The Kalashnikov RPL-20 Light Machine Gun was first presented to the general public during the Army-2020 expo in late August of 2020. It must be noted that the gun is still in the early development stage. According to a Kalashnikov group representative, it may take up to 2 or 3 years to make the gun ready for adoption and mass manufacture.
According to the same representative, not long ago the Russian military issued new requirements for a 5.45mm light machine gun, intended for use as a squad support weapon, to complement (not replace!) the existing 7.62x54Rmm machine guns such as PKM or PKP Petcheneg.
These requirements are based on the experience gained during extensive field trials of the Kalashnikov RPK-16 Light Machine Gun. Exact details of these new requirements are not published yet, but apparently the Russian Military wants a 5.45mm light machine gun of the same size and weight as the RPK-16, but with practical rates of fire and sustained fire capabilities of the bigger, belt fed 7.62mm machine guns.
As a result, it was decided to develop an entirely new dedicated light machine gun, using non-disintegrating steel belts and firing from an open bolt. The idea of dual feed (magazines + belts), such as found with the FN Minimi or Russian experimental Kord-5.45 Machine Gun, was abandoned due to the added weight and potential reliability issues. The use of steel belts also allows for a lighter ammunition load, which can be distributed across the squad. As an example, a spare 300 rounds of 5.45x39mm ammo in magazines weigh between 4.8 and 6 kg (in 30-round box or 95-round drums), while same 300 rounds in steel belts will weigh approximately 3.9 kg.
It must be noted that this is not the first time Russian designers attempted to produce a 5.45mm machine gun with a belt feed. During the 1970’s Soviet Ministry of Defense ordered the development of a dual feed (belt + magazines) 5.45mm light machine gun. IZHMASH produced several prototypes under R&D program called “Poplin”, but for unknown reasons Soviet Military lost its interest in this weapon by late 1970’s, and only a few prototypes, known as PU, PU-2 and PU-21 were made before the development was terminated.
Later on, circa 2010, the Russian MVD issued a request for a dual feed 5.45mm assault machine gun under the name R&D programs “Tokar” and subsequently “Tokar-2”. The contracted weapon developed for this request is still being developed by the ZiD factory, but so far there’s no conclusive info about its fate.
The Kalashnikov RPL-20 light machine gun is a gas operated, fully automatic only weapon. It utilizes a long stroke gas piston, located above the barrel, and traditional Kalashnikov style rotating bolt locking.
This gun fires from an open bolt, and has quick change barrels. The belt feed unit is located below the receiver. Normally, belts are fed from semi-rigid containers attached to the bottom of the gun. The top of the receiver is provided with a long, uninterrupted Picatinny rail, and back up iron sights consist of an adjustable aperture (diopter) rear and protected front.
The RPL-20 is equipped with a side folding, adjustable shoulder stock made of plastic. A folding bipod or vertical foregrip, or any other assortment of tactical accessories can be attached to the Picatinny rail which runs below the barrel. An ambidextrous manual safety is located above the pistol grip.
|Full text name||Kalashnikov RPL-20 Light Machine Gun (Russia)|
|Caliber cartridge||5.45x39 7N6 7N10 7N22 7N24|
|Weight empty, kg||5.2 - 5.5|
|Magazine capacity, rounds||100|
|Cyclic rate of fire, rounds/min||~ 600|