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The Russian-made AK47 and the US-made M16 are two of the most popular assault rifles ever made.  How do they compare?

Man has demonstrated great innovation when it comes to methods of killing and maiming his fellow human beings. It can be noted that many of the world’s greatest inventions have entered mass production solely as a means to fight more efficient wars and spread destruction, whether it be automobiles, aircrafts or the internet.

One of the earliest projectiles developed for hunting was the spear. This would eventually become the standard weapon in human warfare for many centuries. In the 19th Century, Chaka Zulu, the African war theoretician and Zulu fighting Chief, shortened the spear and created the Assagai, a more agile and versatile version of the traditional spear, more adept at close quarter combat. The spear eventually evolved into the bow and arrow and this eventually became the rifle.

It has been along this evolutionary trajectory, in the pursuit of more efficient methods of human destruction, that weapons manufacturers have developed the AK47 and the M16, the ultimate hand-held killing machines. Side by side, they represent the most successful modern weapons manufacturing techniques in the ongoing race to create the perfect light-weight, automatic assault rifle.

Created by the Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947, (hence the 47 in AK47), the rifle was adopted by the Russian military in the early 1950’s. Its first confrontation with the M16 came during the Vietnam War. During this period, the Soviet Union and the United States began supplying weapons to their numerous client-states and rebel forces to promote their interests. As a result, the AK47 & M16 came to symbolize the ideological struggles pursued by both sides.

Today, the AK47, with its arced magazine, is one of the most instantly recognizable firearms in the world. It is the universal symbol of rebel armies the world over and has come to represent the weapon of choice for many conventional armies and guerrilla forces who claim to be fighting a war against imperialism. The weapon is prominently featured on the national flag of Mozambique and that of Hezbollah. In many African countries, the rifle can be purchased for as little as $20.00, and in some cases, for as little as a sack of rice.

In 1967, Robert McNamara made the M16 (also known as the AR-15) the primary infantry rifle of the United States Army. Since that date, it has been adopted by fifteen NATO countries and has become the most produced firearm of its caliber. To many in the West, the M16 stands as a symbol of Western power and influence. It was wielded by US soldiers in the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, and is presently being used in the War in Iraq. However, many US soldiers fighting in foreign countries prefer to use the AK47 in battle because ammunition is so easily accessible. In fact, many US soldiers currently fighting in Iraq have taken on captured AK47s and are using them in battle.

An interesting note of contrast is that, in today’s present crisis, the AK47 is being used by the Palestinian Authority, while the Israeli army uses the M16. This further propagates the symbolic usage; the M16 is typically used by Pro-US forces, while the AK47 is primarily used by rebel armies who boast its usage as a divide between what they believe to be “us” and “them.”

Despite usage and weaponry loyalties, both of these weapons have been responsible for untold death and destruction; more human lives are taken by these two rifles than by any other weapon, including bombs. The AK47 has become the bane of Africa, oftentimes being more accessible to the people than a bowl of rice. And as the companies which manufacture these two weapons rake in the billions, the cost in human life escalates at unparalleled dimensions.

1st October 2006
FACE OFF: AK47 vs. M16
By Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr.