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Use of AKM assault rifle during the Soviet-Afghan war

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

This article about the history of small arms during the Soviet-Afghan war mostly has its roots in the early day of Soviet-Afghan war reenactment. If you want to see the list of all Soviet-Afghan weapons, please refer to this article.

Problem with AKM on reenactment events

Reenactment events depicting the Soviet-Afghan war started to take place in the mid-2000s when the development of the internet was still in its early stages and so the information on this war was limited. The logic for AKM was very simple at the time - if the AK-74 was only adopted in 1974, it is not possible that the whole army was armed with it by 1979 and even during the Soviet-Afghan war.

Soviet-Afghan war AKM
AKM in the early days of the war

On top of that, the gear available for purchase was also limited to just a couple of airsoft producers. Hence, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, it was not unusual to see the Soviet side at an event armed primarily with AKM or AKMS guns. AK-74 and AKS-74 at the time were limited in numbers and usually of poor quality, so their airsoft capabilities were unsatisfactory for most buyers.

All in all, at the time, the AKM was usually dominating the battlefields of the airsoft Soviet-Afghan war. And, of course, as we know now, this was pretty farb.

The real use of AKM rifles in the Soviet-Afghan war

Of course, the 7.62 AK variants were used by the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. There is no point to deny that.

However, they were used in extremely limited numbers. We are talking about one per platoon or so. Their primary use was as a silenced weapon - with a PBS-1 silencer attached and using subsonic ammunition. The battle order for this type of weapon is unclear. It is believed, that they were supposed to belong to the recon companies and battalions of the corresponding units, but it would not be unusual to see AKM and AKMS rifles on photos from the regular infantry and airborne battalions. It is most likely, that these silenced weapons belonged to the bigger unit and were issued on a mission per requirement.

Two AKMS rifles with PBS-1 silencers

What is interesting, is that the PBS-1 has a very limited lifespan. The rubber insights have to be changed regularly (they come in ammo crates together with the subsonic ammunition 57-N-231Y). Because of that, some 7.62 rifles were used without the PBS-1 silencer in the later years of the war.

Also, there is an exception for mass use of AKM rifles. This is to reenact the very first month of the war when the mobilized infantrymen from the 5th and 108th Divisions were called up to invade Afghanistan. Though, for some reason, this impression is not very common.

That one unit that only used AKM throughout the Soviet-Afghan war

This is a lesser-known fact, but there was one unit that refused to use new AK-74 rifles and carried on with the time tested 7.62. This was the 781th Independent Recon Battalion of the 108th Motor Rifle Division.

Soviet-Afghan war AKM
781st Battalion on parade

According to the famous book "Afghan. Bagram. Reconnaissance", the 40th Army command was forcing all the units to adopt 5.45 weapons as soon as possible. But the officers of the 781st battalion used the somewhat arguable argument that 5.45 rounds ricochet from the branches and leaves. I am not gonna ask how much green zone there is in Afghanistan and how true is the claim itself. Neither did the head of armament of the 40th Army and the battalion was allowed to keep the 7.62 AKMS rifles as their main weapon.

However, for some reason, the battalion did adopt 5.45 RPKS-74 machine guns instead of the old 7.62 ones. This is both mentioned in the book and can be seen in the photos.

Soviet-Afghan war AKM
One of the AKMS rifles has 75rd drum magazine

The story with this unit using 7.62x39 en-masse ends sometime between 1984 and 1985. At this point, they were forced to rearm and have been using regular AKS-74 rifles ever since. The possible explanation is that the AKMS rifles that they have used wore worn off at this point and did not provide acceptable accuracy. Since the Soviet Army was mainly armed with 5.45 weapons at this point, it was too complicated for the logistics to make an exception for them.

The correct historical solution to use AKM

If you want to use the AKM correctly for your Soviet impression of the Soviet-Afghan war, you pretty much have to do everything right. And the first thing is to choose the exact unit you want to make the impression of. All the way down to the company size, preferably.

The important, yet counterintuitive thing to remember is that the airborne units, such as the 56th DShB had mainly wooden stock AKM rifles. And so did most of the infantry units. VDV guys from the 103rd division used folding stock AKMS, but the 345th airborne regiment, again, used full stock AKM. The logic behind this is unclear so I can't reliably comment on it. My theory is that the independent brigades and regiments were on an infantry line of supply, so the divisions which were helping them out simply didn't have any folding stock rifles to hand out.

Soviet-Afghan war AKM
Soldiers of 345th regiment. Note that the AKMN has the slide for the scope

The Spetsnaz used a mixture of both, but mainly folding stock AKMS. And again, it all depends on the exact SpN unit. So choose carefully what you want to reenact and buy a rifle accordingly.

All in all, if you are on your own and using an AKM or AKMS - it is not farb in any way. It can always be justified, with or without a PBS-1 silencer. However, when you get into a team, it is very advisable to limit the number of AKMs to 1 per 10 people or so. Given that most teams do not grow beyond the size of 5, having one AKM per group is a way to go.

AKM with PSO-1 optical sight

AKM with PSO-1
Another AKM with PSO-1

Soviet-Afghan war AKM
Spetsnaz with wooden stock AKM

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