October 4, 2017 by AK
I was going to show that the official facts of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s biography make it rather unlikely that he was the principal developer of AK-47. I wrote this post to preempt arguments such as “other Soviet gun designers came up with great designs before they turned 30, so why not Kalashnikov?”
Kalashnikov had neither the training, nor the practical experience, nor the education to develop new weapons. Comparing his formative years with those of Makarov, Stechkin and Sudayev leaves little doubt that Kalashnikov lacked the minimum qualifications as a serious designer.
It is possible, however, that he was a natural-born, extraordinarily talented engineer. Perhaps the young man had the gift of easily understanding the workings of relatively complex mechanisms and fixing their shortcomings. If true, he still needed more experienced collaborators to produce a workable design based on his insights. The names of his colleagues who worked on AK-47 and its later modifications are known but their role remains uncredited.
Another question is why the great engineer limited himself to AK-related designs in his mature years. In contrast, Nikolay Makarov developed, together with his team, an aircraft cannon and two anti-tank missile systems. Igor Stechkin co-designed air-to-air and anti-tank missiles in addition to several more pistols, two machine guns, and this Bondian gadget, a cigar box gun.
I realize that there is a gaping omission in this discussion: what does it mean exactly to design an efficient weapon, and what does it take to be a successful weapons designer? One needs at least to think of possible answers to these questions first, but that’s beyond the scope of this post. I’m tempted to end it with this unintentionally amusing quote from Kalashnikov’s Wiki entry:
In the last few months of being in hospital, he overheard some fellow soldiers complaining about the Soviet rifles at the time and this is when he came up with the idea of making a new rifle which later became the AK47.
Seeing the drawbacks of the standard infantry weapons at the time, he decided to construct a new rifle for the Soviet military.
This sounds like a plot of a Soviet propaganda film or, adjusting for a few details, a Hollywood movie with a moral. A cleaning maid at a NASA lab points out a design flaw and suggests a brilliant fix, or something else along these lines.