Interview with AK-47 rifle inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov


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Interview with AK-47 rifle inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov

This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the content.

Ivan Egorov, Russia Now
Published: 2:31PM GMT 28 Oct 2009

Mikhail Kalashnikov: "I invented the AK-47 to protect my country"

For years a hidden, almost mythological figure, the designer of the world’s most famous gun has rarely been seen in public. But as he reveals here, when he does leave his homeland, he is revered wherever he sets foot… from America to the Middle East.
Why did the world learn about the Kalashnikov rifle many years ago in the era of the USSR, while it remained ignorant of the inventor until the 1990s?

For years, I had a top secret clearance and never left Russia. Just once did I go to Bulgaria with my wife for a holiday at the Golden Sands resort, but I could not mention my real name. I was allowed to travel abroad only in the early 1990s. As an adviser to the managing director of Rosoboronexport, a government-controlled weapons export company, I visited many high-profile weapons exhibitions and at last could hold in my hands the most recent products. I do not consider the AK to be the best ever assault rifle. I am saying it over and over again: only the sky is the limit.
Had you followed the progress of your international colleagues before?
In the world of weapons, everybody is watching each other and knows each other’s systems. When I met Eugene Stoner, the famous designer of the М16 rifle, and teased him about my rifle being slightly better, he replied that he doubted that I would have been able to design a decent 2800g piece as required by the Pentagon based on the original 5kg prototype. When Stoner and I arrived at a Marine Corps base, its commander, General Coffield, confessed: “For combat, I would personally choose your rifle, Mr Kalashnikov. I fought in Vietnam as a unit commander, and I wanted to have your rifle all the way. What stopped me was a different rate of fire and report compared to the M16. If I had started using it, my soldiers would have shot at me thinking that I had been attacked by the Vietcong guerrillas, so I could only feast my eyes on your masterpiece.”
The word “Kalashnikov” is recognised in every part of the world. Clearly, it does not always have a positive ring to it as in “reliable like a Kalashnikov”.
When I met the defence minister of Mozambique, he said: “Please come to visit us! We won our freedom with your rifle, and when soldiers got back home, many gave the name of Kalash to their new-born boys.”
Of course, there is a downside too. People often ask me how I feel about my invention being used to kill people every day and the AK being a common weapon of ethnic conflicts. I want to make it clear that I created my assault rifle to protect my country. You can blame politicians for its spreading out of control on a global scale.
Once when I was thinking it over, I recalled our specialist term – ricochet. At least the three of us – Eugene Stoner, Uziel Gal, and me – developed guns to do away with fascists as soon as possible… But the bullets fired from the М16 hit Vietnamese people who fought to unite their homeland. Uzi bursts shatter the slim hope for peace in Palestine and the countries next door… Let alone my АК?
The rumour has it that somebody even suggested you should convert to Islam and become a living icon of the Arab world?
As we were exchanging farewells before leaving Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, one of the Arabian majors suddenly began speaking passionately: “Mr Kalashnikov, has it ever occurred to you that you simply ought to convert? In Christian eyes you are a sinner… you are responsible for tens of thousands of lives lost around the world. But in Islam, things would be completely different for you.” I said, not without embarrassment, that I would consider the idea. And at the same moment I recalled an old Russian proverb wisely admonishing that changing your faith is not as easy as changing your shirt…
In recent years, the media has come up with many myth-busting “revelations”, claiming that the АК-47 was designed by someone else and that the figure of designer Kalashnikov emerged as part of a well-staged Soviet publicity stunt.
Any designer believes his gun is the best, and when its test performance is a bit less impressive compared to others, he feels bitterness and envy. It is all about competition, and in any competition the loser starts plotting against the winner and spreading nonsensical rumours. But you can see for yourself that I am still a weapons designer! Well, some think I was gone long ago… but I am used to it.”

Russia Now: Interview with AK-47 weapon inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov - the truth behind the myth - Telegraph

Russia celebrates Mikhail Kalashnikov's 90th birthday - the designer who armed the world

This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the content.

Nadia Kidd, Russia Now
Published: 2:09PM GMT 28 Oct 2009

Bearing arms: Mikhail Kalashnikov and the weapon he developed

His chest clinking with medals from different regimes, Mikhail Kalashnikov has been revered by Soviet and Russian leaders, from Stalin on. Small wonder, given that his weapons have earned his country a fortune, while he has never asked anything in return.
Far from being rich, he does not own yachts or airplanes. He belongs to the generation that appreciates the value of human recognition. “Are there many famous designers who have a monument built in their honour while they are still around? Or a museum? Do many have presidents of their countries coming to wish them happy birthday? I do!” says Kalashnikov. “I have no celebrity attitude. I am the same man I have always been. I just keep working.”

“A Russian sergeant armed the entire Warsaw Bloc,” wrote journalists during the Cold War. In fact, Kalashnikov armed the whole world: the AK assault rifle is manufactured globally with or without licence. Many countries have equipped their armies with his creation: for some it has even become a symbol of power and resistance featured in their state emblems.
The story of how he designed the AK-47 has been shrouded in legend and rumour. A semi-literate boy from a large farming family beat some of the top small-arms designers in a competition for the best assault rifle. How did it happen?
Mikhail Kalashnikov was born on November 10, 1919, in a West Siberian village. His mother bore 19 children, but only eight survived. In 1931, the Kalashnikovs were stripped of their property as the country was swept by the repressive campaign against well-off peasants. His father died in exile, while Mikhail’s elder brother, Victor, spent nine years in labour camps.
Signs of his future calling became apparent early in his career when, while serving as an army tank driver, Kalashnikov invented a device to count shots fired by the cannon. For his ingenuity, the famed Marshal of the Soviet Union, Georgy Zhukov (who at that time commanded the Kiev Special Army District), presented the young inventor with a watch with “Mikhail Kalashnikov” engraved on it. Shortly afterwards, the war became the instrument in his choice of vocation. As Kalashnikov puts it: “Germans were responsible for my becoming a gun designer.”
When the Great Patriotic War broke out, the young tank driver was sent to the front, where he was badly wounded. Bedridden, he started thinking about creating a submachine gun, which Russian soldiers desperately needed. Without any previous engineering training, Kalashnikov set to work thinking, designing, testing and discussing weaponry with experts. He finally got a job in an arms design bureau and began learning from professionals.
From the start, Kalashnikov clearly identified his own principles of design: his rifle should be simple and reliable. However, success proved to be elusive. It was only in 1947, after the failure of numerous prototypes, that Kalashnikov’s design was accepted in a competition organised by the defence procurement agency.
Despite competition from the top small-arms makers in the Soviet Union, Kalashnikov’s prototype made it to the second round, and ultimately to the final test.
At last, the jury board announced: “Our recommendation is to adopt the assault rifle designed by Senior Sergeant Kalashnikov for operational service.”
In 1949, Kalashnikov saw his rifle adopted as the army standard, and he received the prestigious Stalin Award. He spent the next 60 years refining his award-winning design. And in doing so, he felt as if he were honing his own personality.
This autumn is a special time for Kalashnikov. Before his 90th birthday, he celebrated the 60th anniversary of his joining the weapons factory in Izhevsk, a historical city of gunsmiths about 600 miles north-east of Moscow.
The Izhmash machine-building plant was the first to launch mass production of the AK-47 rifle that spawned a whole new generation of small arms.
His son Victor is also a small-arms designer, striving, according to Kalashnikov senior, “to surpass his father”. One of his best known weapons, the Bison submachine gun, is carried by various Russian police units.
In his free time, Mikhail Kalashnikov enjoys classical music and faithfully attends the Tchaikovsky Music Festival. He also loves poetry and has quite a few friends among the poetry fraternity.
The inventor has also published several books and is a member of the Russian Union of Writers. Five years ago, a unique museum of small arms opened in Izhevsk. Its core exhibition is based on the success story of Mikhail Kalashnikov and his brilliant invention. Some visiting delegations will be welcomed by the designer.
“I still closely follow what goes on in the world, but I try to avoid making any political statements,” he says. “Perestroika destroyed the USSR and sapped my own optimism – as well as that of others of my generation. Although we faced many problems under Communism, we still enjoyed a much stronger social safety net.”
As for his vision of small arms evolution, Kalashnikov is confident that the upgraded AK rifles will reign supreme for at least 25 years, until the advent of new, high-power cartridges. In general, gun makers will continue to design weapons for better precision and penetration through modern body armour and light obstacles.

Russia celebrates Mikhail Kalashnikov's 90th birthday - the designer who armed the world - Telegraph

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