The RPK Squad Automatic Weapon: Simply Superb

On a certain level the Ruchnoi Pulemet Kalashnikova or RPK seems uninspired. The action is standard Kalashnikov, the barrel is fixed, and the magazine feed limits its capacity to 75 rounds. However, it is in its very simplicity and utilitarian execution that the RPK demonstrates its excellence.

Adopted in the early 60’s, the RPK is basically an AKM on steroids. The RPK utilizes the same cartridge, bolt, and bolt carrier as the AKM but incorporates a longer, heavier barrel, a more robust receiver, a clubfoot buttstock, and a bipod. The RPK weighs around 12 pounds unloaded and feeds from standard 30-round AK box magazines, extended 40-round boxes, or 75-round spring-driven drums. It also eschews a quick-change barrel. However, it is an Infantry axiom universally respected that the only thing better than having a gun that is easy to clear is having a gun that just never stops.

The RPL Squad Automatic Weapon

The RPK Squad Automatic Weapon is basically an AKM on steroids. Equipped with a longer, heavier barrel, a more robust receiver, a bipod, and a clubfoot stock, the RPK gives the grunt so equipped greater reach and more sustained fire than would be the case with the AKM rifle.

Origins

Michael Timofeyovich Kalashnikov purportedly devised the assault rifle that bears his name while recovering from wounds incurred during the Battle of Brausk in World War II. While his story has likely been embellished a bit by communist propaganda editors, it is universally accepted that he indeed designed the gun and that it subsequently shaped the world.

The much-maligned ranch gate safety is loud, clunky, and cumbersome yet still works just fine. All the way down is semi-auto. All the way up is safe and blocks the bolt track to help keep the action clean. The middle position is full auto.

The sights of the RPK function identically to those of the AK and are optimistically adjustable out to 1000 meters. The RPK incorporates a unique micrometer feature to the rear sight assembly allowing for precise adjustments of windage. The bipod secures in the stowed position via a spring steel clip that pinches the legs around the cleaning rod. The bipod legs are typically adjustable for command height. Aside from the buttstock and bipod, on the user level the RPK is just a big Kalashnikov. Even a child could use it and many have.

The RPK remains a bear to carry for long distances but it is a huge improvement over an M60 or PKM. When slung over the right shoulder the charging handle is clear. Having a charging handle abrading your sensitive anatomy during a long forced march will quickly tarnish even the most refined sense of humor.

RPK vs. RPD

The RPK replaced the belt-fed RPD in Soviet Infantry formations. While the RPD is an unusually lightweight and maneuverable Light Machine Gun, the RPK is easier to use and more reliable.

Turning Ammunition into Noise

RPK is ready for combat

The RPK carries and runs just like a big AKM. The sling is really a bit too short but it is mounted on the correct side for tactical use.

The RPK is my hands-down favorite machine gun. It weighs less than half what a belt-fed GPMG like the M60 or M240 does and employs a manual of arms that is all but stupid-proof. There is no fumbling with floppy ammunition belts or top covers with the commensurate concerns for mud and fouling. Just rock a magazine in place, jack the bolt, and go.

When ran in semiauto the long heavy barrel, bipod, and clubfoot buttstock of the RPK make for a fairly accurate package at reasonable distances. The action on the gun is sloppy and it will never be a tack driver but in practical use it is easy to lob half a dozen rounds at a target and typically connect as far out as Physics might allow. The sights are terribly 1940’s but they won’t break and they allow enough adjustment to suit the typical semi-literate users of the gun.

The RPK is light enough to be fired from the shoulder. With a little practice short bursts can shred a man-sized target at 100 meters all day long. The RPK chugs along on rock and roll at about 650 rpm or so.

From prone off the bipod, the RPK suffers from its magazine feed system. The bipod swivels from side to side but does not pivot. As such, engaging traversing targets requires the bipod feet to slide about. The 40-round magazine run from a prone shooting position demands that you dig out a depression underneath the gun to accommodate the magazine.

The barrel on the RPK heats up fast and there is little to be done about it. The bolt remains closed both loaded and empty and the lack of a quick change barrel feature means that an overheated gun must either be left alone for a while or dunked in water to cool it off.

Grand Scheme

In conventional infantry units the fact that the RPK fed the same ammunition from the same magazines as individual riflemen was an immeasurable boon. This simple fact combined with the impeccably reliable Kalashnikov action ensured a steady source of automatic fire in both the assault and defense.

Firing the RPK

When fired into this wet target with a safe backdrop the innate controllability of the RPK is well demonstrated. These 5-6 round bursts are nice and tight.

Sometimes the best Squad Automatic Weapon might not be belt fed or even brand new. In the Information Age we find ourselves rediscovering the value of fat, heavy bullets fired from a robust, simple mechanism. Even on the modern battlefield, few can compete with the 50-year-old RPK.

What do you think about the author’s view on the RPK? Do you agree? Let us know your opinion in the comment section!

13 Comments On This Article

  1. Well done, much better than the 60 that was a PIA! Some downfalls but an for an ambush, outstanding!! Hopefully the US will adopt a practical weapon for our troops!

  2. The round relegates the weapon into a historical wall hanger.
    How much further does the longer barrel extend effectiveness of round.
    While true that the weapon was designed for dumb as rock users who could pray and spray the round was proven completely ineffective against troop armed with newer or even older 30-06/ 308 and todays FN squad guns.
    The pig of an M-60 could lay firepower with way better round out to realistic 800 meters. Up close combat range it was no better than an
    AK.with bullets that bounce of US body armor.
    Just because it served well enough for and against ill armed soft tissued meat in past and was cheap at that time is no outstanding trait when actual lethality against modern equipped US troop.
    We arm our well paid terrorist with AK variants just for reason that we do not want our better weaponry turned upon us when we are through with their dumb as rock services.
    Also cuz they are cheap and this is from ex Soviet blok nations whose machineing capabilitys are still as is this clunker 1950.

    • you obviously have no clue of the history behind the AK or the RPK. and have not ever really taken one out and shot it to its true potential. I have a few of the variants and must say, they are great weapons. far superior than the knock M4 junk passing as an AR. the 223/5.56 is a junk round only good for head shots and multiple shots laid down to pray and spray as you put it. the 7.62×39 has been around forever and the AK was built to compete with the STG44 from Germany. again, you obviously have no clue about this weapon.

      • I’d guess from your snarky comment that you’ve never actually used either an AK variant or an M4 in combat outside of a range to really understand its “true potential”. I’ve used both as a contractor in Iraq, and I’ll take an M4 over an AK, and a SAW or M240 over either an RPK or a PKM. We had Kurdish shooters on our gun trucks equipped with AKs and RPKs so they could lay down a base of suppressive fire in an ambush. But they were instructed that if they couldn’t get a hit on a given hostile, to go get one of the expats who were equipped with either selective, or in some cases semi-only M4s and SBR ARs, and the expat would shoot the guy for them.

        AKs are great guns and like most other gun guys I own one (actually my wife wanted one so we bought one), but they are not the Holy Grail of combat weapons as so many inexperienced and uninformed internet gun experts seem to think they are. They were intended to be an easily mass produced and maintained weapon for ill trained and relatively unsophisticated cannon fodder, and in that they have indeed excelled. But they are not a sophisticated weapon with the near supernatural capabilities AK fan boys seem to ascribe to them. In truth, when we were looking for weapons that had a better vehicle stooping capability than an M4, we picked up some old but very serviceable FNs, and assigned one to each vehicle.

  3. If you had ever actually been in combat you’d know that most combat takes place at 100 meters or less. The beauty of the AK family is that you can throw them in the mud and they still fire without a hitch. You certainly can’t say that about an M-16 or any AR. Perhaps you should investigate why our boys in Viet Nam threw their M-16 in the weeds and bought other weapons on the black market. Incidently, the 7.62x39mm has the same ballistics as a 30-30, can buck a good cross wind and won’t ricochet of weeds and twigs like the puny 5.56 x 45 mm. I’d bet my money you’re nothing more than a bench shooter at best.

  4. Still an effective reliable weapon.With a PSP Scope 600 meters is an effective range. The 7.62 x39 round is still a very capable projectile not near the range as the 7.62 x51 I’m sure others might disagree however this weapon deserves high marks for simplicity and and shear numbers. Sometimes the mind has more to do with succes than the caliber. If that trait is absent then of course the longer range weapon wins.

  5. “bullets that bounce of US body armor”?????????????????

    Anytime you’d like to stand in front of one with your US body armor to see how well the rounds “bounce off” make sure I get a front row seat, please….

    As far as small arms go in conflicts around the world in this day and age, there are more people using and being wounded or killed by AK variant rifles than any other…

    They are available en masse and run reliably with almost no maintenance. Not to mention, they hardly ever break.

    • Actually, good Level IV ballistic ceramic or steel plates will indeed defeat 7.62X39 and 7.62X51 rounds. I’ve seen it in the field, but since it’s doubtful you’ve ever actually been there I’m not surprised you don’t know that. As for more people being killed and wounded by AKs, of course they have. There are millions of cheap junk AKs in the hands of terrorists and rebels and so-called government troops in every hellhole in the world, and trust me I’ve been to a good many of them. They are cheap and easily obtainable and ammo is plentiful, whereas US and European weapons are not. Finally, you have clearly never used them in a true combat environment. I’ve seen and even experienced them failing on many levels. They are indeed durable, but they are not the magic guns people who have never carried them in actual combat seem to think they are. We issued them to our Kurdish mobile shooters and Angolan static guards because they were cheap and they were the guns most of them had a lot of experience with. But they do break and like any other machine need maintenance. They are also not nearly as accurate as better quality guns are. If you have ever actually used a full selective fire AK, you will note that from the “Safe” position, the next click is to “Full Auto,” and then the third and final click is to “Semi,” whereas virtually all other selective fire military rifles go from “Safe” to “Semi” then to “Auto.” This is because the Soviets built the thing to be used by poorly trained and uneducated troops who would essentially spray and pray rounds out at a high rate of fire in combat, even though the vast majority had no possible chance of hitting anything. Consequently, they were not made to be all that accurate. They are a weapon intended to spray a lot of rounds in the hopes that with enough mass of troops and bullets they might overwhelm the enemy.

      • I’m curious about your issues with the 7.62 family not penetrating level IV plates. What would you recommend that we use in it’s place? Hurling epithets at platforms and calibers doesn’t get us any closer to a better solution. Please educate all of us who clearly have no experience or valid opinions and suggest a platform that satisfies all of your stringent standards.

  6. Hey level IV will defeat 7.62×39/nato 7.62–Also remember the Russian als have a 7,62 x54 R–that similar to 7.62 Nato in Performance –DO NOT GET IT CONFUSED WITH 7.62X39

  7. I have an NHM 91 Chinese made semi auto copy of the RPK
    Off the bipod with a 75 round drum it is a lot of fun to shoot.
    The bipod legs are long even when set at the shortest height
    It has a 20 inch barrel yet is no more accurate than any other AK
    I am getting 4 inch, five shot groups at 100 yards using Tula ammo.
    I just bought a bumpfire device for it and am planning to use it as my ‘poor mans squad auto”
    As for running with the Kurds, I think we should support their referendum on becoming an independant state

  8. My home and my 2 Gun Safes were stolen from my home. I can’t even tell you how many wepons that were taken. But to still both of these saves from my home because they were anchored down into the foundation of my concrete slab. They must have used a saw cutting concrete machine to saw cut around them while we were gone for a week

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