered the best? Here is a few to consider:
The AK-74M is ubiquitous in the Russian Armed Forces. In 2018, it is even replacing the shorter AKS-74U as the armament for support crew. The rifle is light, reliable, has low recoil and compact with the standard issue folding plastic buttstock.
While by some Western standards it may be considered outdated ergonomically, the AK-74M is one of the best AKs out there, with Russian special operations forces continuing to use the rifle in combat abroad and domestically.
In the Syrian Civil War, AK-74Ms are popular among all sides as a reliable and accurate weapon, with the rifle beating out the Iranian KH2002 during 2008 trials.
2. Glock 17:
The Glock is no stranger to military service, having been originally designed for the Austrian Bundesheer in the 1980s. It’s currently one of the most popular military and police sidearms worldwide, including with U.S. Army special forces and elite units in the Russian security services.
The Russian arms industry produced many guns that copied the Glock’s features, such as the GSh-18, a polymer framed, striker-fired gun with a trigger safety.
But the original may still be the best. The Glock appears to be preferred by the most elite units, including the FSB’s Alpha Antiterror group.
Glock 17s in Russian service bear distinctive slide markings that indicate that they are property of the security services.
3. PKM / PKP Pecheneg:
While Kalashnikov’s machine gun is less famous than his rifle, in many ways it is a better design. Lighter than most Western 7.62 machine guns, it is still accurate and controllable. The PKM has proven popular with almost every country that’s used it.
The PKP Pecheneg is the more modern version with a different bipod and barrel. The PKP is primarily issued to special forces and more modernized units, while the PKM is still seen in the largest numbers in the army. The PKM replaced the RPK-74M and RPK-74 as the standard issue squad automatic weapon recently.
The PKM and PKP are constantly being modernized with new stock kits and optics mounts being produced by Russian industry. Bullpup versions and even a version that can feed ammunition from a backpack exist.
One of the most common criticisms of the PKM in the West is the non-disintegrating belts, which require a gunner to manage an empty ammunition belt on the left side of the gun. However, this is not considered a disadvantage in Russian service, as the belts can be reused.
A Ukrainian firm has developed plastic ammunition links that act as a disintegrating belt, but similar innovations have not yet been adopted by the Russian military or security services.
4. H&K MP5:
The MP5 is ubiquitous around the world in the hands of special police units, and Russia is no exception. MP5s have been used by FSB units, often fitted with red dot sights and rails to accept foregrips and other accessories.
Recently the MP5 may have been replaced by the PP-19-01 Vityaz-SN 9x19mm submachine gun in Russian service, probably due to the lower cost and similar manual of arms to the regular AK rifle. Despite this, the MP5 is definitely a better gun with regards to shootability.
The roller-delayed mechanism in the MP5 reduces recoil more than a straight blowback system, making it easier to stay on target. For this reason, the older MP5 continues to outsell the newer H&K UMP9, a straight blowback gun.
A friendly shooting competition between units of the Belorussian KGB “Alpha” unit, using the H&K MP5 and the Russian FSB “Alpha” unit using the PP-19-01 Vityaz-SN demonstrates this readily.
5. SAKO TRG 42:
Finnish firearms have a well-deserved reputation for accuracy and durability. Due to the Finnish military’s emphasis on accuracy, the Finnish arms industry has always produced accurate guns. As such, their rifles are very popular around the world.
One line of Finnish rifles that’s achieved considerable success is the Sako TRG line, which are a favorite among a multitude of special units.
Even regular contract Russian Army snipers in reconnaissance teams have been spotted with the Sako TRG (Austrian Steyr SSG 08 rifles have also been seen with these teams), although it is more with TsSN FSB antiterror units.
A Russian article from 2013 suggests that Sako TRG rifles are the most popular with Russian elite snipers, beating out the domestic SV-98 and Orsis rifles. The article places emphasis on bolt problems with Orsis rifles, which appear to still be an issue four years later in the Orsis T-5000.
In addition to their superior characteristics, the TRG rifles were also cheaper than domestic equivalents, though this may have changed in 2018 given the wide adoption of the SV-98 by Russian Airborne Forces.
Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.
This article first appeared earlier in 2019. It is being republished due to reader interest.