The AEK-971 is a Soviet / Russian selective fire assault rifle that was developed at the Kovrov Mechanical Plant (KMZ) by chief designer Sergey Koksharov in the late 1970s and 1980s. The primary model, the AEK-971, uses the 5.45×39mm round fed from standard 30-round or larger box magazines used by the AK-74, AK-74M, and similar weapons.
The AEK-971 was developed to participate in a competition announced by the Ministry of Defense of the USSR, during which preference was given to the AN-94. The initial AEK version differs from modern samples, as many innovations were perceived as unnecessary by the Ministry of Defence, which led to a simplification of the early model. The AEK-971 is approximately 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) lighter than the AN-94, simpler in design and cheaper to manufacture.
The AEK-971 assault rifle has been combat proven in Chechnya tested by naval infantry and interior forces, and prepared for mass production. Only a few small batches of this assault rifle have been produced so far and adopted for service with units of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.
Though losing an initial contract for production against the AN-94 as a result of the Project Abakan assault rifle selection trials held from 1980 to 1994 in Russia, the Russian Army begun field trials of this weapon. The AN-94 assault rifle, which was officially adopted by Russian army, has a slight accuracy edge over the AEK-971 in 2-round-burst mode. In full automatic mode or during longer bursts (3–10 rounds per burst) the AEK-971 is more accurate. In late 2014, an updated variant of the rifle passed state trials and will be tested operationally with Russian forces in early 2015.
The AEK-971 is based on previous AK rifles in internal design and layout, but features a Balanced Automatics Recoil System (BARS) that enhances the traditional Kalashnikov long stroke gas piston operating system by reducing the negative effects of recoil. Balanced recoil systems were previously applied in the AO-38 and AL-7 experimental assault rifles and in the AK-107 and AK-108. BARS works by shifting mass toward the muzzle of the rifle as the bolt and bolt carrier recoil rearward by way of a counter-weight that negates the impulse of the gas piston and bolt carrier, resulting in more controllable automatic fire. For the AEK-971 automatic firing accuracy is improved by 15-20% in comparison with the AK-74M.
The travel distance of the AEK-971 reciprocating parts is less than in non balanced recoil AK-pattern designs increasing the cyclic rate of fire significantly. The original automatic fire rate of the early model was 1,500 rounds/min and was decreased to 900 rounds/min for the AEK-971.
The AEK-971 uses an adjustable notched rear tangent iron sight calibrated in 100 m (109 yd) increments from 100 to 1,000 m (109 to 1,094 yd). The front sight is a hooded front post. Each AEK rifle is fitted with a Warsaw Pact side-rail bracket for mounting optics.
There are three different models: the AEK-971, AEK-972 and AEK-973. The different variants are most easily recognized by their respective magazine curvatures. The AEK-972 is chambered in 5.56×45mm NATO and the AEK-973 in 7.62×39mm. The AEK-972 uses the magazines of the 5.56×45mm NATO chambered arms of the AK-10x series and the AEK-973 all of the standard 7.62×39mm AK/RPK magazines.
The AEK-971 and the AEK-973 have one variant each: AEK-971S and AEK-973S. These are improved variants with a new trigger mechanism with the location of the thumb safety-selector lever on the right side, receiving additionally a three-shot burst fire mode, and an extended padded retractable lightweight stock. When the stock is retracted, the shoulder rest connects with the pistol grip forming a streamlined structure which allows the weapon to be used without hampering fire capabilities. Burst fire accuracy of the 5.45×39mm AEK-971S and 7.62×39mm AEK-973S is two times higher than that of the 5.45×39mm AK-74M and 7.62×39mm AKM assault rifles.
On 23 December 2014, the Russian Army announced that a successor variant of the AEK-971, line designated the A-545 (official GRAU designation 6P67), as well as the AK-12, had passed state Ratnik trials and would be accepted into service with operational units for evaluation. It is expected that both weapons will begin being trialed operationally with the Russian Armed Forces by March 2015. The 5.45×39mm A-545 features iron sights that consist of a rotary rear drum aperture and a hooded front post creating a significantly longer sight line and ambidextrous fire mode selection controls. On the A-545, the Warsaw Pact side-rail bracket is omitted and replaced by a Picatinny Rail on a redesigned receiver top for mounting auxiliary equipment, such as aiming optics.
A successor variant of the AEK-973 line designated the A-762 (official GRAU designation 6P68) which beside its 7.62×39mm chambering is technically similar to the A-545 was also developed. Russia: AEK-971 rifles were produced in small batches and delivered to units of the MVD Internal Troops (paramilitary gendarmerie-like forces) and other law enforcement agencies of Russia.