|Type Assault rifle|
In service 1956–present
|Place of origin China|
Used by See Users
|Wars Vietnam War See other conflicts and wars|
The Chinese Norinco Type 56 is an Chinese 7.62×39mm assault rifle. It is an unlicensed variant of the Soviet-designed AK-47 and AKM assault rifles. Production started in 1956 at State Factory 66, and since then it has been produced by Norinco, who continue to produce the rifle primarily for export.
The Type 56 is a widely proliferated variant of the AK-47. While the exact production figures are unknown, it is commonly estimated that 10 to 15 million Type 56 rifles have been produced since the 1950s.
During the Cold War period, the Type 56 was exported to many countries and guerrilla forces throughout the world. Many of these rifles found their way to battlefields in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East and were used alongside other Kalashnikov pattern weapons from both the Soviet Union as well the Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe.
Chinese support for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam before the mid-1960s meant that the Type 56 was frequently encountered by American soldiers in the hands of either Vietcong guerrillas or PAVN soldiers during the Vietnam war. The Type 56 was discovered in enemy hands far more often than standard Russian-made AK-47s or AKMs.
When relations between China and the North Vietnam crumbled in the 1970s and the Sino-Vietnamese War began, the Vietnamese government still had large numbers of Type 56 rifles in its arsenals, while the People's Liberation Army still used the Type 56 as its standard weapon. Thus, Chinese and Vietnamese forces fought each other using the same Type 56 rifles.
The Type 56 was used extensively by Iranian forces during the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s, with Iran purchasing large quantities of weapons from China for their armed forces. During the war, Iraq also purchased a small quantity, despite them being a major recipient of Soviet weapons and assistance during the war. This was done in conjunction with their purchasing of large number of AKMs from the USSR and Eastern Europe. Consequently, the Iran–Iraq War became another conflict in which both sides used the Type 56.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Type 56 has been used in many conflicts by various military forces. During the Croatian War of Independence and the Yugoslav Wars, it was used by the armed forces of Croatia. During the late 1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army in Kosovo were also major users of the Type 56, with the vast majority of the weapons originating from People's Socialist Republic of Albania, which received Chinese support during much of the Cold War.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, the Type 56 and its derivatives are frequently used in the filming of movies and television shows, standing in for Russian-made AK-47s due to the rarity of original AK-47s, with some even being visually modified to resemble other AK-series rifles. Versions of this weapon that have the full-auto firing ability deleted (referred to as "sporter" rifles) are also available for civilian ownership in most parts of the United States.
In the mid-1980s, Sri Lanka started to replace their L1A1 Self-Loading Rifles (SLR) and HK G3s with the Type 56. Currently, they use the fixed stock, under-folding stock and side-folding stock variants.
The Type 81, Type 95 and Type 03 replaced Type 56 in PLA front line service, but the Type 56 remains in use with reserve and militia service. Type 56s are still in production by Norinco for export customers.
During the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, many Chinese Type 56 rifles were supplied to Afghan Mujahideen guerrillas to fight Soviet forces by the China, Pakistan and the US who obtained them from third party arms dealers.
Use of the Type 56 in Afghanistan also continued well into the 1990s and the early 21st century as the standard rifle of the Taliban. When Taliban forces seized control of Kabul in 1996 (a majority of the Chinese small arms used by the Taliban were provided by Pakistan).
Since the overthrow of the Taliban by U.S.-led Coalition forces in late 2001, the Chinese Type 56 assault rifle has been utilized by the Afghan National Army, with many rifles serving alongside other AK-47 and AKM variant rifles.
The Type 56 has been seen regularly in the hands of militants from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
The Type 56 has been used by the Janjaweed in the Darfur region of Sudan with pictures and news footage showing members of the Janjaweed carrying Type 56 rifles (most of them provided by the Sudanese government).
In 1987, Michael Ryan used a legally owned Type 56 rifle, and two other firearms, in the Hungerford massacre in the United Kingdom, in which he shot 32 people, 17 of whom died. The attack led to the passage of Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which bans ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricts the use of shotguns.
In the United States, a Type 56 rifle, purchased in Oregon under a false name, was used in the 1989 Stockton schoolyard shooting in which Patrick Purdy fired over 100 rounds to shoot one teacher and 34 children, killing five. The shooting led to the passage of California's Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989. A Type 56, along with a Type 56 S-1, were used by Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu during the North Hollywood shootout.
In the Syrian Civil War of 2011 to the present, the Type 56 assault rifles are seen being used by the Free Syrian Army.
Compared to AK-47 and AKM
Originally, the Type 56 was a direct copy of the AK-47, and featured a milled receiver, but starting in the mid-1960s, the guns were manufactured with stamped receivers much like the Soviet AKM. Visually, most versions of the Type 56 are distinguished from the AK-47 and AKM by the fully enclosed hooded front sight (all other AK pattern rifles, including those made in Russia, have a partially open front sight). Many versions also feature a folding bayonet attached to the barrel just aft of the muzzle. There are three different types of bayonets made for Type 56 rifles. The first type 56s were near identical copies of the Soviet milled AK-47. It is speculated that the Chinese had to reverse engineer a copy of the AKM with the stamped receiver as they were not given a licence to produce the AKM and RPK by the Soviets because of failing relations after the Sino-Soviet split.
Other Type 56 weapons
The "Type 56" designation was also used for Chinese versions of the SKS and of the RPD, known as the Type 56 carbine and Type 56 light machine gun respectively. However, unlike the popular Type 56 rifle, all Type 56 carbines have been removed from military service, except a few used for ceremonial purposes and by local Chinese militia. The Type 56 light machine gun is still used by the Cambodian Army and Sri Lankan Army.
The AME-74-KA appears to be an Iranian copy using locally manufactured parts. Manufactured of pressed mild steel and chambered for 7.62×39mm, it is a curious mix of design features. It has the gas block and sights of a Type 56, but the left-folding stock of an AK-102. The flash hider is of a more western design that appears to be inspired by the Heckler & Koch G36 open cage flash hider, but with large threading that suggests an intended muzzle attachment such as a grenade launcher or possibly a suppressor. No provision is made for a bayonet. Furniture is of a modern polymer material, but the foregrip is not equipped with heat shields internally, which would almost certainly cause issues in sustained fire. Magazines are identical to those used on a Type 56. Fit and finish is particularly bad, even for Iranian weapons, and it is thought that production was very limited due to scarcity. Examples have been recovered in Somalia, Iraq, and Yemen, all in poor condition. Markings on the right side of the weapon are conventional and in western characters. On the left side of the weapon appears AME-74-KA in both western and Farsi script, with no other markings. No manufacturer stamp appears anywhere on the weapon.