The Mind-Bending AN-94 Rifle: Yesterday’s Rifle Of Tomorrow

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The late-Soviet-era AN-94 is a rifle that, in the West, is shrouded in hype, speculation, but, above all, mystery. The rifle’s capabilities, how it works, how it’s made, and who exactly uses it (and for what) are all matters the West has only been able to speculate on.

Larry Vickers had a chance to shoot the AN-94 during his trip to Moscow, Russian Federation:

This video is one of the rare pieces of video footage of the AN-94 in action, and the only one I know of with video commentary. It makes a good companion to the best English-language source on the mechanics of the rifle that I know of, SADJ’s recent article by David Lake.

Lake got the chance to shoot a rare imported AN-94 (had you asked me what number of Nikonovs had been imported before reading, I would have been very confident in an answer of “zero”), and his disassembly and function description is well worth reading:

The workings of the Nikonov are extremely nuanced. Many have attempted to realize and rationalize its internal operation; and have given up, failed, or just guessed. This weapon can fire, eject, reload, fire, eject and reload, with perfect reliability, while almost totally eliminating recoil, in less time than the human eye can blink. Quite literally, the Nikonov fires two rounds just 33 milliseconds apart. Your eye blinks in 150 milliseconds. So you can imagine that an attempt to break down this mechanical function; so compressed in time can be a tedious task. So bear with us, we shall now expound on the internal function step by step, starting from a closed, loaded chamber, with the selector set to burst mode.

The trigger is pulled, and through a series of linkages (which will be explained later), lets the sliding hammer loose. The sliding hammer travels down its guide rails in the receiver to strike the firing pin, at the rear of the locked bolt. The sliding hammer is allowed to shift sideways in its rails, and lock into place, becoming a fixed part of the carrier assembly. The cartridge is ignited, projectile begins moving, and rearward recoil begins acting on the entire locked receiver. This recoil energy overcomes the receiver’s inertia, and the receiver begins to travel rearward, at a comparatively slow rate. As the bullet passes the gas port, energy acts on the piston, just above the barrel. The relatively lightweight piston and carrier assembly is forced rearward, unlocking the bolt from the breech. As the bolt travels to the rear, it acts on the cable and pulley, which activate the cartridge shuttle. The shuttle travels forward to strip a fresh cartridge from the magazine and presents that new cartridge into the cartridge carrier, just ahead of and above the magazine. The spent case has ejected; the bolt and carrier begin their return to battery; the barrel and receiver are still traveling rearward. As the bolt travels forward to meet the barrel, and the barrel travels aft to meet the bolt, the cartridge carrier raises and presents the round between the barrel and bolt. When the bolt and barrel meet and lock with a fresh cartridge chambered, the hammer, still fixed to the carrier, ignites the cartridge immediately upon locking. A second recoil impulse transfers more recoil energy to the reciprocating receiver. The receiver finally reaches its rearmost position within the envelope. As the bolt completes the second ejection cycle, and reaches its rearmost position within the receiver, it delivers a rearward blow to the receiver, delaying its return forward, but allowing enough time for the cartridge carrier to present another fresh round. The bolt, carrier and barrel can now return to forward battery, with a live round chambered, ready for the next burst. And the shooter has only felt a single recoil impulse – seemingly the result of only the second shot fired. The end result on target is two very closely placed shots. In the full automatic setting, the first two rounds always fire at the burst rate of 1,800 rpm, and continued fire resumes at the normal rate of 600rpm. As the user fires in full-automatic, the sliding hammer does not travel with the carrier; it is only released at the moment that the bolt and receiver return to forward battery. Semi-and full-auto modes of fire utilize the reciprocating sub-receiver to attenuate recoil and improve accuracy and time of follow-up shots. The burst function makes use of the extended time interval during the receiver’s rearward travel.

If you’re like me, your eyes got very, very wide while reading that.

To help, here’s a video of what happens in the AN-94 it is charged with a new round:

What’s so remarkable about the AN-94 isn’t how Germanically complex it is, it’s how simple it is relative to the individual functions it performs, especially considering the high rate at which it fires. Indeed, the AN-94 is a tremendously clever design, operating from both the open and closed bolt positions literally faster than the eye can blink. As Lake pointed out in his article, it is also quintessentially Russian in design and construction, featuring a rough, spartan finish that clashes with the incredible ingenuity of the operating mechanism.

Isthisguro

A cutaway model of the AN-94. This and other images are available in full resolution at this link.

 

I think David Lake summed up the Russian udivitelnyj vintovka best:

Is the Nikonov an innovative weapon? No. it’s beyond that. Most anything mechanical is formed after a preexisting idea, or can trace its development to another device. The AN-94 comes from… nowhere. It’s as great a quantum leap in small arms design as any of the original Browning guns. What spark of inspiration could have sent Gennady Nikonov to his desk to invent this rifle from thin air? Some have suggested a possible connection to some UFO activity in 1989 in Voronezh, Russia. Could the Nikonov be a piece of reverse engineered alien technology? We would love to think so; because there’s just no other logical explanation for this “Blackest” of black rifles.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Ben Warren

    The tags alone made this article worth reading.

    • iksnilol

      Just noticed the tags now: “Adamantium”, “Best rifle in STALKER”, etc.

      Can’t say I disagree.

      • wetcorps

        I’m more of a 9×39 guy myself.

      • AN-94, PSO-1, GP-25, silencer. lol OICWski.

        • iksnilol

          I liked the Dragunov though it was hard to walk with in-game for some reason (c’mon, it isn’t that heavy). I really liked how those games made you plan ahead. Like, scout out a location, then get equipment necessary to take it out.

          I also fondly remember the feeling of getting a shotgun that wasn’t a sawn off double barrel (“More than 2 shots!? This thing is amazing!”).

        • wetcorps

          Too bad the 2 rounds burst mode was nowhere near 1800 rpm though.

        • jhonny

          Nat, could you explain me why no one western company have been able to produce a similar gun after more than 20 years of existance?Usually the western weapons are more advanced than their russian counterparts but if i don’t remember bad when the Us army asked an assault rifle able to perform the so called “superburst” as a condition to subsitute the M-4 all the major gun manufacturers answered that it was only science fiction.

          • They did: The G11, Steyr ACR, and AAI ACR all used high RPM burst modes above 1,500 rpm. One could even add the Colt ACR to that list, which accomplished essentially the same thing through duplex ammo.

            Now, why did the Russians take it further? I think the answer to that is related to the problems Russia had in shaking out good full auto characteristics from the AK. That rifle never really performed well in full auto fire, and it was always a sore spot for Russian designers, so I think that’s where the emphasis for things like the Abakan program come from.

          • Some of the SPIW candidates also had a high cyclic rate. The bullpup Springfield did 1,700 rpm in burst and auto, while the AAI could hit 2,400 rpm in burst.

          • Jon

            Western weapons more advanced than Russians? That’s not real, as an example look were has reached USA assault rifle concept. Nowadays the best considered one is the gas piston M4 in 300 AAC Blackout (7.62x35mm), Russians had it by 1949.

            Take a look to the Fedorov Avtomat, Korobov TKB-022, APS, 9x39mm family, ADS and the AEK-971, to say some.

        • Mazryonh

          Speaking of “best rifle in STALKER,” are you going to cover another “rifle of tomorrow from yesterday” used in that game, being the FN-F2000? That was supposed to be a revolutionary platform, being a bullpup with forward ejection and a much more intuitively-aimed underslung grenade launcher.

          How widely was the real AN-94 distributed, anyway? STALKER would have us believe that an entire faction of armed Zone dwellers (the Duty faction) has it as one of their most common weapons.

          • I believe the Russian special operations forces used the AN-94, though at least one turned up in Iraq.

  • Loving the term “hyper burst.”

    • Micki

      “Hyper burst”: when hyperbole reaches critical mass.

      Ref: final paragraph of this article. 😉

  • Tassiebush

    Thanks for this article I finally kinda get how these bamboozling guns work! Much appreciated!

  • Nicholas Mew

    Man, give this to the Germans and god knows what they may do to it.

    • wetcorps

      Give it to HK and they’ll manage to make it even more unavailable to civilians than it already is 🙂

    • Darren Hruska

      The H&K G11 actually runs on a similar design philosophy (firing multiple rounds in quick succession before the recoil is felt). So, in a way, it’s already been done.

      • the ammo addict

        The mechanism to do it is completely different and seems to work very well in the case of the AN-94. I don’t know how well the G11 would work if they tried the same design with conventional ammo, but it might solve some of H&K’s problems with it.

        • Avery

          I don’t think it would work, at least not without being telescoped ammo. The rotary breechblock doesn’t have an extractor, considering that it’s normal operation had no spent cartridges to extract and any feed issues would be resolved by rotating the bolt so gravity could drop the round out of the breech or forcing another cartridge into the breech. There’s an ejector lever, but it looks like it’s more for spinning the breech cylinder instead of grasping cartridges.

          The ARES AIWS rising breechblock (inspired by lever-action designs) and the LSAT twin-cylinder breechblock are probably better, more reliable takes on that idea, since they use pusher rods to clean out the breech if no spare cartridges are available.

    • Jon Ugalde

      First they will adapt it to 5.56, then they will put rails in it, after it they will rename it and raise its price hugely, at last they will propagate a rumor in internet telling it is a Stg-44 clone.

      Man, open your mind and learn there are more guns than the AK outside the occidetal world.

  • Ripley

    I’d love to read more about the compensator that is most unique to me. Vortex chambers? Using spinning gas as counter rotating mass? Probably clogs up a bit unlike a birdcage or barrel ports but doesn’t blind the shooter in the dark.

    • Giolli Joker

      Actually it is defined self cleaning.

    • MPWS

      It acts as a whistle while converting part of audible sound in to un-audible ultrasound. The report is still there, however.

      • Giolli Joker

        I don’t get how this should affect the perceived recoil… they say it’s an effective muzzle brake…

        • iksnilol

          Uses the gas to make it whistle, gas used should equal less recoil.

          • Giolli Joker

            Nope. The recoil impulse has already started… gas used to counteract the recoil (pushing the gun forward) would be used efficiently, this is usually achieved with a brake that lets some gas escape sideways and partially angled backwards.
            This system is fully closed (aside the bore), I can only imagine that the gas directed against the front and upper part of the of the compensator chambers pushes the gun up and forward.

  • MPWS

    Now, recoil suppressing mechanism can be made lot simpler. How? No, no annoying muzzle breaks needed. Give me a call; seriously interested party only please.

    • MPWS

      This offer is intended for those who want to develop jointly a design which is capable of removing 1/3 of recoil force caused directly by cartridge impulse (while still in chamber). Certainly, willingness to invest and appropriate state/ federal certification to build firearms are necessary.

  • Dracon1201

    I would give nearly anything to field strip one of these…

    • Max Glazer

      And you’d be putting all the parts in the bag to send it to manufacturer for reassembly 😛 The weapon is complex as buggery. Experienced officers in Russian military who have at least one master-level degree had trouble with that. And no they are not retards either.

      • Dracon1201

        Yeah, as a mechanical engineer, I would love to take it apart, slowly document each part, (put it on a 3d scanner), and investigate it. From my perspective, this is a marvel. I wanna take it apart like a Swiss watch and see what makes it tick. That interests me. I’d find a way to get it back together. Eventually.

        • Max Glazer

          That would work 😉

  • J

    its an impressive feat of engineering, but is there any practical reason to have a rifle like this?
    it’s internals are too complicated for military use, it’s not reliable, not by any stretch of the imagination

    when larry vickers tried used it, they experienced a double feed from hell that completely took the weapon out of action

    • aka_mythos

      It fires so quickly the placement of two bullets so closely together means its relatively small bullet can generally defeat the body armor intended to protect from larger small arms ammunition.

    • iksnilol

      You are more effective against armor. And when using “weak” cartridges like 5.56 and 5.45 it helps to shoot two of them at once, both for armor and for effectiveness. Kinda like double taps with pistols.

      • J

        modern plates will take 2 rounds without problems

        from the linked article above

        “We shot targets at 50 yards in burst and full. The burst rounds did not impact together. The best results we could manage showed groups averaging 2 inches spread vertically”

        combat ranges are typically 300 yards
        that spread is only going to get bigger

        • Giolli Joker

          Since you quoted the article, why don’t you complete the paragraph?

          “In full auto fire, it was easy to maintain 8” groups from strings of 10
          rounds. This shows that the rifle can maintain impressive control
          during automatic fire – better than any other battle rifle we’ve tested.”

          Hyper-burst places two bullets closely on the target… this might be effective on ballistic protection (Russians seem to be pretty good at piercing performance of their rounds) or might help to place two bullets on a moving target instead of one… I can’t say if the result is worth the engineering complexity, yet it’s fascinating.

          I wouldn’t judge the reliability based on the video, but I can understand that, compared to an AK, the AN-94 suffers in the field of jam-clearance.

    • toms

      First round hit probability increased. Same thing NATO went for in the 80’s. The G11 also had similar concept. Armor pen not really the goal although I have read that. Rounds don’t hit in the same spot. Armor penetration was sought through the use of flechettes and smaller diameter tunsten sabot rounds. No gun could drop the same round to the same point of impact, to many variables especially ammo tolerances. You would be more likely to hit a target at range with the feature though.

  • In post-Soviet Russia, aliens steal weapons technology from you!

  • Vitor

    Hey, they shot the AEK-971 and that looked functional

  • Lance

    Short of like ICC for the US shown the AN-94 was a interesting design but not a real leap over the AK-74M. It was also too complex and had too many parts for a infantry arm. Like the AK-12 it was adopted for special forces use only.

    • The AK-12 may well be adopted for general issue.

  • iksnilol

    I like the whole hyperburst concept. Could also be useful for DMRs that use 5.56/5.45 instead of 308 and the like. Though, is there a way to keep the burst from going full auto after the first two rounds?

  • Nyanman

    I wish the demilled AN94s were available in the US instead of just Europe. Then again, they don’t have to chop the receiver so they actually get cool display pieces out of it.
    Maybe if by some miracle the registry re-opens I’ll have to get one chopped up in Europe and have an AN94 parts kit ready to legally assemble.

    • iksnilol

      Looks like a cool idea. You guys are lucky that demilling for you is only chopping the receiver. Here in Norway, the barrel has to be drilled and a couple of pins inserted(to prevent chambering and firing) and the bolt has to be cut in two at an angle. 🙁

      Though, couldn’t you also import a bolt action Dragunov from the UK and then just add a gas system when you get it in the states? Would that be legal?

  • Darren Hruska

    “The AN-94 comes from… nowhere.”
    Tkachev did design a rifle with similar mechanical operation before Nikonov created the AS/ASM/AN-94, and then you have Stechkin’s design which competed alongside Nikonov’s design.
    I think Tkachev is actually one of the more unwritten innovators in firearm technology. His AO-38 was the first to use “balanced automatics” used in the later AEK-971 and AK-107, the AO-62 predates the AN-94 and TKB-0146, and the AO-46 was one of the first examples of the modern PDW.

    • iksnilol

      Though the AO-46 must have been a bit uncomfortable to use since the magazine was the pistol grip.

      You are right though, there are way too many inventors not getting the recognition they deserve. That and there are some really cool designs that weren’t adopted (Korobov TKB-022 is probably my favorite).

      • Max Glazer

        Korobov and Baryshev.

  • gunsandrockets

    That muzzle brake looks really interesting, is it used on anything aside from the AN-94?

  • Andrew Hobby

    Everyone knows that in battlefield 3, the other team will kill you more faster if they have AEK-71’s, so OBVIOUSLY this gun isn’t as good.

    *wipes doritos dust off keyboard*

  • TangledThorns

    I always liked the AN-94 in Battlefield 3 🙂

    • iksnilol

      I liked the AEK in Bad Company 2. I got kicked several times though, since people thought I was cheating. What happened was that I used the iron sights to snipe with ,since they were so clear and easy to use.

  • I want that modernized AEK-971 that they apparently just adopted.

    • They did not adopt the A545, so far as I know.

    • iksnilol

      From what I understand they kinda adopted both for special forces or something. Government procurement is a strange procedure that I stay away from.

    • Max Glazer

      A545 and AK-12 are going through initial operational evaluation by a selected Russian army unit. After the evaluation by serving soldiers is completed and final reports by unit are in, then will they decide as to adopt AK-12, A545, both or possibly neither.

  • You can buy that interactive manual for 300 rubles, if you like.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Fascinating! Thanks, Nathaniel!

  • Yallan

    Also patents have just expired.

    • iksnilol

      QUICK! TO THE PATENT-OFFICE-MOBILE!

  • If anyone has any questions on the instruction (the demonstrator talks about function, maintenance and use in detail), ask me. I wouldn’t venture to translate all of this, but will help as needed.

  • uisconfruzed

    Where was the dis-assembly?

  • uisconfruzed

    WAY too many moving parts for a reliable battle rifle.

  • Daisuke0222

    The AN94 is cool as hell, but all of that complexity just to get a hyper-speed two-round burst? Cables and pulleys? In a battle rifle? Are they kidding? I’m just not seeing where the payoff is worth the monstrous complexity of the thing.

  • CScout

    An example of hype I think. That overly complicated weapon suffered a catastrophic failure just in the short time Mr Vickers had it. There are probably more than a couple serious issues with it.