Caliber: 5.45x39mm (AEK-971), 5.56×45 (AEK-972) and 7.62x39mm (AEK-973)
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt, balanced
Overall length: 720 / 960 mm
Barrel length: 420 mm
Weigth: 3.3 kg without magazine
Rate of fire: 900 rounds/minute
Magazine capacity: 30 rds, all standart AK-47 or AK-74 magazines depending on caliber
The AEK-971 assault rifle was developed at Kovrov Machinebuilding Plant (formerly known as Kovrov Machineguns Plant) by chief designer S.I. Koksharov. Originally designed and tested during 'Abakan' trials of late 1980s, it failed in trials, but its development was continued in hopes to sell the gun to police forces and for export. During early 2000s small batches of AEK-971 rifles in 5.45×39 caliber were manufactured for Russian MVD (internal affairs ministry) troops, but its production has ceased in 2006, as Kovrov Machinebuilding Plant got rid of all military production and switched to civilain products only. All plans, tools and technological packages for AEK weapons were transferred to the ZID plant in the same city, but production of the AEK-971 was suspended for several years due to the lack of orders.
However, circa 2010 ZiD plant resumed limited production of the modified AEK-971 assault rifle, for Russian Internal Affairs ministry (MVD) and other Russian law enforcement agencies. Since 2013, heavily modified versions of the 5.45mm AEK-971 and 7.62mm AEK-973 rifles are undegoing official Russian army "Ratnik" trials. These new rifles are known as A545 (GRAU index 6P67) and A762 (6P68), respectively.
In December 2014 Russian army officials announced that A545 (6P67) and A762 (6P68) assault rifles sucessfully passed Ratnik trials, along with their main rival, AK-12. Both systems were recommended for initial batch production and issue for trials in the field. It is possible that in the end both rifles will be adopted by Russian military and other agencies, with AEK series being oriented towards Special Operations forces (Spetsnaz) and AK-12 towards infantry and other units.
The AEK-971 assault rifle has a gas driven, balanced action with rotating bolt locking. Balancing mean that AEK971 gas drive has two gas chambers and two gas pistons. The first gas piston is linked via a gas rod to the bolt carrier and operates as usual. The second gas piston is linked to a balancing steel weight and moves in the opposite direction to the main gas piston. Both pistons are synchronized through a simple gear. This design is intended to eliminate three of the four elements of action impulses, which cause a rifle to move during full-auto fire. The first impulse is received when the bullet moves along the barrel – this is the basic recoil itself. The second impulse is received when the heavy bolt carrier/bolt group moves along the receiver back and forth. The third impulse is received when bolt carrier/bolt group slams against the receiver in the rear position, and the fourth when this group is stopped in the forward position after a new cartridge is chambered. The synchronous and opposite movement of the balancing weight eliminates all except the recoil impulse, so the rifle becomes far more stable during full-auto fire.
The gain in accuracy in full auto is about 15-20%, when compared to the AK-74 assault rifle in the same caliber. The AN-94 assault rifle, which was officially adopted by Russian army, has a slight edge over the AEK-971 only in short burst (2 rounds only) mode. In full-auto medium or long burst fire mode (3-5 or 7-10 rounds per burst) AEK-971 wins hands down, being also some 0.5kg lighter than the AN-94, and much simpler and cheaper to manufacture.
Production AEK-971 rifles have a side-folding plastic buttstocks, plastic forearm and fire control grip, and use standard AK/AKM or AK-74 30-round magazines (depending on the chambering). They also feature safety switch/fire mode selectors of various designs, depending on the year of manufacture and factory. The fire selector allows 3 modes of fire – single shots, 3-round bursts and full auto.
A545 (6P67) rifle features numerous internal and external improvements over earlier AEK-971. These include, among other things, redesigned receiver with integrated Picatinny rail on the top, ambidextrous fire mode selector / safety levers, retractable and adjustable shoulder stock and aperture rear sight, ambidextrous safety/fire mode selectors.