Ak-47 vs M-16 - Which is the best?

The AK-47 was designed for use by conscript soldiers with rudimentary education, for the harsh
conditions of the Soviet Union (now Russia) and for massed infantry advances with soldiers
providing their own suppressing fire. It had to survive and function with minimal care, able to be
maintained via simple instructions, inexpensive to produce due to the numbers required and simple
to operate.
The M-16 followed by several years and was designed with an eye towards changing battlefield
conditions. It came to be realized that the dominant high-powered .30 caliber rifle rounds and the
idea that solider would engage other solider out to ranges of 600-800 yards was unrealistic. Studies
of infantry engagements showed the vast majority occurred within 100 yards with a 300 yard range
being on the outer edge. So Eugene Stoner design a rifle around a smaller, faster .22 caliber
cartridge that would achieve effectiveness up to 300 yards. As he was an engineer versus Mikhail
Kalishnikov, who was a brilliant mechanic and tanker, he designed a rifle around lightweight
materials in keeping with the smaller cartridge. Notably forged and milled aluminum and much tighter
tolerances. This required much more technical manufacturing than its AK contemporary.
The original design of the M-16 also envisioned its use as an automatic weapon with a rather high
cyclic rate (rounds per minute) so it has a complex bolt with many small locking lugs versus the large
and heavy 2 lugs on the AK bolt. The smaller, more numerous lugs on the M-16 allowed the bolt to
open and close faster.
Stoner went to every effort to reduce weight in his rifle and make his rifle accurate and easy to use.
Kalishnikov went to every effort to make his rifle endure anything Russian weather or a Russian
soldier could throw at it and function.
The primary difference between the AK-47 and the M-16 are their tolerances. The AK has much
looser fitting parts, lots of heavy, rugged parts (like the gas piston and the bolt carrier) that allow it to
shoot even when fouled with dirt, water, sand, mud, snow, etc. Looseness allows lots of places for
stuff to get in without pressing so tightly that the parts jam. Not that an AK can't jam, it just takes a lot
to do it. Shooting an AK pattern rifle, you'll hear it bump and rattle.
The M-16 has much tighter fitting parts. It also lacks the heavy gas piston of the AK that cycles the
action. Instead, gases from the firing of the round are redirected back into the action and into the bolt
carrier directly. This is called "direct impingement" and it saves a LOT of weight (around 2 pounds). It
is an elegant, simple solution to building a gas-powered rifle. The problem with it is the gases are hot
and contain unburnt propellant. This requires materials with high temperate tolerance and this
unburnt material will cause anything in contact with it to get dirty fast. But it does allow all of that
moving metal to be removed from the rifle, reducing its harmonics and allow it to be much more
accurate. This is also help by a recoil buffer in the stock that dampens the recoil of the rifle, reducing
muzzle rise and kickback, allowing the shooter to keep the rifle easier on target.
The M-16 design, because of the removal of the gas piston, places all of the moving parts and the
barrel inline with each other and in the same plane as the shooters shoulder. Because you lack this
heavy mass moving hard above the plane of the rifle, the M-16 sends the recoil forces straight back
rather than back-and-up like the AK-47. This allows the M-16 to be kept on target easier and the
damping mechanisms the M-16 has than the AK lacks make the rifle very gentle compared to its
bark.
The M-16 requires much more regular care and maintenance. The smaller tolerances mean dirt,
water, sand, mud, snow, etc can jam the rifle easily. So much so many of the early improvements to
the design involved changes to resolve jams (change in ammunition back to original spec and
addition of the "forward assist" in addition to better training).
It also requires a somewhat more mechanically educated individual to maintain. There are more,
smaller parts in the M-16 vs. the AK-47. It's target user audience were farm-raised recruits with
some mechanical knowledge versus peasant conscripts. Even so, recruits using either rifle were

taught the sequence and breakdown of their weapons. The difference is the M-16 is taught to
recruits with a towel showing the M-16 components of their disassembled rifle and AK recruits need
an empty pocket.
Manufacturing-wise, the AK was designed originally for strength using a milled receiver from solid
steel. This proved expensive and the design shifted to the use of a stamped metal receiver. This is
the common AKM variation that everyone thinks is an "AK-47". This requires factories and heavy
equipment to produce in quantity but is otherwise a simple design. So simple it can produced in the
mountains over a campfire with simple tools and patience. Lots of Americans build them in their
home workshop, only differing in having a simple hydraulic press to help make the work go easier.
The M-16 uses aircraft grade aluminum, heat resistant and molded plastic and steel for strength
areas, notably the barrel, fire control parts and bolt carrier group. This aluminum is forged and then
must be machined to specifications. Unlike the AK which is boxy or has cylindrical parts, the M-16
has all kinds of compound curves and shapes to its parts. This requires a machine shop and plastic
molding to produce these parts and the materials are generally more expensive on a pound-for-
pound basis. This produces beautiful parts that fit together well but at much greater expense to
produce. You aren't seeing M-16 pattern rifles being built in the mountains of Pakistan or
Afghanistan.
Which is best? Depends on the roles of the rifle.
The AK is rugged, heavy, simple to use, moderately accurate, fires a decently powerful cartridge,
requires little maintenance to keep it functioning and cheap to produce.
The M-16 is lightweight, simple to use, very accurate, fires a fast, moderately powerful cartridge,
requires regular maintenance to keep it functioning and is more expensive to produce.
Both are used by armies around the world to great effect. Both have become "classic rifles", able to
adapt as needed. In this, the M-16 wins due to its infinite adaptability. It's dimensions are
standardized and it is modular, something the AK isn't. This allows the rifle to be changed much
more easily and it is. It is called "the Lego Kit of the gun world" for a reason.
Best? While I admire the simplicity and durability of the AK-47, my vote goes to the M-16. I feel even
with its faults, it is a better rifle to carry and use due to its lightweight design, inherent accuracy and
shooter-friendly design.


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