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GUNS: The Kalashnikov Rifle in Security Contracting – Part 2

Security Contractors Bubba G. and Friend in Iraq Packing AK’s

My bro did a great overview of humping the AK in International Security Contracting so in this article I wanted to go over some of the issues one will run into when using an AK on contracts overseas, specifically in Iraq.

Unlike most other contractors I am fortunate enough to be in a unique position where I am able to fire thousands of rounds through an AK here in Iraq every week due to the generous range time allotted to my team. Believe it or not most contractors are lucky to get range time a few times a year.

I know some guys over here that have not fired their weapons in way over a year and some who have never even fired the rifle they were issued. I am sure it sounds crazy to some of the folks reading this, but to the old hands in contracting who are reading this you are probably saying “yep – just like that”.

Before I started contracting in Iraq I really didn’t have much experience with the AK outside of some AK’s I owned and didn’t shoot much [I actually bought them as an investment]. And on my first couple of gigs in the Middle East I mostly carried and M4, so when I started working in Iraq this time around the AK was a relativity new weapons platform to me.

So after a shit-load of time training, humping and shooting the AK in Iraq I have noted several operational quirks that folks who are planning to hump an AK in Iraq should know about.

Ammo is Your Worst Enemy

Finding good brass cased quality controlled manufactured 7.62X39 ammo for your AK in Iraq is like finding a virgin the day after prom back home. Most of the AK ammo you get here is cheap steel cased Russian crap made from melted down manhole covers manufactured back when parachute pants were still in style [nothing like seeing a Hammer and Sickle stamped on a tin of ammo to make you weary about that ride through the red zone].

This steel cased ammo has a problem with blowing out in the chamber and getting stuck, like kick-starting won’t even pop the case out. From what I can tell certain rounds will have weak points on the sides and lips of the cases that will bulge or blow a hole completely through the side of the case sometimes.

From my experience this will happen around one time per 1400 rounds. I see AK’s go down almost every day with blown-out rounds in the chamber because of this problem.

Either way around when the case blows-out it is stuck in your AK like a mo-fo; that rifle will be down for the fight. The only way to clear the chamber is to pop the top cover off, yank out the Recoil Spring Assembly, kick-start the bolt open and ram a rod down the barrel then put it all back together. This is a hell of a thing to pull off in the middle of a fight.

Also the ramrod that comes with the AK is too short [I found out that one the hard way].

Another problem with the Russian ammo you get here is accuracy problems. Somewhere around 285 to 310 meters the ammo substantially loses accuracy to the point that taking a shot past 300 meters is just a waste of ammo.

I don’t have the same problem with good US made 7.62X39 ammo so it must be the poor manufacturing quality of the crap ammo that comes out of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Additionally, any ammo with Arabic markings on it should immediately be considered bad

Magazines Are Your Second Worst Enemy

Just like the ammo the AK magazines here in Iraq are made of melted down manhole covers and are so soft that simply dropping one will dent it to the point it is unusable. The springs are also shit, the feed lips break off and many don’t feed reliably for any other reason than they just don’t feed reliably.

Have a Second AK Within Arms Reach

Packing 2 of the same weapon is an old tried and true solution; I believe it is called the “New York Backup”. Because of the above problems and unless you have nerves of steel and a full minute to clear a blown-out round from the chamber while under fire it is better just to pick up the same weapon and stay in the fight.

I know a ton of guys that keep as many as 3 extra AK’s in their trucks; I keep one more AK handy and an M4 for shots outside of 300 meters.

Carry 2 Ramrods

As I mentioned above the ramrods that come with AK’s [at least on the ones here] are a few inches short of the actual length of the barrel. I am not sure what genius decided to design a rod that is made to ram down the barrel of a rifle that is not long enough to ram down the barrel of a rifle. But whoever he is that shit almost got me killed once so fuck him in his fucking face.

Beg, borrow and Steal Good US Made Brass Cased Ammo

That’s pretty much it, call all of your buddies in country and track down good US made 7.62X39 ammo. Then do whatever to get a few cases – booze and use of your apartment in Bangkok tend to work best but cold hard cash never fails.

Test Each Mag Thoroughly

If you have access to a range then fire 3 to 6 full loads through each of your mags, if you don’t have access to a range then do the same but just rack the rounds out. This is a pain but it will pay off later.

Unfortunately this is not a fool proof way to test magazine reliability, like most things in Iraq mags are quirky and sometimes they just wont work.

Also make sure to load each mag with a full 30 rounds, let them sit for 24 hours and test inserting them into each of the AK’s you will carry. Another problem with magazines here is they will fit fine when unloaded, freshly loaded or even with 29 rounds in them but when fully loaded or a day later no amount of force will make them fit.

One solution that works for me most of the time is only loading AK mags with 25 rounds, sure you loose a few shots but the extra 5 rounds won’t help if you cant get the mag in the first place.

You can try and mail high-quality AK mags like the ones made by US Palm to your APO but the chances of them getting seized or not making it to Iraq are damn close to 100%. I lost 5 US Palm mags that I mailed to myself that simply never made it, my guess is they were seized as “Weapon Parts” by the Army Mail.

And don’t even think about flying commercial with AK mags in your luggage or you will go to jail in some shitty Middle Eastern prison. Basically you just have to work with what you got.

And just like the AK New York Backup have a big ass bag full of AK mags within arm’s reach. Pretty much when you are having problems with a mag don’t even bother trying to work it, immediately drop that mag and go for another.

Learn the Basics of AK Gunsmithing

Knowing how to replace a trigger guard, straighten a front sight and even changing out a barrel will save you a headache and prevent you from having a really cool AK paperweight instead of a mission ready weapon.

I am not saying that you need to have the knowledge to machine parts for an AK, but you should know how to do a bit more than just break it down and replace a cracked stock. Rally car drivers know how to change the transmission in their car, so you should know how to break an AK down to its individual parts. You do this shit for a living, be a professional, know your tools.

Romanian AK’s are the bomb

Out of all the AK’s here in Iraq the Romanian AK’s are far superior to all others I have used. I tested 6 Romanian AK’s by firing thousands of rounds through them every week and then storing them in a damp conex over a 6 month period without a single cleaning and they still ran like new.

Those Romanian AK’s are still going to this day [coming up on 8 months without cleaning]. Even more impressive some of the Romanian AK’s I use and test were made as far back as 1961.

So if you are working in Iraq and you have a choice, get your hands on Romanian made AK’s

On a side note I tried to do the same thing with an M4 and it didn’t make it to the second week before it stopped feeding rounds completely.

In Conclusion

The AK is a great weapon for humping on a gig in Iraq, it is by no means a trouble free weapon system, but most of its faults are due to issues with ammunition and magazines that are not necessarily the fault of the weapon itself [more of the environment].

Overall it is a great low to no-maintenance weapon that is perfectly capable of engaging targets within 280 meters accurately.

But be warned, just because you think know the AK from shooting it in the States it is a completely different ball game when you use one in Iraq.


~James G
Founder – Editor in Chief

James G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long; he has traveled to over 50 countries chasing fortune and glory. He spends his off time in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns, writing poorly written articles and Trading Brass Ammo for Booze. James G. on FACEBOOK

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  1. I want to first say it was a great article and not so poorly written J.

    But, my experience in Afghanistan with a mix of Russian milled, Chinese checker set (as I put it), and a mix of parts slapped together noise makers…well, I think the AK is, forgive me, ridiculous.

    Granted- I am not toting a Krebs custom around. Even though mine is pimped out with Krebs and Samson upgrades. I know my ’77 Russian milled will have seen some major banging around in my AO prior to my arrival indeed.

    Still, and not to be too contrary, my experience has been the Tula ammo does ok but accurate on a 12″ x 18″ steel plate at 280m/y… no way. No, I just dont blame the ammo.

    The “found in-theatre” AK47 barrel length and site radius is not conducive to accurate shooting past 150m/y. Accurate as in not a 25m/y target set up with mini sils but actual past 200m/y on a 12″x18″ steel plate, 6″ groups from a bench rest.

    We do have some shit rifles here due to inherent Afghany neglect and the Primes apathy for our welfare. Still, IMHO the AKs loading/unloading process is a greek tragedy, the safety is cro-magnon, sighting in (bring a lunch), and a reciprocating charging handle…..?

    I have run a M4 in Iraq and Afghan for a good while and never had any problems as I can set up the gun to run smooth and accurate. With an AK- your just stuck with a noise maker.

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    • Well this really was not so much as a “the AK VS” another rifle – it was an informational article on things I have noted when using an AK in Iraq.

      “not so poorly written ” – hahhaa… not sure how to take that :)

      ~James G

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    • I concur heavily. Having used one Iraq I would take an M4 any day. People talk about round size but it doesn’t mean shit if you can’t hit them and farther away is better.

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  2. James that is great advice on the AK, keep up those comments coming. Roc C

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  3. This was facinating to read. I’ll never be able to have this perspective from personal experience. I’ve learned a lot from part 1 and now part 2.

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  4. Interesting article and kind of neat to read a (unbiased?) first hand account of what it’s like using an AK as an everyday carry weapon.

    I really thought what you said about Romanian AKs and seems to confirm my thoughts on all Russian weapons, the best Russian weapons are those made under license by other countries.

    What you say about Romanian AKs is inline with what I’ve read elsewhere and I think the same applies for SKS’s and I’ve read that some of the best re-arsenaled WW II Mauser 98k’s come from (the former) Yugoslavia, the best (selling) MiG-21s are the Chinese version, and I know that Ukraine has made a cottage industry of making and selling upgraded versions of T-72 tanks and the like.

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  5. Like him, I had never used an AK until I got to Iraq. I actually went to my local gun dealer (a trusted friend) and told him “Man, we are going to be using AK’s and I have NO idea how to dis/ass those things!” Within one minute of learning you become an expert. I used many weapons in Iraq and I have to say that ammo and model do make a difference.

    My Chinese model (Romanians are hard to find sometimes) jammed on me in a fire fight. After going to another contract and being issued a bushmaster I can say that I would rather have an American made rifle any day. One really learns to appreciate the M16 platform ie (M4, AR 15) for what their true worth to be.

    I know guys that carried 2 barrels (short and long) for different missions. AK’s have proven to be a (IMO) a revolutionary weapons, in which it is cheap to get them in mass and hand out to the ill trained forces.

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  6. Only thing I would add is never mix different ammunition types in the same magazine. I’ve seen this cause jams as well.

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    • In the states you have a choice – over here I have been handed a garbage bag 1/5th filled with ammo. You have to work with what you have, I have tons of mags filled with ammo from several different batches

      It is a different AK game in the 3rd world – take everything you know about the AK in he states and throw 50% of it away the moment you put boots on the ground

      ~James G

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  7. If you ever see Yugo ammo, pick it up. It doesn’t matter what year the manu date is. It’s allllllllllll G2G.

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    • I’ll second this one

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      • Definitely !

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  8. Should also say that it is very well made and reliable out to 400m quite easily.

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    • With the right ammo I second that

      ~James G

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  9. So true on the steel case stuff. Had a round explode in the chamber right “here” in the USA…. none other than Gabe Suarez kicked it open and got the pieces out. Back to shooting (and learned a lot from the experience) but will always make me nervous. No way could anybody have cleared that during a real fight.

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  10. Solid article. I was actually thinking about purchasing an AK here in the States.

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  11. Cool article, James. Love the website, even though as a LEO in the US my exposure to AKs is pretty infrequent.

    FYI, I think the term is actually “New York reload” coined by Jim Cirillo during his time with the NYPD. That was the fastest way to “reload” your old wheel gun – by dropping the gun you had just unloaded into some mope and pulling another one out of your pocket.

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    • Thanks Craig – I knew it was a New York something

      ~James G

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  12. Great article James! I’ve carried M-4’s and AK’s in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each system has its good and its bad points. The bottom line IMHO is a contractor should be skilled with either weapons system along with the various pistols and machine guns we encounter/carry. I agree whole heartedly on the good ammo and mags.

    I’ve seen AK’s with rounds blown up in the chamber and AK’s and M-4/M-16’s that would not seat a fully loaded magazine. I download all my rifle mags two rounds and that seems to cure the problem. I like the M-4’s sights and accuracy. I like the AK’s (almost) bomb proof construction, its larger diameter round and the fact it will run when its filthy. Keep up the great articles!

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  13. I may be out of my lane here, but with all the issues you’ve mentioned with running an AK, if you have an M4, what’s keeping you from using that, instead? Terminal ballistics? Reliability? Ammo availability? Just curious.

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    • Most guys don’t have a choice, it is up to the contract.

      I have both AK’s and M4’s and it is my choice what I can carry [that is actually somewhat rare these days]. I choose the AK because that is what most of the TCN and LN Security Contractors I work with carry.

      Also I like the sight picture on the AK better than the M4 [weird right?], the larger round and I am taking advantage of the opportunity to gain experience running an AK. I am also an AK instructor here a few days a week here so I am dialed-in on the AK from shooting a couple thousand rounds through it every week. And like I said in the article I do keep an M4 close by so technically I carry both

      ~James G

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  14. Great stuff!!! Much needed and solid. And as a note, there IS a magazine made by US Palm that is supposed to be THE stuff…. I’ve talked to several guys who have gone exclusively to that brand and they swear by them. So if ouy have friends back in the conus, or if you can get delivery to whatever ALO hellhole you call home, you might look into them.

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    • I have 10 US Palm mags and they are the Heat – I tried to send some here but they didn’t make it [RE: the part in the article about shipping mags here from the US]

      Pretty much everything US Palm makes is GTG – I run their AK Mag shingles here every day.

      ~James G

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  15. Excuse the typos – my fingers get tired after the third Wild Turkey…

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  16. I agree with a lot of what has been said here. I carried and AK on a lot of job’s and found that it was up to us to get them up to the mark. I have spent hours going through ammo checking each round individually, pulling mag apart & ordering parts over the net.

    I was lucky to have a terp that was an engineer so he made a good gunsmith! I think its about professionalism, on some job’s we get shit kit. We shouldn’t! But we fix it and make it work, when we do this the malfunctions that will happen any way will be lessened-e.g.

    I had an AK that snapped a piston but continued to cycle manually I would like to believe it had something to do with good care & maintenance. I also carried a short AK (a good Russian AK that had been cut down like an SU) in the door of my AV as my get out of jail free card.

    Great article J thankyou.

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  17. Best AKM-47 made ​​in the USSR

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  18. The current issue of Rolling Stone has a good article titled, The Stoner Arms Dealers. It goes a long way toward explaining the ammo situation you describe. It’s a pretty good read.

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  19. I own a Romanian AK and I’ve put over a 1k rounds of those steel case Russian melted down manhole covers lol but these “tiger” rounds are stamped from 2008 maybe because they are newer and aren’t sitting in a dusty ass sandbox they have worked flawlessly only reason I bought them is they sold 1k for $200

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  20. Was in Honduras a back in the ’90s and shot an AK where the upper handguard was held on by scotch tape. Went bang every time. Owner didnt know how to clean it so gave him a quick tutorial. Damn thing was as dirty as a sewer pipe on the inside.

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  21. Great article and very timely. I recently purchased a Romanian. I use an M4 in Afghanistan and am going to carry both. Thanks Pimp.

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  22. Very interesting!
    I always considered the AK as a idot-proof gun.
    I heard about the ammo-problem before, but I´m really suprised that the Mags are crap too. Too bad the guys down there don´t get enough time on the range. It must be a pain in the ass if you have to carry a gun all day long which you never test fired.
    But bitching around about it doesn´t help either. So I guess you guys have to make do..

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  23. What do you think of the VZ 58/CZ 858?

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  24. I agree with most of the Article . As an AK Armorer trained By a Ukrainian Master Armorer I( Got the Cert ) . My last Gig in Iraq I was brought into the company as an Armorer ! While they used me for something else because of My Clearance ( Whatever?) They Had an AK go down 2 months into my mission . The PM finally read My CV and asked if I really was an Armorer ?

    First I do not lie on my CV , but more importantly it took them months to actually read it ! The head Brit trainer was with the Ugandan (Armorer), I say that loosely because he was a weapons passer ! There was a stuck bullet in from a squib round easy solution push it out but the Armorer beat it both ways LOL!
    To get to the end there were 5 AK’s I could have got up with the parts from that one ! The PM really wanted me to fix that on I had to explain that pulling it is no problem a Drimmel tool will grind off the retaining rivets, but putting another one on is the trick . I am interested how since you said changing out barrels were easy. What you use in place of pressure rivets that need heated and mushroomed Bro ? There is a tool that you can get but expensive . The Company wouldn’t get one , The PM didn’t want to use the other parts to get 5 other ones UP !
    The good thing was the Brit knew I knew what I was talking about and used me on the sly, which became a better job later LOL !

    Hit it with your Purse
    Cheers !

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  25. Article is great one question i have is has anyone out there used a 762 upper on an m4 or variant? i am sure there is old and bad ammo but just curious as to if anyone has used this setup… I have run the tiger ammo and havent had any issue to date.

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  26. Geat insight on the AK. Article tucked away for future reference.

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  27. Try Czech Sa vz. 58 and you will never look back. Beats both AK and M16 clones. Both accurate and reliable.

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  28. If you ever see Yugo ammo, pick it up. It doesn’t matter what year the manu date is. It’s allllllllllll G2G.  

    The best military 7.62×39 ammo I’ve seen was made in former East Germany (DDR).

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  29. Personally I feel that the ability to shoot over 300 metres isn’t that important. In over 6 years in both countries I’ve never once had an engagment over 200 metres. Thats using an M4 in Iraq and an AK in Afghan. As some here mention, a lot of it comes down to the man behind the sights. I do agree on the russian ammo tho. Unless you get the newer stuff, be prepared for some serious stoppages.

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  30. Funny you say that – I threw a few rounds out past 500 in the dark a few days ago with my AK. I learned 2 things:

    1) I need some sort of holographic sight

    2) I need something with magnification

    ~James G

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  31. Sitting in Kabul right now, having come from the range this afternoon, I can say with confidance that if you can get a ’52 Russian it will shoot like a dream. All of the ’52’s we have are rockstars. We even have one, bought in Kabul with a modded trigger, thing is almost sniper rifle sensitive and smooth. Needless to say, that one stays in the armory for range time and US/RSA use, we don’t give it to the Afghans.

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  32. Hey man I just wanted to write and say i love reading your website.

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  33. Great Article.

    I have a romanian AK right now and it has never given me any problems. Actually my favorite gun.

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  34. When stateside, I go with the stamped Hungarian AKMs running whatever spam can ammo is available. Some of the KBI imported ones have the factory short gas tube you see on AMD’s and they make for a killer SBR conversion. I only use east bloc steel mags at the one way range. Great read, keep it up!

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  35. One thing about extraction issues on AK’s which is also true for any x39 gun, really: Much of the steel core surplus you’ll encounter is coated with lacquer. This stuff will melt off in a hot chamber, and even just from normal shooting where the gun doesn’t get too hot. Eventually the buildup of the lacquer in the chamber will cause issues with tolerances and when the casing expands after firing, it won’t eject. Getting these out range from a simple tap with the cleaning rod, to so hard that you’ll punch the bottom of the round off and leave the rest of the casing stuck in there. The barrel is usually fucked when this happens, not good. I’ve seen this happen with Vz.58’s and SKS’s here in Canada. SKS and AK barrel replacements can be fairly easily done with time and tools, Vz.58 barrels not so much.

    As for commie surplus, we can get that here in Canada still as there’s no import ban against it like in the US. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of the stuff, so here’s my not at all professional observations after tens of thousands of rounds: Russian is okay, Czech is good, Ukrainian and Chinese are some of the best, Romanian is notoriously hit or miss, Polish is horrible, and Bulgarian is good. I’ve also fired some with Arabic script on the back of the casing and while it functioned fine, I wouldn’t trust it to hit a barn at 100 meters.

    I prefer the copper-washed, non lacquered Chinese stuff myself. For Chinese made ammo, I’m not unimpressed.

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    • By the way, a lot of those problems have been caused by leaving a lacquered round cool in a hot chamber. If possible, it is best to leave the chamber empty after one is practicing or at the range. Not so easy if in a firefight.

      Also, it’s interesting you say Polish ammo is horrible since the Polish AK is considered one of the better made rifles but really hated overseas. Serbian/Yugo AKs are also glorified in the states but from what I hear, that opinion is not shared by many who’ve had to use it.

      Bulgarian AKs however, seem to be loved around the globe. IIRC Kalashnikov himself admitted to Bulgaria making better quality AKs than Russia.

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