A lot of people these days are complaining, that the firearms industry in recent years is very boring and there is no real innovation anywhere. Companies are mostly tinkering with proven 60-year-old designs, inventing new, often useless, accessories, and trying to sell you, essentially, “that same old pig with a new brand of lipstick on its face”. But imagine if a large country would suddenly decide to move away from a proven design to a new, groundbreaking weapon system, wouldn’t that be great? Finally, some real innovation! Well, that actually happened in Russia with the Nikonov AN-94 assault rifle.
If you’re not familiar with Nikonov AN-94, it is a Russian assault rifle designed in the late 70s and 80s. Just like the US Army with its Advanced Combat Rifle program (you can find out more about ACR program in this awesome article written by Matthew Moss), the Soviet military was looking for ways to increase hit probability.
And while the US Advanced Combat Rifle program didn’t result in a new weapon being issued to the troops, Soviet trials codenamed “Abakan”, which started in 1978, had a seemingly clear and unambiguous winner – Nikonov AN-94 assault rifle. What made it so special?
Design engineer Gennady Nikonov had an interesting approach to the problem. To increase hit probability, he developed a weapon with a hyper burst – two rounds were fired at a rate of 1,800 rounds per minute, and both projectiles would leave the barrel before the shooter is affected by recoil. Here how it looks, filmed at 960 frames per second.
It does look pretty freaky. When you actually see someone shooting the gun, there is no way to tell if he is shooting single shots or actually firing two shot bursts.
To make it work, Nikonov created an incredibly complicated mechanism that few people can really comprehend. If you want to know more about how it functions, you can read this great post by Nathaniel F: The Mind-Bending AN-94 Rifle: Yesterday’s Rifle Of Tomorrow.
What I wanted to know is – just how accurate hyper burst is? In the past, I had a chance to shoot at 25 meters, you might have seen Larry Vickers doing it, but what about longer ranges? Recently I had a chance to find out.
The results were surprising. At 50 meters, two bullets were 6-8 inches apart, and at 100 meters, it was even worse. One of two bullets I fired at a target in the middle actually landed on the right target.
Yes, it is still better than AK74, but definitely not impressive enough to justify an extremely complicated, mechanism, very high production cost, and infinite potential for stoppages. Without any doubt, Gennady Nikonov was a genius, but he was confined within very strict technical requirements. I wonder what he could have achieved if he had more freedom.
So when you complaining about lack of innovation, remember about Nikonov AN-94 – a great example of a very innovative weapon that was too innovative to be trustworthy and too complex to be effective.