Chinese Type 81 in Baghdad

Recent social media activity has indicated at least one Chinese 7.62x39mm Type 74 for sale through the online gun markets of Baghdad. At a casual first glance the light machine gun appears to be an RPK. But upon closer inspection one will notice the oddly shaped carry handle, the SKS-like bolt, uncovered upper receiver, and pistol grip. In fact the Type 81 series of small arms is much more of a modern SKS in an assault rifle issued role than a Chinese take on the Kalashnikov. For more information on the Type 81 and other Chinese LMG designs, Small Arms Defense Journal has an excellent article published on the subject.

From a single photograph we cannot discern more about the LMG, markings, year of manufacture, etc… However it does look very new and probably wasn’t initially issued in the PLA, thus indicating it probably being designated for recent export from China. Some sources online have indicated that some Iraqi Police units were seen using the Type 81 rifle, in addition to photographs out of Syria. The LMG could have easily slipped in among these rifles as part of an earlier shipment.

China is notorious for exporting the Type 81 to both sanctioned governments and illegitimate rebel groups. One of the largest examples is of the Kachin Independence Army and Shan State Army in Burma. Before the Type 81 (introduced in the 1980s), China was a worldwide supplier of “Plausible Deniability” small arms. SKSs simply marked as M21, AKMs marked as M22, with no Chinese markings. China would distribute these “unmarked” small arms in such hotspots as it suited foreign policy. If the United States or United Nations confronted China, the hard evidence for a case against China would be very hard to come up with.

Tajik Soldiers armed with Type 81s


Type 81 rifle in the hands of a Kachin rebel in Burma.


Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at


  • Anonymoose

    *if the Soviet Union confronted China, the hard evidence for a case against China would be very hard to come up with.

    • autofull– kevin horning

      it is always something, just when ya think yer gettin caught up with firearms knowledge they slip in a new one based on god knows what combo of new or old designs. jeesh.

      • Anonymoose

        The Chinese have a lot of crazy designs you’ve probably never heard of. They’re like gun-hipsters.

  • int19h

    I’d love to get my hands on a Type 81 (and a Type 63) for collection purposes…

    • Jako

      Canada is going to be getting Type-81’s, although the new military contract run of them takes priority, so they’ll probably take another year or so.

  • Friend of Tibet

    I would like to point out a mistake.

    The rifle in the Kachin rebel’s hand is actually not type 81 but rather M23 rifle made and reverse engineered by local Kachin rebel based on Type 81-1 rifle (most came from captured government weapons). The major different is the handguard with 7 venting holes and green color, the front post is also different.

    • Jonathan Ferguson

      This is correct. There is an M23/K010 prominently featured in a recent issue of RAIDS.

  • Audie Bakerson

    Alternatively, the CIA purchased these for “moderate” rebels (may or may not have been second hand) and they’ve been captured enough they could be used by anyone.

  • Jeff Smith

    So, THAT’S where Alex C. went…

    • Vermin__Supreme

      No, he got his off GB from a guy in Sugarloaf, Pa.

  • codfilet

    I had a Norinco NHM-91 back in the ’90s that looked like that

  • Lance

    Must be competing with Russian Alam sales in the ISIS war. I’d bet they sell them to ISIS too.

    • Lance

      Not Alam I mean AKM!!!!!

      • Tinkerer

        Wha-what is this-I don’t even-

        Did Lance correct himself!?

        Oh, hi Lance, long time no see.

  • TDog

    “Notorious.” Depends on what ad copy you choose to stick to. Or to put it another way, ISIL, Al Qaeda, and the Syrian rebels didn’t get the money to buy or receive weapons from Santa Claus.

  • No one

    “If the United States or United Nations confronted China, the hard
    evidence for a case against China would be very hard to come up with.”

    Yes, because if there’s one country who’s never been known to arm very questionable groups and countries, It’s certainly the US.

    *Cue the CIA laughing in the background.*

  • Seth Hill

    So I am thinking that some intrepid person could travel to the middle east, buy various firearms that are not available here in the US, disassemble them, record the measurements of all of the parts, make adjustments to the parts to make them semi-auto, and then start producing them in the US.

  • 22winmag

    Illegitimate rebel groups? LOL