I do not fall into this crowd, especially considering that the gas-impingement M16 series is our longest-serving rifle in military service.
However, I do believe that pistondriven ARs have a place and are a viable weapon platform and superior to the gas-impingement ARs in certain circumstances, such as shorter barrel lengths used in conjunction with a suppressor or if minimal proper maintenance is neglected.
I’d now like to introduce readers to the ultimate piston-driven 5.56mm slinger in the form of a long-stroke operating-roddriven AK. The specific rifle I am referring to is a Rifle Dynamics (RD) modified Arsenal AK chambered in 5.56mm. Yes, the AK has truly arrived of late in the U.S. market, with numerous accessories coming online and chamberings other than the AK standard 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm.
I have found Jim Fuller’s Rifle Dynamics to be one of the few truly qualified companies that can improve the AK platform beyond its out of the box potential, while also keeping it grounded as a fighting rifle. Jim believes the AK is the most dependable fighting rifle ever produced and, while it may not be quite as accurate as other rifles, it is still plenty accurate for the job it was designed to do.
Discussions with Jim indicate he has always been impressed with and attracted to the simplicity and reliability of most Soviet-bloc weapons. This led him to studying the AK system of operation beginning in the early 1990s, and was reinforced over the years due to the AK being frowned upon by most gunsmiths, which limited whom you could find to work on an AK system.
Rifle Dynamics is an 07FFL/SOT manufacturer, which allows it to work on machine guns, suppressors, SBRs and SBSs, plus RD is considered a dealer as well. Jim’s shop offers work on ARs, Saigas, PSL rifles and MACs, along with other work typically found in custom shops on revolvers and 1911s, among others.
RD 5.56MM AK
The Rifle Dynamics modified 5.56mm AK started life as an Arsenal 106CR AK. Rifle Dynamics’ purpose was to create an AK that would appeal to law enforcement or civilians via the 5.56mm chambering. Now before you become skeptical as to the consumer market potential of a 5.56mm AK, Rifle Dynamics has sold several 5.56mm AKs to law enforcement agencies and personnel.
The AK 100 series folder, in this case a triangle version, makes the gun very compact for storage inside a vehicle’s cab or trunk. The 5.56mm AK is more suited for LE work considering the logistics of available ammunition and varied loads on the market compared to more traditional AK chamberings such as 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm. Private citizens may well feel the same about cartridge choice. The RD 5.56mm is fitted with Rifle Dynamics’ custom front-end modification in conjunction with an Ultimak scope rail for optic, light or other accessories.
A tremendous amount of fitting goes into the RD 5.56mm AK. It receives an internal reliability check, with the firecontrol unit polished and light honing of the bolt, bolt carrier and guide rails. All exterior surfaces that users touch are dehorned. The RD AK 5.56mm receives extra polishing of the chamber. This is due to the 5.56mm case not extracting as easily as the more tapered 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm designs.
The RD 5.56mm AK was fitted with a G-2 trigger, but the stock Arsenal twostage trigger can be tuned to work quite well and will be more familiar to officers who are trained on M4-series rifles.
The finish on the RD 5.56mm AK is Norrell’s Moly Resin (grayish/green) applied over parkerizing. Rifle Dynamics has found this to be the best finish for a rifle that will take a lot of abuse, heat and lack of cleaning. Jim reports the finish has repeatedly proven itself under the worst conditions.
Most owners will not even notice RD’s attention to detail, but can take comfort that everything possible has been done to make a Rifle Dynamics AK the best fighting rifle available. Even without firing a live round, the superiority of the Rifle Dynamics AK over a standard AK could be detected in the smoothness of the action, trigger pull, quality of re-finish, and overall weapon feel.
The RD AK 5.56mm benefits from a custom front end, starting with the installation of a Bolten gas block. The Bolten gas block combines the front sight and gas block into one unit, which, along with RD shortening the barrel length and pinning the Wolverine flash hider permanently to the barrel, gives the rifle a whole new feel when shooting and moving.
The purpose of this modification is to lighten the front end, which shifts the gun’s center of balance closer to the body, making it much more controllable in movement and making the gun as short as it can legally be without an SBR tax stamp. Overall length of the 1:7 twist chrome-lined barrel with pinned flash hider is 16.25”. Both the Bolten gas block and Wolverine flash hider are available through Venom Tactical. The RD AK 5.56mm weighs just over seven pounds and measures 34.5 inches long with stock deployed and 25 inches with the stock folded.
The front-end work is complemented by adding the above-mentioned Ultimak scope rail. The Ultimak provides a solid mount for whatever forward-mounted optic or tactical light you prefer, and provides simple, no-nonsense solutions for using optics while still maintaining access to existing iron sights. The Ultimak replaces the original gas tube, keeping it a stable centered platform for optics without having to resort to modifying one’s cheekweld. The Ultimak rail does not have to be removed to clean your weapon. The mount is American made from hard anodized aluminum, with little to no gunsmithing required for install, depending on the specific AK model.
The RD AK 5.56mm also features a Fuller Modified Rear Sight unit. Over the years, many have complained about the iron sights on the AK. The Fuller Rear Sight improves them tremendously. The Fuller Sight has the notch widened and corners radiused to a spec that was given to Jim Fuller by an optometrist for maximum efficiency in centering the front post in the rear notch. Both windage and elevation adjustments are made on the front sight.
I decided to try two different nonmagnified optics on the RD AK 5.56mm. I found the Ultimak rail too tempting and favor the advantages associated with red-dot sights. I first mounted a Trijicon RMR on the Ultimak rail. The RMR sight withstood the recoil and heat generated by repeatedly long strings of fire. Make no mistake: the Ultimak rail gets hot and transmits this heat into whatever device is mounted to it. The RMR only weighs several ounces, even with the low Picatinny mount. While not co-witnessing, the RMR sat low enough on the Ultimak that no adjustment of cheekweld was required to pick up the RMR’s amber 7 MOA dot.
Another Trijicon sight mounted on the RD AK 5.56mm was an RX30. The beauty of the two Trijicon sights is that neither requires batteries to generate the aiming dot because of the dual use of fluorescent fiber optics and tritium lamp. The lack of reliance on batteries appealed to me as matching the RD AK 5.56’s ruggedness.
At first, the Trijicon Reflex RX30 seemed to sit high on the rifle, altering my natural cheek weld. However, after a few magazines at the range, it posed no problems, especially when used with both eyes open as the RX30 is designed for. The Trijicon Reflex weighs 13 ounces and is a hardy sight designed for hard use by troops in the field. It is made from aluminum with hard coat anodizing. In my range tests, it proved more than capable of withstanding the RD AK 5.56’s recoil and heat generated from firing multiple magazines.
The Trijicon Reflex’s 6.5 MOA dot aided in acquiring a fast aiming point at CQB ranges and allowed me to hammer steel man targets reliably out to 200 yards.
The Rifle Dynamics AK 5.56mm was evaluated at Echo Valley Training Center in Winchester, Virginia, a venue that hosts numerous well-known training entities every year, along with DoD personnel, Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies. Manufacturers are also finding their way to Echo Valley Training Center to take advantage of what the facility offers: multiple 100- yard enclosed bermed bays capable of handling numerous students conducting square-range drills or more dynamic/ fluid types of training utilizing the barricades, building facades, and doorways constructed for those purposes.
Ammunition tested with the RD AK 5.56mm was a combination of Black Hills Ammunition 69-gr. Match loads, Hornady 60-gr. TAP loads, Barnaul 55-gr. FMJ, Wolf Ammunition Military Classic 55-gr. FMJ, Century International Arms distributed HOT SHOT 62-gr. FMJ, Federal Premium Law Enforcement 55-gr. Triple Shok and 62-gr. Bonded SP loads.
The RD AK 5.56mm kept all loads tested under 3.5 inches at 100 yards, with the Federal Premium 55-gr. Triple Shok and Black Hills 69-gr. Match producing groups just over two inches at 100 yards. Remember, this is without magnified optics and relying only on the Fuller-modified open sights and Trijicon red-dot sights.
Most bulk range firing utilized the steel-cased Wolf Ammunition Military Classic 55-gr. FMJ load and brass-cased South Korean HOT SHOT 62-gr. FMJ. Both performed without issue.
Two US Palm web gear products enhanced the review process by maintaining loaded magazines at constant ready. The AK Attack Rack is a secure low-profile platform that holds four AK magazines and four pistol magazines. The AK Attack Rack chest rig can be worn over hard or soft body armor and is built to military specifications out of 500d Cordura nylon for durability and minimal weight.
Another US Palm product used in conjunction with the RD AK 5.56mm evaluation was the Defender AK body armor rig. The Defender comes with a Level III soft armor insert and hard SAPI plates can be installed in it both front and rear. The Defender is US Palm’s effort to make affordable products available to security-conscious citizens or law enforcement personnel who have to purchase their own gear. The Defender AK model can carry three AK magazines and three pistol magazines.
During the evaluation, I also equipped the RD AK 5.56mm with a Blackhawk Legacy Tactical light with GG&G mount to the Ultimak rail.
Various barricade drills, team tactics exercises, and other similar drills learned from various shooting courses helped put the RD AK 5.56mn through its paces. Several range visits quickly had the round count through the RD AK 5.56mm over 1,100.
Jim Fuller’s understanding and appreciation of the AK as a fighting rifle translate into Rifle Dynamics accentuating these characteristics with no urge to make it into anything else, such as a competition or target shooting rifle. The Ultimak rail is a nod to the advantages offered by red-dot optics or possibly mounting a tactical light without succumbing to the urge to hang items that are not necessary on the forend, thereby ruining handling.
The Fuller rear sight is another subtle refinement intended to upgrade the AK platform without hindering its design intent. The honing, polishing, and fitting of internals such as trigger mechanism and bolt carrier are done to complement the smoothness of operation, not reduce tolerances to a point that compromises reliability out in the real world.
I will admit starting with a certain amount of skepticism toward a 5.56mm AK. Why bother? My thinking was that if you wanted an AK, get one chambered in typical Russian/Soviet calibers, which are more than capable performers.
But experience with the Rifle Dynamics 5.56mm AK has led me to a reevaluation of this mindset, with a better appreciation of how an AK chambered in 5.56mm could appeal to some users due to the greater availability of higherquality 5.56mm ammunition compared to the Russian/Soviet calibers.
The RD 5.56mm AK’s ability to mount tactical lights and red-dot optics on the Ultimak forward rail is a real multiplier of AK capability. Most importantly, RD AKs are fighting rifles, with all improvements focused on making each excel as such.
All business with no wasted effort— that sums up the Rifle Dynamics 5.56mm AK.