The AK and M-4 – Tools of the Trade for Security Contractors
Sure, I know what you are thinking; “we need another AK ‘VS’ the M-4 debate like we need another round of prohibition”. But out of the zillions of articles and YouTube vids out there I have never seen one that specifically addresses the pros and cons of running the AK-47 and M-4 in the unique environment of International non-permissive environment Private Security Contracting. Also, this is NOT a “VS” article; it is more a comparison of both the weapons systems based on my experiences running both as a Security Contractor.
On my first Civilian Contracting gig I carried an old ass M16A2 that was so fucking big if I ran out of ammo I could probably use it as a Bō Staff. It also didn’t come with a sling so I had to make one out of 550 cord, duct tape and a luggage strap (something I did for years until John over at Original S.O.E. was generous enough to shoot me one of his Single Point Slings).
The second gig I ran an AK, third an M-4. Both of these gigs were a bit strange because ‘officially’ we were not authorized to carry firearms (strange contract stuff like that happened back in the day) so we didn’t carry our weapons around with us on base, only out on missions and had zero range or training time.
The Forth gig was unique because I was issued both an AK and an M-4, so it was my choice of what weapons system I wanted to run based on the mission or task. I also spent a lot of time as a Tactical Firearms Instructor to TCN’s (Third Country Nationals), Local Iraqis, Brits, Aussies and Americans. So I spent a substantial amount of time on the range discussing the preferences between the M-4 and AK with Operators from five continents, from peaceful 1st world countries where you can’t even buy firearms, to the world’s shittiest 3rd world war torn hell-holes where you can buy AK magazines and baby wipes at the same store.
On my latest gig running the roads in Iraq I run a Yugoslavian Zastava M92, it is basically a Shorty AK with a 10” barrel and an under-folder stock. This is my favorite AK variant I have used so far.
So after using the AK and/or the M-4 as a security contractor under a variety of operational environments for a bit over a decade I am going to throw together my opinions on the pros, cons and issues I have experienced from both weapons systems.
The Two Weapons Systems In Security Contracting
(NOTE: I use the word “M-4” liberally here for pretty much every AR/M16 type system out there)
This was my first issued rifle as a security contractor way back in the mutherfuckin’ day. It is a really common rifle to be issued if you are working on a Force Protection or High-Tier contract these days. Back in the early days of Iraq they were a regular issue for security contractors. And if you didn’t get issued one there were so many floating around you could snatch one up or trade for one no problem, I bought my first M-4 out of the trunk of a taxi just over the Kuwait border.
They are a reliable and accurate weapon system that is easily disassembled but needs regular cleaning and lubrication especially in the desert environments.
Sooner or later if you work long enough in security contracting someone is going to hand you an old-ass AK with a bent front sight and cracked stock. The AK has gone hand in hand with private warriors since EO Guys were using them to zap guys shooting arrows at them. It has been the favorite of both the good and bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a staple firearm in security contracting.
One of the biggest advantages of the AK is you can take one that has been sitting in a crate for 3 years that is rusted shut, dunk it in JP8 for a day, kick open the slide, take a screwdriver and scrape out the gas tube and poor some motor oil in it and you can blast a 1000 rounds through it without a single malfunction (more or less).
The biggest advantage of the M-4 Mag (due to the caliber) is the weight and size of the magazines. I ran a rig on one of my gigs in Iraq with 12 M-4 mags for years; it was heavy but not a hindrance to my movement.
And these days guys like myself who still run the roads in Iraq are starting to move towards a ‘less aggressive’ look. So allot of times mags will go in pockets and on Battle Belts instead of on full rigs now so you don’t look like you are on the way to raid Omaha Beach or something when you pass through Iraqi Checkpoints.
The M-4 Mags also tend to (in my opinion) not be damaged as easily as AK mags, I have dropped fully loaded M-4 mags that have burst into all the parts but still worked fine when I put it back together, I can’t say the same for all AK mags I have thrown around.
There are also so many good quality US manufactured M-4 mags floating around in Iraq and Afghanistan so it is not that hard to find, buy, or trade for some good US manufactured M-4 mags.
AK mags are big and heavy fucking mags, but you get the advantage of a bigger and harder hitting bullet. They can be dirty as fuck and keep cycling rounds one after the other.
They are also as common as flies in the 3rd world so supply will never be a problem. The main issue is if there is even a minor dent on the sides it can cause feed malfunctions. Also getting high quality AK mags like the ones US Palm makes is more or less impossible now due to all of the APO’s shutting down and so many guys are getting thrown in jail in places like Dubai for “smuggling weapons parts” so bringing them over in your check-in is no longer an option.
And if you are like me and you don’t live on a base then good luck even trying to get an APO or State mailing address anyway (this refers to Iraq). So mailing some nice US made AK mags is no longer an option (I even had problems doing that back when I had an APO).
So you end up having to inspect every AK mag you get. You have to load em’ and test them out a dozen times to check for any feeding problems. It’s a bit of a pain, but certainly not as bad as pushing TPS reports from the ‘in’ to the ‘out’ box in some cubicle stateside.
The size (length) makes the AK mags a bit harder to carry on a belt or in a cargo pocket, I am starting to cut down a bunch and turning them into 20 rounder’s to solve the belt carry and other lo-pro carry problems.
But if you are working in higher profile gigs, in places like Afghanistan or Force Protection on a Base the magazine length won’t be a problem so run that high profile rig.
The other issue is the weight, if you have ever carried 12 AK mags on your kit you know what I am talking about. Now most of the Contractors reading this know the days of long and drawn out firefights between contractors and Hajjis in Iraq don’t really happen anymore so packing tons of mags on your kit is not really as much of an issue anymore.
But for the guys in places like Afghanistan it still can be, my Brother (who is a security contractor in A-Stan) does the same thing I do here in Iraq, 4 to 6 on your rig and a go bag filled to the brim with extra mags along with a mag stuffed here and there in your guntruck.
M-4 Safety Selector
Going from safe to “kill some fools” with the M-4 is just like flicking open a Zippo, and it is easy in pretty much any position, shoved in-between your legs in a guntruck, on the move on foot, stock open or pushed in. Selecting between safe, semi to full-auto are all simple movements that generally won’t cause you to accidently select full-auto while under stress. The safety selector is also fast, millisecond fast.
Considering that most security contractors come from some sort of military, law enforcement or stateside EP, operating the safety selector on an M-4 should be nothing new.
AK Safety Selector
Because the AK was made for 12 year olds to use it, well the safety selector operates so a 12 year old could figure it out. It is a big ass lever that you push down to kill and back up not to. Slam the AK safety selector straight down and you are semi-auto, one notch up and you are at full blast – simple, fast. I have seen 10 year old kids pick up an uncle’s AK that was leaning next to a tent pole at a wedding in Iraq for the first time who have figured out how to start popping rounds in the air in seconds.
The one thing for new security contractors coming over from the states or other countries where select-fire AK’s are not all that common is getting used to the middle ‘full-auto’ notch, an old instinct may kick in that says “stop” when you feel the first notch hit. This is easily overcome by spending a few weeks in your hooch practicing. In no time you will instinctively slam it all the way down for semi, half push for full-auto or back up one notch from semi for full auto. If you are not used to select-fire AK’s then heed the above advice and train when you get in country.
The only time the AK safety selector is a pain in the ass to operate is when you run an under-folder (See Below under “Stocks” for more on this).
I am not going to go into a debate about what rifle has the better sight picture, if you are a versatile operator then you should be able to adapt to whatever sights a rifle has. The only comment I have about the M-4 and the AK sights in security contracting is the M-4 front sight seems a bit tougher than the one on the AK. But on the other hand you can use a screwdriver and a big rock to fix the front sight on an AK so I call it a draw.
Ammunition – Availability and Quality
NOTE: First off, I am not going to get all into the accuracy and ballistics thing between the AK and M-4 – that has been written about so many times, by people who are way more qualified than I am at the technical shit about firearms (I am just a shooter knuckle-dragger).
M-4 Ammunition – Availability and Quality
Thanks to the billions of 5.56×45mm rounds left behind in Iraq by the US mil, given to the Iraqi army and police and the other billions rounds that ‘fell off trucks’ finding all types of 5.56×45mm ammo is pretty easy. Good to high quality brass cased tracers, AP, regular jacketed shit and Hollow Point are all available on the local market.
AK Ammunition – Availability and Quality
Finding 7.62×39mm in the 3rd world is as easy as finding crack in a crack-house in South Philly. Most ranges from cheap ex-commie state stuff with steal casings made from melted down manhole covers, to locally produced shit, that is, well – shit.
But finding high quality brass cased ammo is a bit tricky and requires good contacts. Finding specialty ammo like AP is damn near impossible and US made hollow points will cost you an arm and a leg if you can find them.
The push-in stock on the M-4 is fast to deploy when getting out of a vehicle and does not require any fiddling around or mashed thumbs. The only criticism I have with the M-4 stock is even with it pushed all the way in it still protrudes a good 6 inches or so out of the ass-end of the M-4.
Not a big deal if you run high to medium profile missions on the roads as a security contractor. But if you are trying to run lo-pro and your rifle is laying on the floorboard or between your knees then the shorter your rifle is the better.
You can’t get more old school than a wooden stock, and despite it was probably milled from stolen telephone polls in Algeria most are pretty sturdy – hell, you can make one out of a 2X4. As for the folding stock versions of the AK this is where this weapons system both shines and fails for security contractors.
One problem exists with both the side-folder and (more so) the under-folder is operating the stock release button/lever it not always a quick and smooth transition from folded to open (especially in a vehicle). It seems no amount of WD-40 will make the lever or buttons an easy press, and if you have an especially funky side-folder it could end up being a two handed operation getting it open.
The under-folder has an extra few quirks, you also can’t use drum or 40 round mags with the stock folded or you wont be able to open it, it also can interfere with the safety selector operation.
The under-folder stock has notches cut out of it that supposed make it ‘easy’ for you to operate the safety selector – but in the reality, the safety selector gets hung up easily in the under-folder position.
There are a few ways to fix this in-country:
-You can take a screwdriver and bend the existing notches in the under-folder to make them wider
-You can practice until it is instinct where you push the under-folder from the forward left side with your left hand, thereby giving more space for the safety selector to operate.
-Dremel tool or with a half of a hacksaw blade carefully open the safety selector notch area on the under-folder stock, don’t take too much off or you will weaken the stock.
-Learn how to shoot accurately with an underfunded folded (a skill you should have anyway)
But with alike any weapons system practice makes perfect (or in this case just a little faster) so if you get issued an AK folder then make it a habit of folding and closing it while watching TV every night until it becomes instinct.
When both the side and under folder versions of the AK are in the collapsed position it makes for a compact package, and when you have a ‘shorty” with a 10 inch barrel you can actually conceal it under a windbreaker. I run with my Zastava M92 by my left leg barrel down leaning against the center console of my truck with a shemagh draped over it – it doesn’t get a second look when running through checkpoints.
M-4 Parts Availability
Sort of like the 5.56×45mm rounds mentioned above, thanks to the tens of thousands of M-4’s left behind in Iraq by now defunct security companies, given to the Iraqi army and police by the US and the other hundreds (thousands) that ‘fell off trucks’ finding parts for the M-4 is easy.
Now finding high quality stuff like kitty-kat uppers and heavy barreled precision uppers can be a bit tricky, that’s more of a “I know a guy with XYZ PMC who has one he is looking to sell or trade” thing.
AK Parts Availability
Getting parts for an AK? It’s the Middle East, nuf’ said
If you were expecting a big “This one is Better than That one conclusion, well sorry folks. The above article is more of a ‘Heads up’ for guys going overseas to pull triggers for dollars than a VS article.
This is a business, you use the rifle your company issues and say “thanks boss” while looking at the formally semi-auto AR-15 that has been converted to only fire full-auto now or the AK with a missing front sight. You first thought may be putting some high-speed folding stocks and accessories that would give a Magpul employee a hard-on, well tough shit, there are no more “Golden Connexes” in Iraq or Afghanistan anymore.
But… If you want my personal opinion, well, I tend to lean towards the AK, but that’s just me. But quite frankly as long as my massive paychecks keep hitting my account every month and I get my leave every 90 days I could give a shit what rifle I am issued.
Note: most of the opinions in this article come from me and are hardly impartial, so feel free to comment and agree or disagree.
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 spends his off time in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns, writing poorly written articles and cleaning his Zastava M92.