During the recent fighting in northern Burma, pictures of a peculiar Chinese Type 81 have emerged in use with the Kachin Independence Army(KIA) rebel group. Due to it’s proximity to the Golden Triangle (area where Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet, rife with the heroin, prostitution, and small arms trade) it is not unusual for the KIA to have sizable amounts of small arms, usually coming from Thailand or China. In the past it has been AKMs, then moving to the Chinese supplied export version of their Type 81 rifle. Recently, this odd derivative has shown up in the media. Knowing that even the KIA’s digital pattern uniforms are similar to the Chinese military’s own uniforms, it is no surprise that they should also have many Chinese small arms.
Outwardly, the rifle resembles the Type 81 from the pistol grip to the chamber but the resemblance stops there. Readers will notice that the collapsible wire stock drops down from the cheek piece. This feature is nothing new with this rifle as new versions of the Type 81 are also incorporating it as opposed to the straight line conventional stock. Where the rifle becomes peculiar is the newly designed barrel and barrel shroud. From examination of the pictures coming out of Kachin State, the author thinks it is a rifle grenade launcher. In some of the pictures, the Kachin’s carrying the rifle have large amounts of what appears to be tubular rifle grenades on their load bearing equipment.
In this photo it also appears to have a magazine that is shorter than a stand issue AKM magazine. The magazine may be different because it is set aside to be only filled with blank cartridges so as to not get confused with live ammunition magazines. The launching tube also has metal clamps such as the ones found in automobile engines. This concept is similar to the Lee Enfield rifle grenade launching variant in which the barrel was wrapped with steel bands because of the added stress from the grenade. The problem with this conjecture is that, if it is indeed a rifle grenade launcher, then where is the awkwardly long sight for the high trajectory of the grenade? The rifle has one visible rear sight that appears to be click adjustable and protected by “ears” but there is no front blade or sight. Another interesting note is the disparity between the barrel shrouds in the pictures. Most are different which indicate that it might not have come from full scale factory but a smaller machine shop that cannot afford the precision mass production capability that a factory can. This also explains the lack of a graduated rifle grenade sight.
For those keen eyed readers, notice the same para cord knotting technique is being used by this Kachin to tie the cords on his Load Bearing Vest as is used in the United States for popular para cord bracelets.