North Korean AKs: The Most Popular Export of DPRK. Part 2

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

In part 1 of this article, I wrote the history of North Korean AKs and how four different sets of markings on those guns helped to conceal the North Korean identity of the weapons. However, if you look at actual features, it is pretty easy to identify a North Korean AK. When factories started mass production of their AKM variant they attempted to cut costs and inadvertently created a gun with plenty of odd details.

AK History @ TFB:

Some of the Type 58 features carried over to Type 68, since Type 58 parts were already in production.

The rear sight of the Type 68 AK (export version)
  • The rear sight on Type 68 is graduated to 800 meters, not 1000 like on a standard AKM.
  • The stock is held with two metal tangs extending from the rear trunnion.
  • There is no hammer delay/rate reducer in the trigger mechanism
  • The trigger itself has two hooks instead of one.
  • The front sling loop is always on the gas block, not on a handguard retainer like on a standard AKM
  • Some (but not all) Type 68s have the rear sling loop on the receiver and not on the stock like standard AKM

All those little things made to save a few pennies are a dead giveaway you’re dealing with a North Korean AK, and no markings can conceal that.

So, if another batch of mysterious ASIAN CONTRACT AK parts kits goes on sale in the US, you can always read this article again to make sure you’re making an informed decision when buying one.

Who bought North Korean AKs?

North Korean AKs appear in the most unexpected places. I saw them in Kabul, in Mogadishu, and in the Puntland province of Somalia.

Type 68 with markings for domestic use photographed in Somalia

But the most unusual place you can find them is Latin America. In the late 80s, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels from El Salvador received a large amount of North Korean AKs. Type 68s were also spotted in Nicaragua.

North Korean AKs were used by Wagner mercenaries in Syria when the company was cut off from Russian military supply and had to borrow guns from Assad’s government who was a loyal customer of the North Korean military-industrial complex for years.

Syrian government bought so many North Korean AKs that some of those rifles even bear the markings of Établissement Industriel de la Défense (EID), the main Syrian defense corporation.

But one country in Africa went much further and at the same time managed to hide its ties with North Korea extremely well.

The Ethiopian connection

Ethiopian-made AK is in Somalia

Many years ago I visited Somalia for the first time and noticed a weird AK in the hands of one of the guards. Thankfully, I didn’t have to be all weird about it and ask him to let me touch it.

As an armorer, I knew I would see this gun the next day when I would be doing an inspection. The gun did not look like anything else but had markings that read GAFAT.

Turns out GAFAT is the name of an Ethiopian arms manufacturing plant. But where did they get the technology? Well, I don’t know that.

Ethiopian-made AK is in Somalia

What I know is that their guns have sling loops on the gas block, triggers with two hooks, 800-meter rear sight, and markings that are often identical to export Type 68 North Korean AKs.

Maybe it is just a weird coincidence, and North Korea never secretly transferred the technology to this African country, and never built a factory there, successfully violating all the sanctions. How would I know for sure, I am just a writer, not some distinguished UN expert like Scott Ritter.

Type 88

A close-up crop of the still of the ceremony from a Chosun Central TV report from Nov. 2019, the supreme leader hands over the chromed Type 88, complete with chromed mag and sling, while in the background is a brand new Lexus LX570 (Chosun Central TV/N. Korea State media)

In the 80s, the North Korean military decided to follow the Soviet path and developed a rifle chambered for 5.45×39. This weapon is called Type 88, and very few examples ever left the territory of DPRK. Typically the only scenario when those guns leave the country is when South Korean forces get into a firefight with North Korean soldiers and and end up with some trophies.

Most Type 88 rifles feature a pretty conventional side-folding stock similar to FN FAL Para and Galil. However, some variants have a unique top folding stock.

But the most unusual feature of Type 88 is a giant helical magazine of unknown capacity. It was demonstrated during parades, but so far no samples are available for public display.

POTD: North Korean Helical Mags Aka “Grenade Launchers”

During the “Day Of The Sun” celebration North Korean soldiers were shown wearing night vision goggles and “grenade launchers” Jay Akbar of Mailonline a division of Daily Mail News wrongly identified the AK helical magazines as grenade launchers. We should not be surprised by the media getting things wrong. I am more curious to know … Continue reading

Personally, I’ve never seen Type 88s AKs, so there is little I can say about those guns. As much as I enjoy doing all this research, I really hope I won’t ever end up in a place abundant with those particular AK variants.

Vladimir Onokoy
Vladimir Onokoy

Vladimir Onokoy is a small arms subject matter expert and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 20 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant. His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report. He also contributed chapters to books from the "Vickers Guide: Kalashnikov" series. Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com. Facebook: Instagram: YouTube:

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2 of 17 comments
  • Aerodawg Aerodawg on May 06, 2024

    always enjoy installments in this series

  • Uncle Yar Uncle Yar on May 15, 2024

    Vlad, you may not be a former UN weapons inspector, but you're also not a child predator who used the lies of one deceitful head of state's Imperialist campaign to hawk the lies of another deceitful head of state's Imperialist campaign. You're not the one peddling tu quoques and abetting conquest just to pretend his office and remit hasn't been dissolved decades ago.