Izhevsk, Russia (AFP) Aug 10, 2007
Light, silent and regulation black: the AK-9 is the latest model of the famous Kalashnikov assault rifle to come off production lines at the Izhmash factory in Russia. "It shoots virtually without a sound and it can go through a bullet-proof vest," said Alexei Dragunov, 52, one of the designers of the weapon, as he assembled the gun at a firing range in a Russian forest.
Russian special forces last year asked Izhmash, based in the city of Izhevsk, to make a rifle that combined the qualities of the Kalashnikov with the stealth required for secret missions, company officials said.
"It's for special forces for anti-terrorist operations," said Vladimir Grodetsky, 56, director of the Izhmash factory, at a briefing during a rare visit for foreign journalists to the plant.
The AK-9 is fitted with a silencer and fires large 9.0-millimeter caliber bullets intended to pierce body armour. At 3.8 kilograms (8.4 pounds) it is also slightly lighter than previous models of the Kalashnikov.
"There's no one else making it," said Richard Jones, editor of British-based Jane's Infantry Weapons, a specialist journal, referring to other rifles combining such a large caliber with a silencer.
Other guns with the same caliber, which slows down the bullet in order to silence it but can still pierce body armour, are the Russian-made VSS and the VSK rifles used by special forces, Jones said.
"There's an increasing interest in suppressor weapons for... tactical reasons," said Jones, using the specialist term for guns fitted with silencers.
The AK-9 could be of interest to other special forces in the world -- "commando-like units who have been able to engage an enemy sentry or shoot their way out of trouble and not be heard," he added.
The weapon is still being tested and, pending approval from the Russian defence ministry, it is being kept under wraps. During a visit to a shooting range outside Izhevsk, the gun was shown but could not be demonstrated.
"We think it has big export potential. We hope we can get export permission as soon as possible, said Grodetsky, explaining that arms factories now had to be "flexible," providing for regular soldiers as well as special forces.
Development of the weapon is part of a massive programme of modernisation of Russia's armed forces, ranging from hi-tech Iskander missiles to new uniforms for Russian soldiers.
"The Russian army is now receiving modern equipment, not a large part but it's a serious programme of modernisation," said Nikolai Novichkov, an arms specialist at ITAR-TASS news agency.
Izhmash is known above all for the Kalashnikov, a global brand and one of the most widely used small weapons in the world, valued by soldiers and guerrillas for its simplicity and reliability.
Izhmash makes roughly 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles every year and estimates that another 900,000 rifles similar to the Kalashnikov are being made in other countries such as Bulgaria, China and Poland as "counterfeits."
The Russia-made Kalashnikov sells for some 400 dollars (291 euros) a piece.
Celebrations are being held this week in Izhevsk for the 60th anniversary of the first AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle. The factory is also marking a 200-year history of gunmaking.
The earliest rifle models produced at the factory, some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) east of Moscow, were used in the Russian Empire's battles against Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century.
Dragunov, who started working at Izhmash 29 years ago, is part of that history. His father developed a gun, the Dragunov sniper rifle, that is now used by the Russian army and exported throughout the world.
"It's the same as any kind of engineering except you get to see the final product more easily," said Dragunov, whose youngest son also works at the Izhmash arms design centre.
Asked whether he feels any remorse about producing guns, Dragunov smiles and answers: "Can you imagine a world without violence? Firearms are not for killing people, they're a deterrent."
Source: Agence France-Presse
Source: RIA Novosti
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