At the end of January, 2018 and after many false starts, the Russian military formally announced the limited adoption of the AEK-971 and AEK-973 rifles. These rifles feature an unusual counterbalanced breech mechanism which is intended to improve handling, especially during full auto fire. While exotic outside of Russia, these counter-balanced rifles are not at all new. In fact, the 2018 adoption of the AEK-971 represents the first success of a rifle concept that has been around for a some time.
Animated diagram of the AK-107/108
Balanced action recoil systems (BARS) work by accelerating a mass in the opposite direction of the bolt carrier. The countermass is of similar mass to the bolt carrier and synchronized to move in the opposite direction by a rack and pinion. This cancels out some, but not all of the impulses associated with self-loading actions. But more on that later.
Long before Soviet small arms engineers began experimenting with BARS, a number of production weapons featured synchronized masses moving in opposite directions. Generally speaking, any stabilization that these actions provided was an incidental benefit. Rather, these designs were either attempts to get around patents, or very early developments in the history of autoloading weapons when the design best practices had not been standardized yet. These designs featured a forward-moving gas trap that, of necessity, needed its motion converted into rearward motion by either a lever or rack and pinion.
The French St. Etienne Machine Gun
The Danish Bang rifle
At around the same time, inventors started toying with the idea of using synchronized counter-masses deliberately to cancel out recoil impulses. The earliest patent for such a design comes from 1908 from obscure firearms designer Ludwig Mertens:
More information on these early developments is in this article on the matter by Max Popenker.
Soviet designers began investigating the BARS concept in earnest in the early 1970s. This is worth noting; these early BARS rifles were actually trialed against the AK-74.
The AL-7 rifle, a BARS rifle from the early 1970s
The Soviet military chose the more mechanically orthodox AK-74 as a stopgap measure in order to get a small-caliber, high-velocity rifle to the front lines as quickly as possible. Of course, the thing about stopgap weapons is that they always end up hanging around longer than intended, and forty four years later Russian troops are still equipped with the AK-74.
A small number of submachine gun prototypes with a BARS-like system were trialed, but not mass-produced. The gas operated action of a rifle can be balanced with a fairly small synchronizer rack and pinion, but the blowback action of a submachine gun requires a fairly large and massive synchronizer gear or lever. This is because in a gas operated rifle a second gas piston can be attached to the countermass, thereby unloading the synchronizer gear.
There are three BARS designs of note from Russia:
The AK-107 and AK-108 are BARS rifles in 5.45x39mm and 5.56x45mm respectively. These rifles are products of the Kalashnikov design bureau and Izmash factory, now Kalashnikov Concern. Internally they are very similar to an AK, only with the countermass and synchronizer unit situated above the bolt carrier group.
Close up of synchronizer and dual return spring assemblies
This is configuration is almost identical to the AL-7 design of the early 1970s. Like the more conventional AK-100 series, the AK-107/AK-108 were offered for export during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they failed to attract any customers. The furniture is very similar to the AK-100 series, and indeed the only obvious external difference is the long tube protruding from the gas block and bridging the gap to the front sight.
The AK-107 has re-emerged recently as the Saiga 107, a rifle clearly intended for competitive shooting events like 3-gun.
The rival Kovrov design bureau was only slightly behind the Kalashnikov design bureau in exploring the BARS concept. Their earliest prototype featuring the system, the SA-006 (also transliterated as CA-006) also dates from the early 1970s.
Chief designer Sergey Koksharov refined this design into the AEK-971. The chief refinement of his design over the first-generation balanced action prototypes from the early 1970s is that the countermass sits inside the bolt carrier, rather than being stacked on top of it. This is a more compact installation of the mechanism, but otherwise accomplishes the same thing.
Moving parts group of the AEK-971
The early AEK-971 had a triangular metal buttstock and a Kalashnikov-style safety lever on the right side of the rifle.
In this guise the rifle competed unsuccessfully with Nikonov's AN-94 design in the Abakan competition. Considering that a relative handful of AN-94s were ever produced, this was perhaps not a terrible loss for the Kovrov design bureau.
After the end of the Soviet Union, the AEK-971 design was picked up by the Degtyarev factory, itself a division of the state-owned Rostec.
The Degtyarev factory would unsuccessfully try to make sales of the weapon for the next twenty four years. In the meantime, they made some small refinements to the rifle. The Kalashnikov-style safety lever was deleted and replaced with a thumb safety on the left side of the receiver.
Later on the Degtyarev factory caught HK fever, and a very HK-esque sliding metal stock was added in addition to a very HK-esque rear sight. The thumb safety lever was also made ambidextrous. The handguard was changed a few times.
Still, reception to the rifle was lukewarm. The 2018 announcement that the rifle would be procured in limited numbers alongside more conventional AK rifles is not exactly a coup. The numbers bought are likely to be very low. A 5.56mm AEK-972 and 7.62x39mm AEK-973 also exist. The newest version of the rifle has been referred to as A-545.
AKB and AKB-1
AKB, closeup of the receiver
The AKB and AKB-1 are a pair of painfully obscure designs designed by Viktor Kalashnikov, Mikhail Kalashnikov's son. The later AKB-1 is the more conservative of the two, while the AKB is quite wild.
Both rifles use a more or less conventional AK type bolt carrier, but the AKB uses the barrel as the countermass. That's right; the entire barrel shoots forward while the bolt carrier moves back! This unusual arrangement also allowed for an extremely high cyclic rate of fire; 2000RPM. Later on a burst limiter and rate of fire limiter were added. The rifle would fire at the full 2000 RPM for two round bursts, but a mere 1000 RPM for full auto.
The AKB-1 was a far more conventional design, but it still had a BARS. In this design the countermass was nested inside the main bolt carrier, similar to the AEK-971.
Not a great deal of information is available about these rifles, but @Hrachya H wrote an article on them which can be read here.
Something I haven't seen discussed on this site before; Soviet/Russian efforts to domesticate foxes by breeding for domesticated behavior. Article in Scientific American here; https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/mans-new-best-friend-a-forgotten-russian-experiment-in-fox-domestication/
Interesting that there were physical changes correlated with the behavioral changes the Russians bred for.
Buy one for only $7,000! https://domesticatedsilverfox.weebly.com/aquiring-a-tame-fox.html
(not entirely unlike a dog I guess)
It seems like a pretty cool idea to drunk me, though I don't have a spare 7,000 dollars laying around (thanks student loans!). Also, I don't think my cat would approve.
I want to show you several late Soviet MBT designs, which were created in 1980s in order to gain superiority over NATO focres. I do think that some of them are interesting, some of them look like a vehicle for Red Alert/Endwar games.
Today, Russia is still use Soviet MBTs, like T-80 and T-72s, but in late 1970s and 1980s Soviet military and engineers were trying to look for other tank concepts and designs. T-64 and other MBTs, based on concept behind T-64, were starting to reaching their limits, mostly because of their small size and internal layout.
We open our Box of Communism Spreading Godless Beasts with not so much crazy attempt to mate T-80 hull with 152 mm LP-83 gun (LP-83 does not mean Lenin Pride-83). It was called Object 292.
First (and only, sadly) prototype was build in 1990, tested at Rzhevskiy proving ground (i live near it) in 1991, which it passed pretty well. Vehicle (well, turret) was developed by Leningrad Kirov factory design bureau (currently JSC "Spetstrans") Because of collapse of Soviet Union this project was abandoned. One of reasons was that main gun was "Burevestnik" design bureau creation, which collapsed shortly after USSR case to exist. It means that Gorbachyov killed this vehicle. Thanks, Gorbach!
Currently this tank is localted in Kubinka, in running condition BTW. Main designer was Nikolay Popov.
Object 292, as you see at photos, had a new turret. This turret could have been mounted on existing T-80 hulls without modifications to hull (Object 292 is just usual serial production T-80U with new turret, literally). New Mechanical autoloading mechanism was to be build for it. Turret had special Abrams-like bustle for ammunition, similar feature you can see on Ukrainian T-84-120 Yatagan MBT and, AFAIK, Oplot-BM.
Engine was 1250 HP GTD-1250 T-80U engine. 152 mm main smoothbore gun was only a little bit bigger than 2A46 125 mm smoothbore gun, but it had much better overall perfomance.
This prototype was clearly a transitory solution between so called "3" and "4th" generation tanks.
Some nerd made a model of it:
........Continue in Part 2
In 1944 the Red Army began looking for a replacement for the battle proven T-34. Their initial action was to simply up-gun the T-34 again, this time with the 100mm D-10T from the SU-100. However deficiencies in the transmission prevented this plan from coming to fruition. As a result the Red Army turned to the T-44. Relying on experience gained from the T-44's own up-gun project they created what was called the T-44B. Given the major changes compared to the current T-44 they later changed the name to the T-54. Designed by A.A. Morozov between October 1944 and December 1944 it had reached sufficient development by November 1st 1944 that People's Commissar of Tank Industry of the USSR V.A. Malyshev ordered Factory №183 to produce a prototype. The factory built the original prototype by January 30th 1945 where until mid-February it underwent testing. On February 22nd it was sent to a NIBT training ground to undergo government testing. Despite identifying several flaws such as a lack hydraulic shock absorbers for the road wheels the T-54 was deemed superior to all existing domestic designs and recommended for eventual adoption.
T-54 (first prototype)
They had reason for their claim; with a transverse mounted engine and a torsion bar suspension the T-54 was much smaller than the T-34. This size decrease allowed the Soviets to significantly up-armor the tank without greatly increasing the weight. The front hull was 120mm thick angled at 60 degrees, the turret was 150mm thick. Despite the armor increases the T-54 only weighed 35.5 tons. Despite the wishes of of the Soviets (who wanted a 700hp engine on their T-34 replacement) the venerable V-2 sill powered the T-54. With an output of 520hp the T-54 was capable of 43.5 km/h. In addition to the increased armor the T-54 was armed with the 100mm D-10T-K gun which was capable of 7-4 rounds a minute. Like other Soviet tanks the turret design limited gun depression with only -3. So despite only being 35.5 tons the T-54 had comparable firepower and armor protection to the 45 ton IS-2.
Armor of the T-54 (first prototype)
In response to the deficiencies identified by the Red Army Factory №183 created another T-54 prototype. Still designated T-54, though by this point in time it would receive it's GABTU designation of Object 137. The tank was produced in July 1945 with government testing beginning in July and ending in November of that year. The T-54 second prototype had many changes, the hull and turret were redesigned, the transmission was replaced with a different one, the gun was replaced with the 100mm LB-1, among other changes. The new turret was up-armored to 200mm thick. In combination with the new gun and turret the T-54 second prototype had increased gun depression compared to the original with -5. All of these modification caused a weight spiral to 39.15 tons, which with the same V-2 engine as before the speed was reduced to 42.5 km/h. As before the Soviet Government recommended it for Red Army service along with the corrections of some defects.
T-54 second prototype (Object 137)