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

    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.


    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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]