Nikonov AN-94 Abakan assault rifle (Russia)

The Nikonov AN-94 “Abakan” assault rifle was officially adopted by Russian army in 1997, in an attempt to replace AK-74 rifles in front line infantry, airborne and Spetsnaz units. However, due to bad economical and political shape of the Russia, which was struggling economically after the fall of the Soviet union, available funs for military were rather short, and relatively few rifles were purchased before Russian army lost its interest in the AN-94 rifle. Untimely death of its inventor, Gennadi Nikonov, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 55 also did not help its further evolution, because early adopted version of AN-94 was not without flaws in ergonomics. As a result of mixed reports from the troops, cost condiderations (some sources said that AN-94 was about 3 times more expensive than AK-74M), and other factors only about 10 to 20 thousands of AK-94 rifles were purchased by Russian army. Few were also exported to Kirgyzstan and Belorussia. Due to lack of sales, IZHMAS ceased production of AN-94 some time in early 2000s, and never resumed it. Today AN-94 seems to be entirely out of favor, as in 2018 Russian army adopted two entirely new 5.45mm assault rifles to replace ageing AK74M, namely the AK-12 and A-545.

Nikonov AN-94 "Abakan" assault rifle
Nikonov AN-94 “Abakan” assault rifle

 

The story of the AN-94 rifle began in 1979, when Soviet military commenced an R&D program codenamed “Abakan”. This program sought to produce new, more effective 5.45mm assault rifle to replace relatively new AK-74. Key requirements were 50-100% inclease in hit probability when shooting off-hands. Initial research indicated findings, similar to those of US SALVO program: to achieve noticeable increase in hit probability per trigger pull one has to achieve so called “shotgun” effect, that is, to fire several projectiles with controlled, relatively small dispersion which would compensate for slight aiming errors. There were several possible technical solutions on the table, including multi-barrel systems, but one most promising concept was to fire short, high-cadence bursts of 2-3 rounds, and somehow delay recoil effect on the shooter which otherwise will disrupt point of impact for 2nd and 3rd bullets in the burst. This could be achieved by allowing barrel and receiver of the gun to recoil inside a gun housing for duration, sufficient for ultra-fast burst of necessary length. Very similar concept was also pushed forward in Germany at about the same period, with development of the HK G11 rifle. One of designers who decided to follow this track was someone Gennadij Nikonov, who worked at the IZHMASH design bureau.

Early prototypes from Nikonov were made in bullpup layout and for simplicity of feeding used sliding magazines that reciporocted back and forth under recoil, along with receiver and barrel. These were known as NA-1 .. Na-4. By 1986, he produced an AS experimental rifle, which was of conventional laoyt but still featured reciprocating magazine. For obvious reasons of reliability and safety military requested to abandon sliding magazine, and by 1987 Nikonov produced the ASM rifle, which featured stationary magazine and two-stage feeding system with separate rammer, operated by bolt via cable and pulley system, and an intermediate loading tray between magazine and barrel. This permitted to achieve necessary rate of fire of 1800 rounds per minute with two bullets leaving the barrel before recoiling parts could hit the buffer inside the gun housing.

Nikonov NA-4 experimental rifle with sliding magazine, 1981
Nikonov NA-4 experimental rifle with sliding magazine, 1981

 

Nikonov AS experimental rifle with sliding magazine, 1986
Nikonov AS experimental rifle with sliding magazine, 1986

 

Nikonov ASM experimental rifle with stationary magazine, 1987
Nikonov ASM experimental rifle with stationary magazine, 1987

 

When tested against AK-74, Nikonov ASM rifle performed adequately well. When fired in single shots, its accuracy was more or less similar to that of AK-74. However, when fired in 2-round bursts in off-hands positions, its linear dispersion was about 3 times smaller, and target hit probability was about 2 times better. For example, for experienced soldiers firing off-hand at 100 meters, average hit probability for short bursts was 0.30 for AK-74 and 0.63 for ASM. This was in line with initial requirements, and as a result in 1991 the ASM was recommended for further improvements and field trials. It took 6 more years to finalize the rifle, put it through all necessary paces of official trials, and in 1997 AN-94 was formally adopted and assigned a GRAU index of 6P33 (6П33 in Cyrillic).

As adopted, Nikonov AN-94 rifle was not without flaws. Its ergonomics were unusual, disassembly and maintenance more complicated than AK-74, firing controls were small and folded stock interfered with the trigger. Users also complained about rear sight which had rough edges and small apertures which were easily clogged by the mud or snow. Providing better circumstances, most of these shortcomings could have been straightened out, but, as said above, bad funding and untimely death of its designer sealed the fate of this unusual weapon.

 

Firing controls of the AN-94 rifle
Firing controls of the AN-94 rifle: cross-bolt safety at the front of the trigger guard, and sliding fire mode selector above the pistol grip, marked (L to R) for single shots, 2-round bursts and full auto.

 

AN-94 rifle with folded stock
Nikonov AN-94 rifle with folded stock

 

AN-94 rifle partially disassembled
Nikonov AN-94 rifle partially disassembled

 

The heart of the AN-94 rifle is more or less standard gas operated, rotating bolt, long piston stroke action. The barrel with the gas chamber above it is mounted on the receiver, which holds inside the reciprocating bolt carrier with relatively short rotating bolt. The receiver is allowed to recoil inside the plastic gun shell or housing, against the receiver recoil spring. This spring is located under the receiver, at the bottom of the housing and to the left, and because of this the magazine is offset and inclined from vertical to the right. The rod under the barrel, which looks like the gas tube, is, in fact, a forward guide for the recoiling barrel / receiver assembly. This rod also is used as a forward mounting point for the grenade launcher. The cocking handle is attached directly to the right side of the bolt carrier.

The feed system is quite unconventional, since it had to transfer rounds from stationary magazine and into the recoiling receiver. To achieve this, AN-94 rifle uses a two-stage feed, that comprises a feedway, built into the bottom of the recoiling receiver, and a separate rammer, which is used to feed the cartridges from the magazine and into the feedway.

In brief, the AN-94 rifle works as follows. First, let’s assume that the full magazine is inserted and the chamber is empty, receiver / barrel assembly is in the forward position. When one pulls the charging handle, the bolt carrier goes back, unlocking and retracting the bolt. At the same time, the rammer, which is linked to the bolt carrier via the thin steel cable and a large pulley, goes forward, stripping the first round from the magazine and placing it into the feedway in the receiver. This also cocks the internal hammer. When the charging handle is released, the bolt assembly goes forward, slamming the cartridge from the feedway and into the chamber, and locks the barrel. Now, the gun is ready to fire.

When fire selector is placed to the “full auto” mode, and the trigger is pressed, following happens: As soon as the fired bullet passed the gas port, the traditional gas operated action begins. Since the bolt group is relatively light and the amount of the gas pressure is carefully calculated, the bolt group rapidly goes back, unlocking the barrel, extracting and ejecting the spent case. Due to the recoil impulse, the barrel receiver assembly begins to recoil inside the gun housing, compressing the recoil spring. At the same time, the cartridge rammer quickly strips the next cartridge from the magazine and introduces it into the feedway. The bolt group, under the influence of its main spring and the return buffer spring, rapidly goes forward, chambering the second round from the feedway. As soon as the bolt group locks the barrel, the hammer is released automatically, and the second shot is fired with the theoretical rate of fire of 1800 rounds per minute. At this moment the receiver is still recoiling inside the housing, and its recoil is accumulated in the spring and not yet affects the shooter and the position of the gun. When the second bullet is fired and has left the barrel, the recoil cycle of the receiver / barrel group is stopped, and the hammer is held in the cocked position. At this moment the shooter feels the accumulated recoil impulse of two fired rounds, “shifted in time”. The reloading cycle continued as described above, but the hammer is held until the recoiling unit is returned into the forward position. If the gun is set to the “2 rounds bursts” mode, the hammer will be held cocked until the trigger ise released and then pulled again. If the gun is set to the “continuous burst mode”, the hammer unit will switch itself automatically to the low rate of fire, and will release itself only once per complete recoil cycle. I will not describe the design and the action of the trigger system of the AN-94, since it is way too complicated to be explained in few words.

Other features of the AN-94 include: the fiberglass-reinforced polymer housing, integral with the handguards; the magazine port that can accept standard AK-74-compatible magazines with 30 or 45 rounds capacity, as well as the newesr 60-rounds four-stack box magazines. The sight system of the AN-94 is a step aside from all previous Russian assault rifles, and consists of the protected front post, adjustable for zeroing, and the asterisk-shaped rear diopter, with 5 apertures drilled in the asterisk points. To set the distance, one must rotate the asterisk and set the desired aperture at the top of the receiver. The universal scope mounting rail is attached to the left side of the receiver as a standard. The safety and the fire selector are two separate controls. The safety is mounted inside the triggerguard, and the fire selector is a small switch above the pistol grip at the left side of the receiver. The fire selector has 3 positions, for single shots, 2-round bursts and for full-auto. Safety has 2 positions – Safe and Fire. The buttstock is made from the same high-impact plastic as the housing / stock unit and folds to the right to save the space. The strange-looking “8”-shaped muzzle attachment is a special, self-cleaning muzzle brake, which is claimed to be highly effective. It can be easily detached from the muzzle if required. The front sight base carries a rear bayonet lug on its right side, so the bayonet is mounted in the horizontal plane, to the right of the muzzle. Typical Russian 40mm underbarrel launcher such as GP-25 can be mounted below the barrel, using special interface bracket.

Specification Value
Full text name Nikonov AN-94 Abakan assault rifle (Russia)
Caliber cartridge 5.45x39 7N6 7N10 7N22 7N24
Action type select-fire
Trigger type sa
Overall length, mm 943
Length, folded, mm 728
Barrel length, mm 405
Weight empty, kg 3.85 (less magazine)
Magazine capacity, rounds 30
Cyclic rate of fire, rounds/min 600 / 1800


American expert Larry Vickers shoots Nikonov AN-94 rifle. Note impressive slow-motion fragments.

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