Coffee or Die Magazine
By Karen Hunter | September 17, 2019
From the sun-baked deserts of North Africa to the tropics of Central America, the venerable AK47 rifle has been used in international conflicts around the world for decades. Few firearms share the name recognition of the AK47, and Mikhail Kalashnikov’s creation has developed a hardcore following since it was adopted by the Soviet Army in 1949.
While the AK can be found in the hands of freedom fighters and terrorists alike, it also has a massive fan base in the civilian world. The challenge for civilians is finding a quality rifle with true AK DNA that enjoys the benefits of modern manufacturing. Century Arms thrives in this niche market. The company has been a go-to resource since they opened in 1961, offering a variety of AK models.
However, one of their most interesting guns was announced earlier this year. The Century Arms VSKA is an AKM-pattern rifle that is entirely made in America.
Century Arms VSKA AK. Photo courtesy of Century Arms Facebook page.
The VSKA (pronounced vis-kuh ) is a new, heavy-duty AK rifle that has been re-engineered from the ground up. Critical components, such as the bolt carrier, front trunnion, and feed ramp, are made using S7 tool steel — that’s the same steel used in jackhammer tips and excavator teeth. S7 tool steel has maximum shock resistance and high compression strength, while retaining toughness.
The team at Century worked hard to ensure that items such as the front trunnion and the machined-from-billet bolt exceeded the durability goals for the project. The VSKA features a carburized, case-hardened bolt. The process results in a lower coefficient of friction in the carburized surface, which reduces the potential for galling and plastic deformation. The VSKA has a very nice chrome-moly 4150 barrel and sports the RAK-1 Enhanced Trigger group for a better-than-expected trigger press. Wrapped up with a manganese-phosphate finish and an eye-catching American Maple wood buttstock and forend, the VSKA looks as good as it runs.
Range time with the VSKA offered a stellar performance — in the world of AKs, this gun is a solid choice. Chambered in the traditional 7.62x39mm, the fit and feel of the gun said Eastern Bloc fighter, but the tolerances and finish elevate the VSKA to a higher level. Following a quick function check, I ran the gun hard. My first impression was that it was true AK but with serious manufacturing effort behind it.
The author found the Century Arms VSKA to be an accurate and rattle-free AK-pattern rifle. Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die.
Unlike most of the AKs I’ve seen come through my classes, the VSKA has very little play or slop in the action. It was made to meet a serious set of standards — as evidenced by Century becoming an ISO 9001:2015 certified manufacturer in July 2018. While most AKs have a distinct rattle to them when they fire, it’s completely absent in the VSKA. The rifle cycled well and ran anything I fed it, which was predominantly steel-cased stock ammo.
Century includes a 30-round Magpul AK magazine with the VSKA, which lightens the gun and adds another layer of reliability, which is something Century prides themselves on. The company claims to have fired 12,000 rounds through several test guns while maintaining SAAMI headspace specifications and experiencing not a single trunnion failure. While part of the AK’s legacy is the notion that they are indestructible, like any other mechanical device, they will have a breaking point. But 12,000 rounds is a lot to fire through a gun and experience no failures.
“The VSKA is the true definition of American ingenuity and technology meeting Soviet bloc dependability and history,” said Adam Ruonala, Century Arms’ national marketing director.
Graphic by Erik Campbell/Coffee or Die. Photo courtesy of Century Arms.
While the VSKA does have the benefits of modern manufacturing, it is still a traditional AK with the standard flash hider, which looks as if someone cut a piece out of the barrel and angled it to the right. AKs have a tendency to rise toward the right, so the simple answer was to cut the end of the barrel to direct the opposing gas force against the rise. It’s a crude yet effective muzzle-control design feature.
Another aspect of AK legend is that they suffer in regards to accuracy. While ARs can be sub-MOA (minute of angle), AKs are known to be “minute of man.” While this may be true for some AK47 models, it is not the case with the VSKA. In my range time, I managed to obtain 1½-inch groups utilizing less expensive steel-cased ammo — more than enough to get the job done.
The one area where I felt Century had an opportunity to make a solid ergonomic improvement was the safety. They incorporate an old-school safety complete with sharp edges that encourage glove use, even for more rough or masculine hands. While not a major demerit, I personally found it too abrasive.
Overall, the VSKA was a lot of fun. There’s just something badass about stepping onto the range with an AK47 and running it hard, just because you can. And the VSKA’s reliability made it that much sweeter. The VSKA is an affordable, solid performing AK that is truly the best of both worlds.
S7 tool steel, no "AK rattle," American maple furniture, made in the U.S. — Century Arms' VSKA is the AK47 we've been waiting for.
Everything you want to know about the legendary AK-47
The AK-47 is perhaps the most widespread firearm in the world. Carried by American enemies and allies alike since 1947, it is the standard infantry weapon for 106 countries. There are an estimated 100 million AK-47s of a number of variations round the world.
It’s a popular weapon among firearms enthusiasts, professional soldiers and terrorists alike. In the United States, it has a reputation as the “bad guy” weapon, given its history and usage among so many former enemies.
So it’s natural that readers have a lot of questions about it.
1. What is ‘AK-47’ short for?
Its Russian name is Avtomat Kalashnikova — also known simply as the Kalashnikov. It was named for its inventor, Senior Sergeant Mikhail Kalashnikov. He was supposedly a wounded T-34 tank commander in the Red Army during World War II. According to legend, he admired the weapons made by the Nazis.
After five years of engineering, the former agricultural engineer made his famous weapon. It was based on a number of other designs floating around at the time, mostly Germany’s Sturmgewehr-44. Called StG-44 for short, the Sturmgewehr was the first real mid-range infantry rifle. It didn’t shoot a heavy round but could still lay down heavy fire. The AK-47 was designed to do the same.
But the true brilliance of Kalashnikov’s invention was in its simplicity. It was designed for all-around ease of use: easy to repair, easy to unjam (if it ever does), easy to maintain. If a round is chambered in an AK-47, chances are good that weapon is going to fire.
His creation was so simple and dependable that the Soviet Union began exporting the weapon en masse. The country made so much money from exporting the weapon that Kalashnikov received special treatment in the USSR and later Russia for the rest of his life.
2. Are AK-47 guns illegal?
The legality of the AK-47 depends on what country you’re reading this in. In many countries, it’s not only legal to own an AK model firearm, it’s necessary and/or celebrated.
AK-47 model weapons are also dirt cheap in many places around the world — but the further away you are from the production centers, the more expensive it can be.
According to a study on transnational crime in the developing world, the cost of a black market AK-47 can run as little as $150 in Pakistan to $3,600 on the Dark Web for shipment to the United States.
The price of an AK family firearm in Africa is an exception to that general rule. It’s usually much cheaper in many African countries because the demand is so high that markets are usually flooded.
3. How many bullets can an AK-47 fire in a minute?
The AK-47 can fire 600 rounds per minute in a fully automatic setting.
4. Can I legally buy an AK-47 in the United States?
As for American wannabe AK owners, it also depends on what state you live in. In general, however, a true AK-47 has a fully automatic setting, which is illegal in the United States. Models with semi-automatic settings are available and legal in the US. Manufacturers cannot make or import fully automatic weapons for the civilian market.
But you can still legally buy a fully automatic AK-47. Because this is America.
Any automatic weapon fully registered before May 1986, with the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, can be purchased or sold. This means there is a market of an estimated 175,000 legal automatic weapons in the United States. The limited legal supply also means that one of these rifles can be wildly expensive — not to mention the stiff Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives oversight and a $200 excise tax.
But if you can afford $10,000 for a legally automatic AK-47, $200 is likely not going to bother you.
5. How deadly is the AK-47?
The AK-47 is the deadliest weapon ever built, on the whole. Its kill count even tops nuclear weapons in sheer numbers. But the first AK-47s were very heavy and weren’t really built for aiming. Kalashnikov wanted to develop a compact weapon that still delivered firepower within 300 meters that could bring a blaze of bullets (with ammunition light enough that soldiers could carry a lot of it).
A real 1947 Kalashnikov is surprisingly difficult to fire for a standard infantry weapon, but it was still very easily produced and easily used. Today’s AKs are actually AKMs (modernized) and variations on the AKM. Everyone will still refer to it as an AK-47 or simply “AK” — because it sounds cool.
The weapon uses a 7.62 mm, high-velocity round that can “destroy whole areas of a body,” according to New York City trauma surgeons. They shatter bones, tear through organs and liquefy other materials as the round tumbles through the body — often in ways that cannot be repaired.
6. Does the US military use AK-47s?
When the M16 rifle was first introduced in the Vietnam War, it had a number of issues. There were so many problems that American troops were killed in combat simply because they couldn’t shoot back.
Even after the kinks were worked out, a dirty M16 was (and is) much less likely to operate than a dirty AK-47. So US troops were known to pick up AKs from their fallen enemies and keep them handy . just in case.
When the AK-47 was first introduced, it was such a great weapon that the Red Army actually hid it from the world. The US didn’t really know about its existence until the mid-1950s. Not that the American military would buy its standard-issue rifle from its main geopolitical foe and potential World War III adversary anyway.
These days, the US does not field AK-47s, but some members of its military are trained to use them. Special operations forces from all branches might have to pick up an enemy AK-47 at some point because of the nature of their work — sometimes help isn’t coming.
7. Why do terrorists use AK-47s?
The rifle was designed to be carried, maintained and fired by anyone in the area who happened to need its services. And if you need a weapon like the AK-47, you need to be able to use it fast, whether you’re a professional soldier or a poorly trained conscript.
The worldwide availability and durability of the AK-47 also makes it an attractive weapon for terrorists, militias and other illegal paramilitary organizations. Whether they’re trying to take over a military base in frozen tundra or overthrowing a government in Sub-Saharan Africa, the AK-47 works really well in every environment, is always available (usually at a steep discount) and will still work even if it falls into water, mud, sand or some other muck.
The average lifespan of a terrorist in a gunfight isn’t very long, so that rifle is likely going to hit the ground, and someone is going to need it to work when they pick it up. The terrorist group is definitely going to need a cheap replacement.
There are an estimated 100 million AK-47s of many variations in use around the world by gun enthusiasts, professional soldiers, and terrorists alike.