Made in…America?: Kalashnikov USA Modern Rifle

“If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”

In the case of Kalashnikov USA, the phrase could be, “If we can’t import rifles, we will import the factory.”

During the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, the Obama Administration placed sanctions against some sectors of the Russian economy. This included Concern Kalashnikov, the marketing brand umbrella that includes the Izhmash and Baikal product lines. As of 16 July 2014, no further imports of the Saiga line were allowed.

Right side of Kalashnikov USA Modern Rifle as tested with Aimpoint Micro T-2 on upper handguard.


So the company redefined its business model and went from being an importer to a manufacturer in the United States under the moniker Kalashnikov USA.

As this is written, there are still a few of the last Izhmash products imported before the sanctions went into effect. The test rifle here, in fact, is marked “Made in Russia by Izhmash.” These rifles are 922[r] compliant. The U.S. manufactured rifles became available in the second quarter of 2015.

Test rifle was one of last 922[r] compliant rifles to be imported.


THE MODERN RIFLE

Kalashnikov USA has several versions of the AK-type rifle available. The one tested here is the Modern Rifle (MR), model number US132Z. While the working parts are still AK, the cosmetics have changed. The familiar wooden stock, forend, upper handguard, and pistol grip have been replaced with Command Arms Accessories (CAA) synthetic furniture.

These parts include a six-position collapsible stock with adjustable cheek piece and rubber butt pad, forend with rail sections at three, six and nine o’clock, gas tube handguard with rail at 12 o’clock, polymer vertical foregrip, extended magazine release, and pistol grip.

Taking a cue from some pistol manufacturers, the pistol grip has three interchangeable finger groove front and back straps—small, medium and large. Storage space for small items is in the pistol grip, vertical foregrip, and a compartment on the left side of the stock. The rifle comes with one polymer magazine—the one supplied made by US PALM—but will also accept Magpul and any standard AK magazine.

Manual bolt-hold open and extended magazine release.


A manual bolt hold open is on the right side of the rifle at the rear of the trigger guard. To operate it, while holding the bolt all the way to the rear, push it up and release the bolt. To deactivate it, simply pull the bolt all the way back and allow it to go forward.

There are four locations to attach a sling on the stock of the rifle, but none at the front. Barrel length is 16¼ inches and it is without a flash hider or compensator, and the barrel is not threaded for a muzzle device. The bayonet lug and forward lug for the cleaning rod have been milled off.

Sights are typical AK, with a front post and a rear with a very small notch that is adjustable for elevation. Although small sights can be accurate (think shoot small, hit small), they are difficult to acquire at speed. A red dot sight can do both.

Cheek piece is easily adjustable with thumb wheel screw. There are multiple sling mounting positions on the rifle’s stock, but none at the front.


ADDITIONS

One of my favorite red dot sights is the Aimpoint Micro T-2. At only 2.7 inches long and weighing a mere 4.8 ounces with the mount, it is light enough to mount forward on a rifle without it becoming muzzle heavy. The Micro T-2 uses a CR2032 lithium battery and has a life of over five years of constant on at setting 8 of 12. The two MOA dot allows good accuracy out to 300 or more yards. I removed the mount’s spacer that I use on ARs from my Aimpoint Micro T-2 and used the Micro LRP QD mount to attach it to the upper handguard of the MR.

For ammo management, I wore a US PALM AK Attack Rack V2, which is constructed of 500d Cordura nylon and utilizes made in the USA hardware and materials. The Attack Rack has four rifle pouches on the front. Above these are two adjustable flap magazine/utility pouches. MOLLE attachment points are on either side of the rifle pouches. The large zippered main pocket can accommodate extra magazines or other larger pieces of gear. I used it as an improvised dump pouch. Access to the armor pocket is at the bottom of the carrier, which accommodates US PALM’s custom level IIIA soft armor panel (sold separately, $100).

Pistol grip has three interchangeable finger groove front and back straps—small, medium, and large.


RANGE TIME

To feed the Modern Rifle, I used Silver Bear 123-grain FMJ 7.62x39mm ammo from DKG Trading Inc. I zeroed the rifle at 50 yards, which would basically let me engage targets out to 300 yards with very little correction, hitting about an inch high at 100, and 2.5 inches low at 300. Up close, the Aimpoint had almost three inches of mechanical offset.

I used both US PALM AK30 and Magpul PMAG 30 AK/AKM MOE magazines. Both brands work great, and in my opinion either is better than the common steel mag.

My grandson Austin accompanied me to the range on one day that I was evaluating the Modern Rifle. At age 14, Austin has fired everything from .22 bolt-action single-shot rifles to belt-feds and .50-caliber rifles, but this was his first experience with an AK. I must be a bad grandpa…

MR has no muzzle device and barrel is not threaded for one.


Austin engaged targets from seven yards out to 50 on the square range—firing on the move and shooting box drills and “roadhouse rules” (one center hit on the first target, two center hits on a second target, and back to the first target with another center hit).

Group sizes at 50 yards were in the two- to three-inch range. Some may consider this level of accuracy objectionable, but the Modern Rifle is not a precision rifle. For what it is, I find the accuracy acceptable.

We also went off the square range for some positional shooting at unknown-distance targets. As could be surmised with an AK, reliability was boringly predictable. No malfunctions of any type were experienced with about 500 rounds fired.

Author mounted Aimpoint Micro T-2 to upper handguard.


COMMENTS

The Modern Rifle’s collapsible stock is worth commenting on. Most people can shoot with a stock that is on the short side, but it becomes challenging with a stock that is too long. Totally collapsed, the stock is about right for me. At position one, it is usable, especially from prone. At position two, it is becoming quite a stretch. Anything past position two could probably only be used comfortably by someone named Mongo who can carry his horse on his back when it becomes tired. Still, the adjustability is there for anyone who needs it.

I like the adjustable cheek piece and fully appreciated its usefulness with the Aimpoint T-2, as I could position my head without having to raise or lower my eye to see the red dot.

The CAA extended magazine release fits over the standard mag release tab and secures with a single grub screw. It is easy to operate with either the trigger finger or the thumb of the weak hand for casually removing a magazine, e.g. administratively unloading the rifle.

The technique I was taught long ago for a speed reload with an AK is first to obtain a fresh magazine, then in one swift motion use that magazine to operate the magazine release, swipe the expended magazine out of the mag well, and insert the fresh mag.

Magazines used were US PALM (left) and Magpul with Silver Bear FMJ ammo. Chest rig is the excellent US PALM AK Attack Rack V2.


Using this technique, the extended magazine release went flying downrange when struck with the replacement mag on the very first speed reload. Additionally, because the extended release came off, the reload mag slipped off and did not allow the expended magazine to be released.

After finding the extended release, I replaced it and tightened the grub screw to what was probably near the point of stripping the screw, and no further problems were encountered while speed loading. Still, I may opt to remove the extended release and stick with the standard magazine release.

It seems like I’m rarely happy with anything “off the rack.” I replaced the CAA stock with a Magpul Zhukov-S folding stock. For carrying in a vehicle or storage, when folded the Modern Rifle becomes a full nine inches shorter. Magpul has three different cheek risers for this stock for use with optics. I also replaced the handguard with a Magpul AKM handguard, as I don’t need all the rails on the CAA handguard, and it reduces bulk.

I can’t decide if I want to stay with a red dot, go to a Scout scope, or return to iron sights. Until I decide, the CAA gas tube handguard will stay in place. If I go with iron sights, I’ll choose something like the Williams fully adjustable peep sight available from Brownells. The Williams replaces the issue sight with no gunsmithing. If I go that route, I’ll likely replace the gas tube handguard with the lower profile Magpul that came with the AKM handguard.

CONCLUSIONS

The Kalashnikov USA Modern Rifle certainly does not represent détente between its country of origin and the U.S., but it may be a step in the right direction. American author Horace Greeley said, “Go West, young man.” And while the AK is anything but a youngster, Kalashnikov USA has indeed come west.

Despite the cosmetic changes, the Modern Rifle is still rugged, reliable and acceptably accurate. I’m fairly certain I can find room in my safe for one.

SOURCES

KALASHNIKOV USA
(215) 949-9944
www.kalashnikov-usa.com

AIMPOINT INC.
(703) 263-9795
www.aimpoint.com

BROWNELLS INC.
(800) 741-0015
www.brownells.com

DKG TRADING INC.
(877) 354-2666
www.dkgtrading.com

MAGPUL INDUSTRIES CORP.
(877) 462-4785
www.magpul.com

U.S. PRIMARY ARMAMENT LOGISTICAL MANUFACTURING
(480) 398-3412
www.uspalm.com

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