Go to the AK-47 or tactical rifle section of any gun forum and you will find endless discussions and heated arguments. How much should you spend for an AKM pattern rifle? Is X brand worth the extra money? After all, we all know that a cheap beat up dirty AK found in any fly-infested corner of the third world will run flawlessly no mater how cheap, rough, or rusty, right?
Not so much. AK rifles, like any other mechanical device, have a range of conditions in which they will operate reliably. Some of these conditions are environmental, and some are related to the construction and specifications of the device. I have seen a lot of AK rifles that did not run well or did not run at all. Rust, dust, and sand will all stop an AK from running, just as it will stop any weapon from running. The AK might go a bit dirtier or rustier than some, but eventually it will stop.
AK pattern weapons around the world vary greatly in quality of construction, from handmade rifles that are unsafe to shoot, to rifles built in first-class factories. In training courses in the US, we often see more malfunctions and problems in AK courses than in AR courses.
When we approach the question of high-end AK rifles, there are two issues we need to consider: reliability and usability. I will use my experiences in our most recent ComBloc carbine course to address these issues.
Reliability is easily answered. Buy an AK. Run it hard. Run it with different types of ammo. Is it reliable? If not, you will have get rid of it and try again. Rifles from some assemblers are a roll of the dice. If the rifle is not reliable, hopefully the manufacturer will make it right. In my observations, the AK rifles based on Saigas and Arsenal AKs tend to be the most reliable.
A good way to test reliability is to run the carbine in a good tactical course. The rifle will get hot and dirty. It will be fired fast and slow. It will take some knocks and be fired from a variety of positions, with several different magazines. All of this helps determine reliability. The really big advantage though, is that you will be dealing with malfunctions under stress. If you go to a range, sit at the bench, and pop off a few rounds at paper targets or tin cans, you may have malfunctions, but you might not really be aware of them. You fix the malfunction at your leisure, and at the end of the day you don’t really think about the malfunctions. You are comfortable with the reliability of your weapon.
In a fighting course, you are focused on a goal – performing the tasks related to successfully completing a drill. A malfunction slows you down or prevents you from accomplishing the goal. Under these conditions, a malfunction arrests your attention.
I know this because I see people bragging about their weapons and how reliable they are, whether AKs, ARs, high-end 1911 pistols, or any other type of weapon. The same people start a course and can’t believe how unreliable their weapon has suddenly become! Could it be a bad lot of ammo? The weather? Perhaps the alignment of the planets? They certainly never had a malfunction before, and now the stupid thing malfunctions in every drill!
Usability is another issue entirely, centered around the design of the weapon. Let’s cut through the hype and face facts: The traditional AKS/AKM platform is not ideal for modern western tactics. The AK-47 was designed around the idea of a large massed army facing large opposing armies across the battlefields of Europe. The carbine needed to be tough, reliable, simple, and inexpensive. The AK-47 and subsequent models fulfilled this role admirably. This was the big picture. When we consider the details, we recognize that the outcome of battles are often determined by squads, teams, and individual soldiers. Fighting takes place in all types of terrain, and our fighting techniques have evolved to make us more effective in close-in urban fighting.
While the AK can be effective in this kind of fight, and I respect it, it is not ideal. The safety selector is awkward and slow to manipulate. It causes the user to at least shift his firing grip on the weapon. The charging handle is on the wrong side of the weapon, and triggers are often poor. The magazine well is just a hole in the bottom of the weapon and magazines have to be rocked into place. The bolt does not remain open after the last round, and the sights are crude. All of these issues can be worked around by technique in order to effectively use the weapon, but it is still a work-around.
Fortunately there is also a solution to many of these issues.
In a recent ComBlock carbine course, I shot in the course along with the students. My purpose was to test two AK rifles built by Krebs Custom. I wanted to see if they were worth recommending to our students.
The first thing I noticed about the Krebs rifles was the smoothness. Everything about these rifles is smooth. Nothing was gritty, jerky, sloppy, or rough. They are nothing like any AK I have handled in the past. It was actually a bit shocking to me after every other AK I have handled. Triggers are the best that I have seen on any AK rifle. The safety selectors are butter-smooth and easily manipulated without effort. Disassembly revealed that the entire trigger groups were bright, hand-tuned, and polished.
Finish on both rifles was excellent – a very tough coating that held up well to rough use, mag changes, and malfunction drills in an intense course.
The rifles were a KREBS CUSTOM ENHANCED SPEED LOAD© TACTICAL RIFLE™ and a KREBS CUSTOM SPEED LOAD© TACTICAL RIFLE™. The Krebs rifles are built on Russian rifles, which are among the best AK rifles available. Both rifles had a few striking visual differences from standard AKM-type rifles, but as soon as soon as I handled the rifles, I realized that there are important internal improvements as well.
Triggers: Both rifles had tuned and polished triggers that were greatly improved over any AK trigger I have used before.
Safety Selector: The rifles featured Krebs’ Mk VI safety selector. This safety selector has been designed to be manipulated by the trigger finger without changing the firing grip on the weapon. This is one of the most practical improvements that can be made to an AK rifle. I would purchase the Mk VI selector for any AK I had. This single improvement noticeably sped my reaction time and my first shot was consistently quicker. The Krebs Mk VI safety is a must-have improvement for anyone who uses AK rifles for serious purposes.
Magazine well: Perhaps the most visually striking improvement on the Krebs AKs is the Krebs Magazine Well Flange. This is a piece of steel welded to the bottom of the receiver that guides the alignment of the magazine. This, for me, was a game changer. The combination of the Krebs Magazine well and the Mk VI Safety totally changes the dynamics of the weapon. No more shifting my grip to manipulate a stiff safety, and no more fumbling to insert a magazine.
Magazine Release: The modified magazine release allows the shooter to release the magazine using the trigger finger. The design is such that, unlike other flimsy clamp or screw-on systems, the magazine release can still be use in traditional ways, like with the thumb that grips the magazine, or using the new magazine to release and knock the empty mag out. This is one feature I did not find myself using much, not because I did not like it, but simply because I used other methods out of habit. I need more trigger time to retrain myself to use this feature.
Magazine Ejector: Krebs has added a small ejector spring above the magazine release that is depressed when a magazine is inserted. When the magazine release is pressed, the magazine is positively ejected from the rifle. This device is simple, foolproof, and worked flawlessly for me every time I released a magazine.
The Krebs Custom Enhanced Speed Load© Rifle has several additional features including:
Sights: This carbine features Krebs Custom’s Rear Sight Receiver Rail. This system combines a rail over the action of the rifle with an excellent AR-style receiver sight. I am not usually a fan of “dog-leg” type scope rails, but this one excels where others fail. The design of the mount is such that it locks up very solidly and returns to the same position after disassembly. The rail gives the option of using optics in the traditional location over the receiver, and the sights are a great improvement over the standard AK sights.
Handguards: The handguards were replaced with the KCI Quad Rail Forend. While I am partial to our VFR-AK rail system (also available from Krebs Custom), the KCI quad rail is one of the best I have seen for an AK. It is very well built and the design is stable. It is also a very good looking rail system. I was quite impressed.
Both rifles included new high-quality steel magazines.
Shooting in the course, I found the Krebs rifles to be very reliable. I shot hundreds of rounds of several types of new production and surplus ammunition without any malfunctions that were not purposely induced. In fact, they ran so well that I had trouble inducing a jam 2 (bolt partially open on a stovepipe or failure to feed). The empty cases I inserted in the magazine tended to chamber smoothly instead. I started to use cases that were a little smashed so they wouldn’t chamber.
I did not specifically shoot the rifles for accuracy, but I can pretty much tell when a rifle has acceptable accuracy. In two drills I made fast head shots on a target from a standing position, two shots each, and the result was four holes that could have been covered with a quarter right where I had aimed them (the rifles came zeroed).
Being an M4 guy, I am familiar with the AK, but have never really trained extensively with it. With a standard AK I struggled with magazine changes and safety manipulation. I have handled a lot of AK rifles from various manufacturers, and most have very stiff selector levers. The selector levers on the Krebs rifles were slick and smooth, and did not require excessive force to move. The Mk VI selectors allowed me to quickly manipulate the selector with my trigger finger without shifting my grip on the weapon. I got the hang of this technique quickly and found that I was much faster getting the Krebs rifle into action than others in the course as a result of the Krebs safety.
Magazine changes are usually slow for me because of the design of the AK itself, and because I don’t have the time on it that I have on the M4. One of the things that I notice students struggle with most in an AK course is aligning the AK magazine with the magazine well. While a lot more training would help, I found the Krebs Magazine Well Flange to be invaluable. I don’t advocate gimmicks to replace skill, but this feature is no gimmick. The magazine well aligns the magazine with the rifle and smooths and speeds loading. Everyone who tried it liked it. In our courses we do a lot of reloading while moving and under pressure. We stress keeping visual contact with the target during reloads. Under these circumstances the Krebs Magazine Well Flange will be a valuable asset even for the most skilled the shooters. The magazine well did not interfere with the use of coupled magazines.
As I mentioned previously, I did not often use the enhanced magazine release as intended, just because under stress I fell back on what I was used to. Fortunately, the magazine release can also be used traditionally. When I did make an effort to use it correctly, I found that it works well and magazines will positively drop free. If for some reason one does not (they always did for me), it can be bumped free by the new magazine.
The rifles were both coated with a good-looking finish that proved to be very durable against the hard use they saw in the course. Malfunction drills saw the steel magazines being roughly banged and scraped across the finish of the receiver and receiver cover, without much noticeable wear to the finish. The use of corrosive ammo in the rainy and damp conditions was not a cause for concern due to the chrome bore and chamber and the protection of the finish. Many AKs assembled in the US are parkerized or blued and do not have chrome-lined bores, so they need constant and immediate attention when shooting corrosive ammo.
Marc Krebs is not just another guy hammering together AKs in a garage, but is a well respected gunsmith and designer who has spent considerable time studying and improving the AK platform. He has spent time in Russia researching the AK and speaking with designers and builders there. Apparently, he knows what it takes to build a superb weapon.
We highly recommend Krebs Custom AK rifles for anyone who needs a reliable AK-style weapon. If I had to use an AK and was being sent into a fight tomorrow, I would be on the phone with Krebs Custom today. In the case of the Krebs Custom Speedload Rifle, the cost is little more than some of the more expensive stock rifles, for a rifle with some serious improvements and advantages. The Krebs rifles are truly high-end modern combat weapons.
The Krebs AKs are so smooth you will forget you are running an AK. Triggers are incredible, and function is perfect. If fact, its hard to remember that the weapon still retains the legendary durability and reliability of the AK platform. In the photo of the Krebs Custom Speedload rifle above, you can see the magazine well flange, improved magazine release, and improved safety selector lever that make this an effective modern fighting carbine.
The rifles and the accessories pictured above are available from Krebs Custom.
Check them out at http://www.krebscustom.com
The accessories and optics are also available from The Mako Group. Visit www.themakogroup.com for more information.